Massey on  Shakspeare's Sonnets (15)

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    Part of this is spoken by "Horace," who is Ben himself, and said in reply to Cæsar, who had just described him as the likeliest to envy or detract.  This, therefore, is the writer's own defence!  How cordially one can repeat his epitaph—


    It is recorded on his monument at Stratford, that Shakspeare was a Nestor in judgment, a Socrates in genius, and a Virgil in art!

    But for the influence which a personal theory of the Sonnets has unconsciously had, it would have been inferred, that, as soon as he was able, our Poet would naturally have his wife and family to live with him in London.  It has been discovered that he paid rates, and why should he not have received his wife and children at his home near the Bear-garden, in Southwark, or St. Helen's, Bishopsgate?  He was by nature a family man; true to our most English instincts, his heart must have had its sweet domesticities of home-feeling nestling very deep in it—our love of privacy and our enjoyment of that "safe, sweet corner of the household fire, behind the heads of children."  The true reading of Betterton's story, told through Rowe, is that Shakspeare left his wife and family temporarily, and, as he could not have returned to them after the short time of parting to live at Stratford, they, of course, rejoined him in London.  Besides which, the mention of his going to Stratford once a year suggests that his home was in London, and this was a holiday visit.  And, if the wife is to be thrust aside, on account of her age, can we imagine that Shakspeare's home would be in London, and his daughter Susannah and his boy Hamnet, in whom lay his cherished hope of succession, at Stratford?  Again, if he had left Anne Hathaway in dislike, why should he have been in such apparent haste to go back to live with his rustic wife, and buy for her the best house—the Great House—in Stratford?  We may rest satisfied that Shakspeare did just the most natural thing—which was to have a home of his own, with his wife and family in it; that he dwelt as Wisdom dwells, with children round his knees.  And in this privacy he was hidden, when others of his contemporaries were visible about town, living their homeless tavern life; here it was that so much of his work would be done; here "his silence would sit brooding;" so many of his days were passed unnoticed, and he could live the quiet happy life that leaves the least personal record.

    We should have still fewer facts of Shakspeare's life than we have, were it not for his evident ambition to make money, and become a man of property.  Whatsoever feeling for fame and immortality he may have had, he assuredly possessed a great sense of common human needs.  He never forgot those little mouths waiting to be fed by his hand; and we may believe him to have been as frugal in his life as he was indefatigable in his work.  He had seen enough of the ills and felt sufficiently the stings of poverty in his father's home.  So he sets about gaining what money he can by unwearied diligence in working, and when he has made it grasps it firmly.

    Not long since some documents were discovered, in which the sons of James Burbage make affidavit that they built the Globe Theatre, with sums of money taken up at interest, "which lay heavy on us many years, and to ourselves we joined those deserving men, Shakspeare, Hemings, Condall, Phillips and others," as partners in what they term the "profits of the House."  The Globe was built about the year 1594.  This appears to show that Shakspeare was a shareholder, though not an owner; that is, one who had a share in the takings, or the House, as it is still called.  So that in 1594, or thereabouts, Shakspeare had obtained his "Cry in a Fellowship of Players," referred to in Hamlet, though he could not, as we say, "cry halves" in the full profits, not being a proprietor.  Still, as a proof of his prosperity it may be noted, that his father had applied to the Heralds' College, in 1596, for a grant of coat-armour; and, in 1597, a suit in Chancery was commenced on the part of John and Mary Shakspeare, for the recovery of an estate which had been mortgaged by them.  In this year 1597 he is able to buy the best house in Stratford, called New Place.  In the next year he sells a load of stone to the Corporation for 10d.  From this little fact we may infer that alterations were going on at New Place.  He had worked hard for some years to make a nest, and was "feathering" it ready for the time when he could quit the stage, and retire to Stratford.  He is also doing a stroke of business as a maltster, and in February, 1598, he is claimed as a Townsman of Stratford.  In the year 1598 he was assessed on property in St. Helen's, Bishopsgate.  Two years later his name had dropped out of the list.  Now, as New Place was bought and made ready by that time, the most probable inference is that his wife and family left the house in London and went back to Stratford to live in their new home.  His circumstances had so far improved that he could look forward to longer visits to Stratford, and, as he wrote more he would undoubtedly begin to play less.  London may not have agreed with his children.  Had not his boy Hamnet died in 1596?

    He not only makes money, but he invests it, and turns it over.  The fame of his wealth soon spreads, and he is looked up to in the Golden City.  Some of his country friends want him to buy, and he does buy; others want him to lend, and he is able to lend.  He lends to Richard Quiney, the father of his future son-in-law, the sum of £30.  We are not sure that he did not take interest for it.  The transaction has a smack of percentage about it.  Of this we may be sure, that if Shakspeare did not take interest for his money, he took a most lively interest in it.  In May, 1602, his brother Gilbert completed for him the purchase of one hundred and seven acres of arable land,  from William and John Comb.  In September of the same year he bought other property in his native town.  In 1604 he brought an action against Philip Rogers, in the Court of Record, at Stratford, to recover a debt of £1 15s. 10d.   In July, 1605, he made his largest investment.  He purchased for the sum of £440—more than £2,000 of our money—half of the lease of tithes, to be collected in Stratford and other places, which had some thirty-one years to run.

    He is now trying to leave the stage as player and manager, and live at Stratford, where he can look after his tithes for himself.  He has acquired houses and lands, and obtained a grant of arms, and shown every desire to found a county family; to possess a bit of this dear England in which he could plant the family tree, and go down to posterity that way.  He appears to have been careless of personal fame, and to have flung off his works to find their own way as best they could to immortality.  It is possible that he had some large and lazy idea of one day collecting and correcting an edition of his works.  If so, it passed into that Coleridgian Limbo of unfulfilled intentions where so many others have gone, or else death overtook him all too swiftly before the theatre rights had expired.  But that he was ambitious of founding a local family house, which should have such foundations in the soil of England as he could broaden out with his own toil, is one of the most palpable facts of his life, enforced again and again, a fact most absolutely opposed to the fancy that he lived apart from his wife—and it brings the man home to us with his own private tastes and national feelings, plainly as though he had lived but the other day, as Walter Scott.

    The position attained by Shakspeare in 1598 was such that Meres can speak of the group amongst whom the Sonnets circulated, that is, persons of quality like Southampton, Rutland, Herbert, Elizabeth Vernon, Lady Rich, and her brother, the Earl of Essex, whose characters are assuredly reflected in the dramatic mirror of the works, as Shakspeare's "Private Friends."

    Hallam was of opinion that he drew but little from the living model.  My study of Shakspeare leads me to the conclusion that of all our great poets he derived most from real life, that he would not otherwise have overflowed with such infinite variety of character in such prodigal profusion.  I think his men and women are so live and real for us to-day because he so faithfully mirrored those of his own day.  He drew from life-figures rather than lay-figures.  He did not evolve characters out of his own head, nor from the depths of his own inner consciousness.  Poets who work in that fashion become the Dantes, Byrons, and Hugos of poetry.

    Minds that do not draw much from the living model, or look outwardly on the world to take all the help that Nature offers them, must of necessity be subjective, and all the character they can ever produce, shaped more or less in the mould of their own personality, comes forth in the favour and features of themselves.  Shakspeare does not envisage all nature within the limits of his own lineaments, but masks himself in the living likenesses of other men.  I grant that no one transfigures his living model as he does.  No one, like him, can fix our sight on the mirage produced in imagination, and make us overlook and forget the facts that he was working from.

    He relies on reality as the engineer on the rock, but his cunning in transforming the matter is alike subtle with his art of vanishing from view in his own person.  When the spaces of his thought are spanned and the scaffolding disappears as though all fairy world had lent a hand to the labour, and the creation is finished like an air-hung work of wonder, it is almost as difficult to connect it with the real earth whereon he built as it would be to find the bases of the rainbow.  The way in which he creates for immortality out of the veriest dust of the earth, deals divinely with things most grossly mortal, and conjures the loftiest sublimities from the homeliest realities, is one of the great Shakspearean secrets.  As a slight example, see the lines in Macbeth

"The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
 Is left this vault to brag of!"

Here are Earth and Heaven, Wine-cellar and the concave Vast wedded, in a word, with one fusing flash of his imagination!  But who thinks or dares to think of the idea, as first conceived, in the august presence of its after-shape?  The scenery of his theatre was poor.  But if a blanket serves for the curtain, he will turn it to account and enrich it with great interest.  That simple drapery of his tragedy is good enough for hangings in heaven, and so the curtain of night becomes the "Blanket of the Dark."

    He makes appalling use of a common provincialism.  An instance may be pointed to in this same play.  In the depth of the tragedy, when Macbeth and his wife are wading hand in hand through blood to a throne, he makes the Thane turn to his partner, when in the very mid-current of the murders, and call her by a most innocent country term of tenderest endearment—

"Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest Chuck,
 Till you approve the deed."

So was it with his realism when portraying human beings; no one like him in converting his friends into our friends; in turning his time into all time.  But this was not done by idealizing them so much as by getting at the utmost reality.  It is not that he did not picture the people whom he saw and knew, but he has rendered the very spirit of them so absolutely, so interiorly, they live for us in his poetry so inwardly, so vitally, so familiarly, that we seem to know them more intimately, and commune with them more closely, than we should have been able to do even in real life; and the personages that walk in history under some of their names are mere fleshless phantoms and attenuated shadows beside them.

    Shakspeare's finest and most impressive characters are so real and profound, because of the amount of real life at the heart of them, that breathes beneath the robe of other times; the mask of other names.  Living men and women move and have their being in his dramas.  And the greatest of all reasons why his characters exist for all time is, because he so closely studied the men and women of his own time, and wrote with one hand touching the pulse of life, the other on the pen.  Some of those who must have come the nearest home to him, would be the "Private Friends" of his "Sugred Sonnets."

    The group of Shakspeare's Private Friends, for whom the Sonnets were written, being thus far identified, it remains to be seen whether, by way of further corroboration, we can find any trace of their characters in the plays.  We may be quite sure that Shakspeare was hard at work, whilst, to all appearance, merely at play in the Sonnets.  He would mark the workings of Time and Fortune on those in whom he took so tender an interest, wistfully as a bird watches the mould upturned by the plough, and pick up the least germs of fact fresh from life, and treasure up the traits of his friends for a life beyond life in his dramas.  He had followed Southampton's course year after year anxiously as Goëthe watched his cherry-tree in patient hope of seeing fruit at last; though one season the spring-frosts killed the blossom, another year the birds ate the buds, then the caterpillars destroyed the green leaves, and next there came a blight, and still he watched and hoped to see the ripened fruit!

    That course of true love which never did run smooth was expressly exemplified for him in the life of his friend Southampton.  It is represented first in his comedy, and it culminates in his tragedy.  His own dear friend was the tried lover and banished man in reality of whom we hear again and again in the Plays.

    There is much of Southampton's character and fate in Romeo the unlucky, doomed to be crossed in his dearest wishes, whose name was writ in sour Misfortune's book.  The Queen's opposition to the marriage stands in the place of that ancient enmity of the two Houses.  The troubled history of Southampton's love for Elizabeth Vernon, and the opposition of Fortune, much dwelt upon in the Sonnets, could not fail to give a more tragic touch to the play, a more purple bloom to the poetry, when the subject was the sorrow of true but thwarted love.  The Poet must have often preached patience to his friend, like the good Friar Lawrence, and at the same time apprehended with foreboding feeling and presaging fear some tragic issue from the clashing of such a temperament with so trying a fortune.

    In choosing the subject of Romeo and Juliet the fact could not have been overlooked by Shakspeare that his friend Southampton was also a Montague on the mother's side; she being Mary, daughter of Anthony Browne, the first Viscount Montague!  Looked at in this light, the question of Juliet—

"Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?"

has a double emphasis.  Also, there are expressions pointing to the lady of the Early Sonnets as being in the Poet's mind when he was thinking of Juliet.  A remarkable image in the 27th Sonnet is also made use of in Romeo's first exclamation on seeing Juliet for the first time.  In the Sonnet the lady's remembered beauty is said to be "like a jewel hung in ghastly night," which

"Makes black Night beauteous, and her old face new."

And Romeo says—

"Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of Night
 Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear."

Considering who the Sonnets were written for, this figure reappears in too pointed a way not to have some suggestive significance.  There is likewise a significant bit of Shakspeare's by-play in what seems merely the Nurse's nonsense respecting the letter R; but in these cases we have to watch him closely, and be quick to catch the hint.

"Nurse.   Doth not Rosemary and Romeo both begin with a letter?
 Romeo.   Ay, Nurse; what of that? both with an R.
 Nurse.   Ah, mocker! that's the dog's name: R is for the—No; I know

        it begins with some other letter: and she hath the prettiest sententious
        of it, of you and Rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.
Romeo.   Commend me to thy lady."—Act II, sc. iv.

More is meant in this passage than meets the eye.  The Nurse is being used.  There is something that she does not quite fathom, yet her lady does.  She is prettily wise over a pleasant conceit.  Romeo understands it too, if we may judge by his judicious reticence.  The Nurse, however, knows there is another letter involved.  There is a name that begins with a letter different from the one sounded, but this name is not in the Play, therefore it cannot be Rosemary which the Nurse knows does not begin with an "R."  Name and letter have to do with Romeo, the lady sees how, but the Nurse, who started to tell the lover a good joke about Juliet's playing with his name, is puzzled in the midst of it; can't make it out exactly, but it's a capital joke, and it would do his heart good to see how it pleases the lady, who is learned in the matter, though she, the Nurse, be no scholar!
    This bit of Shakspeare's fun has perplexed his commentators most amusingly; their hunt after the Dog and the "dog's letter R" being the best fun of all.  The only "dog" in the Nurse's mind is that "mocker" of herself, the audacious lover of her young lady.  Romeo has put her out of reckoning by saying "both with an R."  And the Nurse, with the familiarity of an old household favourite, and a chuckle of her amorous old heart, says in effect, "Ah, you dog, you, 'R' is for 'Rosemary,' and also for—No, there's some other letter, and my lady knows all about it;" only she says this half to herself, as she tries to catch the missing meaning of her speech, the very point of her story.  "Rosemary" is merely the herb of that name.  "That's for remembrance" with Juliet, not for the name of a dog!  The dog number one is Shakspeare's; dog number two is only Tyrwhitt's.  If R were the dog's letter in the name of Rosemary, nothing could make it any other letter.  What then is the "other letter" involved?  Now if, as suggested, the living Montague, Southampton, be Shakspeare's life-figure for Romeo, we shall find a meaning for the first time, and make sense of the Nurse's nonsense by supposing, as we well may, that here is an aside on the part of the Poet to his private friends, and that the name which begins with another letter is Wriothesley!
    In this name the two letters R and W are sounded as one, and both like the R in Rosemary.  This meeting-point is not found in the name of Romeo, but it is in that of Wriothesley.  Those who think such an interpretation impossible do not KNOW Shakspeare.  We have a like allusion to the first letter of a name that is not in the Play when Beatrice sighs for the "letter H," or for the person whose name it represents, and who cannot be Benedick, her lover in the Play.  There is also a similar bit of by-play and personal allusion in the Merry Wives of Windsor, where Mrs. Quickly asks Master Fenton, "Have not your worship a wart above your eye?"  "Yes, marry, have I; what of that?"  "Well, thereby hangs a tale—good faith, it is such another Nan.  We had an hour's talk of that wart; I shall never laugh but in that maid's company!  But, indeed, she is given too much to allicholly and musing.  I will tell your worship more of the wart, the next time we have confidence."
    That this is private by-play and not public business may be gathered from the fact that such a question need not have been put, as the wart would have been visible to Mrs. Quickly.  And as Shakspeare is working up his Stratford reminiscences and characters in this Play, as Justice Shallow represents Sir Thomas Lucy, it is not unlikely that "sweet Anne Page" was drawn from poor Anne Hathaway, and Master Fenton from William Shakspeare,—the player in and with and from reality.  But perhaps an apology should be offered to the autobiographists for so malicious a suggestion.
    In Romeo and Juliet the Poet is using the Nurse for the amusement of his friends, just as he uses Mrs. Quickly and Dogberry for ours; that is, by making ignorance a dark reflector of light for us; causing them to hit the mark of his meaning for us whilst missing it for themselves; thus they are befooled, and we are flattered.
    It is exceedingly probable that in the previous scene of this same act we have another aside which glances at my reading of the Sonnets, if only for a moment, the twinkling of an eye, yet full of merry meaning.
    Mercutio says of Romeo in love, "Now is he for the numbers Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love (or friend) to be-rhyme her."  Supposing my theory to be the right one, the perfection of the banter here—as between Shakspeare and Southampton—would lie in an allusion unperceived by the audience, but well known to poet and patron, as relating to the Sonnets which were then being written.  This aside would be no more than his making a public allusion to the Sonnets, as work in hand, when he dedicated the poem of Lucrece.   Besides, Shakspeare may be the original of Mercutio (see Ben Jonson's description of his liveliness!), he may even be playing the part on the stage to Burbage's Romeo, and the joke at his own and his friend's expense would be greatly heightened by an arch look at Southampton sitting on the stage in "the Lords' places, on the very rushes where the Comedy is to dance."  Many things would be conveyed to the initiated friends by the Poet's humour thus pawkily playing bo-peep from behind the dramatic mask, as it indubitably does.
    His promises of immortality made to the Earl of Southampton, in the Sonnets, have had a fulfilment in the Plays of which the world but little dreams.  Every heroic trait and chivalric touch in the Earl's nature would be carefully gathered up to reappear enriched in some such favourite type of English character as King Henry V.  Who but Henry Wriothesley, the gay young gallant, the chivalrous soldier, the beau sabreur and dashing leader of horse, could have lived in the mind's eye of Shakspeare when he wrote—

"I saw young Harry with his beaver on,
 His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed,
 Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury!
 He vaulted with such ease into his seat,
 As if an angel dropped down from the clouds,
 To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
 And witch the world with noble horsemanship."

Here we have the very man to the life, named by name, just as the Poet had seen him mount horse for the wars when he bade him farewell and triumphed in his pride.  The words are put into Sir Richard Vernon's mouth, but it is Shakspeare's heart that speaks in them.  Camden relates that about the end of March (1599) Essex set forward for Ireland, and was "accompanied out of London with a fine appearance of nobility and the most cheerful huzzas of the common people."  And, seeing that Shakspeare in Henry V. makes his allusion to Essex's coming home, I infer that in Henry IV. he pictures Southampton as he saw him at starting, on a similar occasion, dressed in heroic splendours, to his proud loving eyes; the noblest, the fieriest of the troop of young gallants, all noble, all on fire, "all clinquant, all in gold!"
    Three times over in the earlier Plays two of the female characters are cousins—Hermia and Helena in the Midsummer Night's Dream; Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It; Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado about Nothing.  Now I take it there was a reason in real life for this repetition.  I hold that the originals of these cousins were known to Shakspeare as the two cousins, Elizabeth Vernon and Lady Rich.  We might assume without further proof that if the Lady Rich sat to Shakspeare for some of his Sonnet-sketches, she would be certain to reappear, full-picture, in some of his plays.  She was too rare a product of Nature not to leave an impress on the mould of his imagination that would not easily pass away—an image that would give its similitude to characters afterwards fashioned by the Poet.  If he wrote about her on account of others, we may be sure he did on his own.  Now, As You Like It is based on a banishment from Court and an exile in the country.  The Play may be dated 1599.  And we learn from the history of the Private Friends that a banishment from Court of Essex, Elizabeth Vernon, Lady Rich, and the rest, had occurred in reality at the end of 1598.
    About this time (see p. 327) Elizabeth Vernon was laid up at Essex House "with reasons," and her cousin, Lady Rich, was laid up with her, and her banished brother Essex.  "Then there were two cousins laid up; when the one should be lamed with reasons, and the other mad without any" (As You Like It, I. ii.).  In the Play we see the two cousins are confessedly jesting on matters that can be identified outside of it.  "But, turning these jests out of service, let us talk in good earnest."  In most of these asides he leaves a proof of his by-play, but it is touch-and-go with him, he is so subtle in his double-dealings!
    I have already suggested that the Rosaline of Love's Labour's Lost and the lady of the Latter Sonnets are both drawn from the same original—the Lady Rich.  And if that be so, it can hardly be otherwise than that "My Lord Biron" is meant for Sidney.  It then follows that one aim of the Play was to stage the follies, and make fun of that "college of wit-crackers" who sought to found the "Areopagus," as Spenser termed it, and about which Shakspeare knew far more than we do.  There is a mine of matter here which I am unable to work from lack of time.  But I consider that in the character of Lord Biron, the poet and wit of the royal party, he has aimed at Sidney; and that in Biron's passion for Rosaline, the "Whitely wanton with the velvet brow," with her two black burning stars for eyes, and her "continent of beauty," who set the fashion of blackness in beauty which could not be imitated or falsified, it was so natural-true, we have Sidney's passion and pursuit of Lady Rich represented over again by Shakspeare, to live forever also in his lines.  I further think that to the jealousy of Elizabeth Vernon and the bickerings of the two cousins, as glimpsed in the Sonnets, we owe one of the loveliest conceptions that ever sprang on wings of splendour from the brain of man, the Midsummer Night's Dream; dreamed by the potent magician, when he lay down as it were apart from the stir and the strife of reality, under the boughs of that Athenian wood—a region full of fantasy; and in the mystic time, and on the borderland of life, the fairies came floating to him under the moonlight, over the moss, on divers-coloured, dew-besilvered plumes, lighting up the leafy coverts with their glow-worm lamps, moving about him in tiny attendance, to do his spiritings as they filled the sleeping forest with the richness of that dream.
    The play and the by-play are the very forgery of Jealousy; the jealousy of mortals mirrored with most exquisite mockery in fairy world.
    Hippolyta covertly gives the cue to the underlying realities in the life beyond the stage, when she proclaims as in an epilogue, that

"All the story of the night told over,
 And all their minds transfigured so together,
 More witnesseth than Fancy's images."

It is a fantasia upon matters of fact.
    In the Sonnets we have the position of two women, who are cousins, wooing one man; in the Play two men are made to pursue the love of one woman.  Puck, speaking of the effect of the flower-juice squeezed on the eyes, says,

"Then will two at once woo one."

Only the parts being reversed, the two that were wooing Hermia so passionately are compelled to follow Helena as persistently.  The object too of Oberon's sending for the magic flower, was, in its human aspect, to turn a false love into true, but by a mistake on the part of Puck, that was intentional on the part of the Poet, a true love is subjected to a false glamour, through the "misprision" that ensues.  A sweet Athenian lady is in love with a disdainful youth, who has capriciously left her to pursue the betrothed of another, and thus gives the leading movement to the love-fugue.  "Anoint his eyes," says Oberon, that he, in fact,

"May be as he was wont to be,
 And see as he was wont to see."

And Helena, groping through the glimmering night, half-blind with tears, in pursuit of her truant lover, chides almost in the same language as the lady of the Sonnets—

                                         "Fair Demetrius!
 Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex;
 We cannot fight for love as men may do;
 We should be wooed, and were not made to woo."

    The Poet having written Sonnets upon Elizabeth Vernon's jealousy of her cousin Lady Rich, found enough reality, and no more, in it to play with the subject.  So the pain and the petulance, the pleadings and reproaches, all passed away into this haunted realm of his imagination.  He dreamed about it, and the fact of the day became the fiction of the night; this being the transfigured shape it took in the spirit-would of things—a rainbow of most ethereal real beauty, that rose up in wonder-land, after the April storm of smiles and tears had passed from the face of real love, in the human world!—an arch of triumph, under which the friends were to pass, on their way into the world of wedded life.  All fairy-land is lit up for the illustration of the forgeries of jealousy, and we have the love-tiffs, fallings-out, and makings-up of the Poet's friends, represented in the most delicate disguise.  His fancy has been tickled, and his humour is all alive with an elfish sparkle.  He will make the wee folk mimic the quarrels of these human mortals; the fairy jealousy shall be just theirs, translated to the realm of the quaint spirits, who are a masked humanity in miniature.  Thus Oberon asks—

"How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
 Glance at my credit with Hippolyta?"

In dream-land, too, the Poet can have his own way, and turn the tables on the facts of real life.  He will play Oberon, and use the charmed juice for a "fair maid's sake."  The lover shall be punished, that was of late so mad with longings for Hermia, and have his eyes opened by a truer love-sight, and be rejected by Helena, as the breather of false vows.  The lady that drew all hearts and eyes shall be forsaken and left forlorn.  In the Sonnets, poor Helena has to reproach her cousin for stealing her lover from her side; Hermia is there the "gentle thief."  In the Play this is reversed, and Hermia charges Helena for the theft.

"O me! you juggler! you canker-worm!
 You thief of love!   What! have you come by night
 And stolen my Love's heart from him."
                                    —Midsummer Night's Dream, III. ii.

    Many touches tend to show that Hermia is Lady Rich, and Helena, Elizabeth Vernon.  The complexion of Hermia is aimed at, in her being called a "raven"; complexion and spirit both, in the "tawny Tartar."  The eyes of Stella are likewise distinguishable in "Hermia's sphery eyne;" in "your eyes are lode-stars!" also in these lines—

"Happy is Hermia, wheresoe'er she lies;
 For she hath blessed and attractive eyes;
 How came her eyes so bright?   Not with salt tears:
 If so, my eyes are oftener washed than hers."

    Hers too was the black brow of which we have heard so much, the "brow of Egypt," in which "the Lover" could see "Helen's beauty."

    The difference in character and in height of person agrees with all we know, and can fairly guess, of the two cousins.  Elizabeth Vernon—Helena is the taller of the two; in her portraits she is a woman of queenly height and of a ruddy colour, with hair like the glossy marjoram-buds.  "Thou painted May pole!"  Hermia calls Helena.  Helena is also the most timid, and, as in the Sonnets, fearful of her cousin, who "was a vixen when she went to school," and who is fierce for her size.

    Hermia protests against yielding herself in marriage to "his lordship, whose unwishèd yoke my soul consents not to give sovereignty" (to); just as Stella protested at the altar against the yoke of Lord Rich.  In the 28th Sonnet Elizabeth Vernon is thus addressed:

"I tell the Day, to please him, thou art bright,
 And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven;
 So flatter I the swart-complexioned Night;
 When sparkling stars tire not, thou gild'st the even."

In the drama Lysander exclaims—

"Fair Helena, who more engilds the Night,
 Than all the fiery oes and eyes of light!

Again, in Sonnet 109, Southampton says, on the subject of his wanderings in the past, and with a special allusion to some particular occasion, when the two lovers had suffered a "night of woe"—this Play being a Dream of that "Night" in which the Poet held the lovers to have been touched with a Midsummer madness!—

"As easy might I from myself depart,
 As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:
 That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
 Like him that travels, I return again."

    And in the Drama the repentant lover, when the glamour has gone from his eyes, says of the lady whom he has been following fancy-sick—

"Lysander, keep thy Hermia.   I will none:
 If e'er I loved her, all that love is gone.
 My heart to her but as guest-wise sojourned,
 And now to Helen it is home returned,
 There to remain

Lastly, the early and familiar acquaintanceship of the two cousins, Lady Rich and Elizabeth Vernon, is perfectly portrayed in these lines.  Helena is expostulating on the cruel bearing of Hermia towards her—

                                           "O, is it all forgot?
 All school-days' friendship, childhood-innocence?
 We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, [171]
 Have with our needles created both one flower,
 Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
 Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
 As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
 Had been incorporate.   So we grew together,
 Like to a double-cherry, seeming parted,
 But yet an union in partition;
 Two lovely berries moulded on one stem,
 So with two seeming bodies but one heart."
                    Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III. sc. ii.

    Mr. Halpin, in Oberon's Vision, illustrated [172] has conclusively shown the "little western flower" of the Allegory to be the representative of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, whom the Earl of Leicester wedded after he had shot his bolt with her Majesty and missed his mark of a royal marriage.

    My interpretation of Oberon's remark—

"That very time I saw, but thou could'st not"—

is to this effect—Shakspeare is treating Puck for the moment as a personification of his own boyhood.  "Thou rememberest the rare vision we saw at the 'Princely Pleasures' of Kenilworth?"  "I remember," replies Puck.  So that he was then present, and saw the sights and all the outer realities of the pageant.  But the Boy of eleven could not see what Oberon saw, the matrimonial mysteries of Leicester: the lofty aim of the Earl at a Royal prize, and the secret intrigue then pursued by him and the Countess of Essex.  Whereupon the Fairy King unfolds in Allegory what he before saw in vision, and clothes the naked skeleton of fact in the very bloom of beauty.  My reading will dovetail with the other to the strengthening of both.  But Mr. Halpin does not explain why this "little flower" should play so important a part; why it should be the chief object and final cause of the whole allegory, so that the royal range of the imagery is but its mere setting; why it should be the only link of connection betwixt the allegory and the play.  My rendering alone will show why and how.  The allegory was introduced on account of these two cousins; the "little western flower" being mother to Lady Rich, and aunt to Elizabeth Vernon.  The Poet pays the Queen a compliment by the way, but his allusion to the love-shaft loosed so impetuously by Cupid is only for the sake of marking where it fell, and bringing in the Flower.

    It is the little flower alone that is necessary to his present purpose, for he is entertaining his "Private Friends" more than catering for the amusement of the Court.  This personal consideration will explain the tenderness of the treatment.  Such delicate dealing with the subject was not likely to win the royal favour; the "imperial votaress" never forgave the "little western flower," and only permitted her to come to Court once, and then for a private interview, after her Majesty learned that Lettice Knollys had really become Countess of Leicester.  Shakspeare himself must have had sterner thoughts about the lady, but this was not the time to show them; he had introduced the subject for poetic beauty, not for poetic justice.  He brings in his allegory, then, on account of those who are related to the "little western flower," and in his use of the flower he is playfully tracing up an effect to its natural cause.  The mother of Lady Rich is typified as the flower called "Love-in-Idleness," the power of which is so potent that—

"The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid,
 Will make a man or woman madly doat
 Upon the next live creature that it sees."

And the daughter was like the mother.  "It comes from his mother," said the Queen, with a sigh, speaking of the dash of wilful devilry and the Will-o'-the-wisp fire in the Earl of Essex's blood!  Shakspeare, in a smiling mood, says the very same of Lady Rich and her love-in-idleness.  "It comes from her mother!"  She, too, was a genuine "light-o'-love," and possessed the qualities attributed to the "little western flower"—the vicious virtue of its juice, the power of glamourie by communicating the poison with which Cupid's arrow was touched when dipped for doing deadliest work.

    These she derives by inheritance; and these she has tried to exercise in real life on the lover of her cousin.  The juice of "love-in-idleness" has been dropped into Southampton's eyes, and in the Play its enchantment has to be counteracted.  And here I part company with Mr. Halpin.  "Dian's bud," the "other herb," does not represent his Elizabeth, the Queen, but my Elizabeth, the "faire Vernon."  It cannot be made to fit the Queen in any shape.  If the herb of more potential spell, "whose liquor hath this virtuous property" that it can correct all errors of sight, and "undo this hateful imperfection" of the enamoured eyes—

"Dian's bud, o'er Cupid's flower,
 Hath such force and blessed power,"—

were meant for the Queen, it would have no application whatever in life, and the allegory would not impinge on the Play.  Whose eyes did this virtue of the Queen purge from the grossness of wanton love?  Assuredly not Leicester's, and as certainly not those of the Lady Lettice.  The facts of real life would have made the allusion a sarcasm on the Queen's virgin force and "blessed power," such as would have warranted Iago's expression, "blessed fig's end!"  If it be applied to Titania and Lysander, what had the Queen to do with them, or they with her?  The allegory will not go thus far; the link is missing that should connect it with the drama.  No.  "Dian's bud" is not the Queen.  It is the emblem of Elizabeth Vernon's true love and its virtue in restoring the "precious seeing" to her lover's eyes, which had in the human world been doating wrongly.  It symbols the triumph of love-in-earnest over love-in-idleness; the influence of that purity which is here represented as the offspring of Dian.

    Only thus can we find that meeting-point of Queen and Countess, of Cupid's flower and Dian's bud, in the Play, which is absolutely essential to the existence and the oneness of the work; only thus can we connect the cause of the mischief with its cure.  The allusion to the Queen was but a passing compliment; the influence of the "little western flower" and its necessary connection with persons in the drama are as much the sine quâ non of the Play's continuity and development as was the jealousy of Elizabeth Vernon a motive-incident in the poetic creation.

    Such, I consider, was the Genesis of this exquisite Dramatic Vision and most dainty Dream; the little grub of fact out of which the wonder rose on rainbow wings; an instance of the way in which Shakspeare effected his marvellous transformations and made the mortal put on immortality.  It was my suggestion that this drama might have been written with the view of celebrating the marriage of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon; that it was for them his Muse put on the wedding raiment of such richness; that theirs was the bickering of jealousy so magically mirrored, the nuptial path so bestrewn with the choicest of our Poet's flowers, the wedding bond that he so fervently blest in fairy guise; that he was, as it were, the familiar friend at the marriage-feast who gossips cheerily to the company of a perplexing passage in the lover's courtship, which they can afford to smile at now, but that the marriage was disallowed by the Queen.

    Both the Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost appear to have been composed for a private audience rather than for the public stage.  They show us the Poet in his Court dress rather than in the manager's suit.

    Karl Elze, supported by Hermann Kurz, has tried to prove that the Midsummer Night's Dream was written for the celebration of Essex's marriage in 1590, or performed at the festivities on the first of May in that year. [173]  Now I have as much interest in Essex as any one can have, but this view is entirely untenable.  So is the further suggestion of the same writer to the effect that it was Essex who introduced Shakspeare to Southampton, for whose sake he lent his pen at times to serve the Essex cause.  There is no historic or other evidence that Essex was a patron of Shakspeare, early or late.  The Poet dedicated nothing to the Earl.  Essex was not friendly with or to Southampton when they first met at Court, but behaved to him like an offended rival.  This is resented by Shakspeare in his retort on "Ewes," in Sonnet 20: Southampton had known the Poet some years, and Shakspeare had inscribed his first poem to him before Essex and Southampton became friends through the latter's love for Elizabeth Vernon (see pp. 54, 129). Shakspeare exalts his friend Southampton over Essex (and Ewe) in the Sonnets; and lastly, the ripe perfection of its perfect poetry shows the Midsummer Night's Dream was not written anything like so early as 1590.  My contention is, that it followed the death of Marlowe, who is described as "Learning late deceased in Beggary."  He was undoubtedly known to Essex as the friend of Southampton, and as the writer of Sonnets on the affection of that Earl for Essex's cousin.  In this wise Essex became one of the Private Friends to whom the Sonnets were known in MS., as mentioned by Meres, and the Poet was induced to lend his pen at Southampton's request to serve the Essex cause.

    It is, of course, impossible that the Earl of Essex should not have been one of the friends in the mind of Meres when he wrote of those amongst whom the Sonnets privately circulated.  Essex was something of a poet: he possessed the kindling poetic temperament and was fond of making verses; a lover of literature, and the friend of poets.  It was he who sought out Spenser when in great distress and relieved him, and, when that poet died, Essex buried him in Westminster Abbey.  Being, as he was, so near a friend of Southampton, it could scarcely be otherwise than that he should have been a personal friend of Shakspeare.  It is highly probable that some of the Poet's dramas were first performed at Essex House.  Plays were presented there before Southampton and Mr. Secretary Cecil, when they were leaving London for Paris, January, 1598, as Rowland White relates.  The same writer [174] says, that on the 14th of the next month, there was a grand entertainment given at Essex House.  There were present the Ladies Leicester, Northumberland, Bedford, Essex, and Rich; also Lords Essex, Rutland, Mountjoy, and others.  "They had two Plays, which kept them up till one o'clock after midnight."  Southampton was away, but this brings us upon the group of "Private Friends" gathered, in all likelihood, to witness a private performance of two of our Poet's Plays.  And now let us examine a passage in Hamlet, to see what further light it may shed on the subject of our Poet's attitude towards Queen Elizabeth, and the nature of his relationship to those "Private Friends" of his, including Essex, previously, and I trust sufficiently, identified.  One of the real cruxes and greatest perplexities of Shakspearean editors occurs in a passage in Hamlet, which was so bungled or broken that it has never been mended with any satisfaction.  The lines are spoken by Horatio, in the opening scene, after he has caught his first glimpse of the Ghost—

"In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
 A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
 The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
 Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.
 *                *                *                *                *                *
 As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
 Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
 Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
 Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
 And even the like precurse of fierce events,
 As harbingers preceding still the fates
 And prologue to the omen coming on,
 Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
 Unto our climatures and countrymen."

    The asterisks stand for a missing link.  Some of the Commentators tried to solder the lines together by altering a word or two, but they could not get them right.  Rowe endeavoured to connect the fifth and sixth lines by reading—

"Stars shone with trains of fire, dews of blood fell,
 Disasters veiled the sun."

Malone proposed to change "as stars" to Astres, remarking that "the disagreeable recurrence of the word star in the second line induces me to believe that 'as stars' in that which precedes is a corruption. Perhaps Shakspeare wrote—

"Astres with trains of fire and dews of blood,
 Disastrous veiled the sun."

Another critic proposed (in Notes and Queries) to read—

"Asters with trains of fire and dews of blood,
 Disasters in the sun"

meaning by disasters, spots or blotches.  Mr. Staunton conceived that the cardinal error lies in "disasters," which conceals some verb importing the obscuration of the sun; for example—

"Asters with trains of fire and dews of blood
 Distempered the sun;"

or discoloured the sun.  So far as I could learn, no one had gone any deeper into the subject-matter of this passage, or questioned the fact of eclipses of the sun and moon heralding and presaging the death of Julius Cæsar.  As the lines stand, we are compelled to read that, amongst other signs and portents of Cæsar's assassination, there were "disasters in the sun," and almost a complete eclipse of the moon.  Yet no such facts are known or registered in history.  There was an eclipse of the sun the year after Cæsar's death, which is spoken of by Aurelius Victor, Dion, Josephus, and Virgil in his 4th Georgic (vide L'Art de Verifier les Dates, vol. i. p. 264).  This is known and recorded, but it did not presage and could not be the precursor of Cæsar's fall.

    If we turn to Plutarch, we shall find there "were strong signs and PRESAGES of the death of Cæsar;" and the old biographer suggests that fate is not always so secret as it is inevitable.  He alludes to the lights in the heavens, the unaccountable noises heard in various parts of the city, the appearance of solitary birds in the Forum, and says these trivialities may hardly deserve our notice in presence of so great an event; but more attention should be paid to Strabo, who tells us that fiery figures were seen fighting in the air; a flame of fire issued visibly from the hand of a soldier who did not take any hurt from it; one of the victims offered in sacrifice by Cæsar was discovered to be without a heart; a soothsayer threatened Cæsar with a great danger on the Ides of March; the doors and windows of his bedroom fly open at night; his wife Calpurnia dreams of his murder, and the fall of the pinnacle on their house.  He mentions the sun in a general way: says the "sun was darkened—the which all that year rose very pale and shined not out."  In Golding's translation of the 15th Book of Ovid's Metamorphoses there is an account of the prodigies, which speaks of "Phœbus looking dim," but there is no eclipse, nor is there any allusion to the moon.  Neither is there in Shakspeare's drama of Julius Cæsar.  The poet, as usual with him, has adopted all the incidents to be found in Plutarch.  He has repeated Calpurnia's dream; the fiery figures encountering in the air, the lights seen in the heavens, the strange noises heard, the lonesome birds in the public Forum, the flame that was seen to issue from the soldier's hand unfelt, the lion in the Capitol, the victim offered by Caesar and found to have no heart.  He describes the graves yawning, and the ghosts shrieking in the Roman streets; blood drizzling over the Capitol, and various other things "portentous" to the "climate that they point upon."  But there is no hint of any eclipse of sun or moon in Shakspeare's Julius Cæsar.  Thus we find no eclipse marked in history; no eclipse noted by Plutarch; no eclipse alluded to by Shakspeare when directly treating the subject of Cæsar's fall.  How, then, should an eclipse, not to say two, occur in Hamlet, and this in the merest passing allusion to the death of Cæsar?  Further study of the passage led me to the conclusion that, from some cause or other, the printers had got the lines wrong, through displacing five of them, and that we should read the passage as follows—

"In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
 A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
 The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
 Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.
 And even the like precurse of fierce events
 (As harbingers preceding still the fates,
 And prologue to the omen coming on)
 Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
 Unto our climatures and countrymen,
 As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood;
 Disasters in the sun: and the moist star
 Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
 Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse."

It is noteworthy that where the original punctuation has been retained—and this is a warning to those who will be tampering with the text—it goes to corroborate the present reading, for it runs on after "countrymen," and comes to the full stop after "eclipse."

    It must be admitted that we recover the perfect sense of the passage by this version, and I have to submit to Shakspeare students and editors that our Poet would not have introduced "disasters in the sun" and an almost "total eclipse of the moon" where they never occurred; consequently, these can have no more to do with Cæsar in the Play of Hamlet than they are connected with him in history.  Therefore, as they are wrong in fact, the reading of the passage hitherto accepted must be wrong; and as this simple transposition of the lines sets the reading right, with no change of words, I trust that it may be found to correct the printer's error.

    We have in the present reading of the lines, then, got away from Rome with our eclipses: they did not occur there.  Nor do they occur in the Play prior to the appearance of the Ghost.  Nor had they occurred in Denmark.  These portents of sun and moon had not been visible to Horatio and his fellow-seers.  Their only portent was the apparition of Hamlet's father, this "portentous figure" that appeared to the watchers by night.  The meteors, the dews of blood, the disasters in the son, and the complete eclipse of the moon, are wanting in Denmark.  Where then did these eclipses take place?

    Having spent much time and thought in trying to track our Poet's footprints and decipher his shorthand allusiveness, that must have been vastly enjoyed by the initiated, but which so often and so sorely poses us, I was all the more suspicious that there was deeper meaning in this passage than meets the eye on the surface, or than could be fathomed until we had the shifted lines restored to their proper place.  Not that my interpretation has to depend altogether on the restoration.  However read, there are the "disasters in the sun" and the ECLIPSE OF THE MOON in the lines, and there is the fact that these did not happen in Rome, and do not occur in Denmark!  But I was in hopes that this fracture of the lines might prove an opening, a vein of richness in the strata of the subject-matter, especially as this very passage was not printed in the quarto of 1603, and it was again omitted in the folio edition of 1623.

    I have to suggest, and if possible demonstrate, that in this passage from Hamlet our Poet was going "round to work," as I have traced him at it a score of times in his Sonnets and Plays.  I can have no manner of doubt that Shakspeare was referring in those lines to the two eclipses which were visible in England in the year 1598.  Though but little noted, the tradition is that a total eclipse of the sun took place in 1598, and the day was so dark as to be called "black Saturday."  But that was not enough; an eclipse of the moon was wanted: and I am indebted to the late Astronomer Royal for his courtesy and kindness.  I told him I wanted two eclipses in the year 1598, visible in England, to illustrate Shakspeare, and he was good enough to get J. R. Hind, Esq. [175] and his staff to enter on the necessarily elaborate calculations, and read the skiey volume backwards for nearly three centuries.  Sure enough the eclipses were there; they had occurred; and I have the path of the shadow of the solar eclipse over England mapped out, together with notes on the eclipse of the moon, showing that there was a large eclipse of the moon on February 20th (21 morning), Gregorian, and a large eclipse of the sun, possibly total in some parts of Britain, on the 6th of March, 1595.  Two eclipses in a fortnight—the sun and the moon darkened as if for the Judgment Day!  Such a fact could hardly fail to have its effect on the mind of Shakspeare, and be noted in his play of the period, just as he works up the death of Marlowe, "late deceased in beggary" (i.e. in a scuffle in a brothel), in A Midsummer Night's Dream; the wet, ungenial season of 1593 (same play); the "new map," in Twelfth Night; and the earthquake spoken of by the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.  We shall see further on that Shakspeare has another possible reference to these eclipses of the sun and moon.

    According to my restored reading and interpretation, then, the speaker alludes to events that occurred out of the usual order of nature as prognostications of Cæsar's sudden death; and he goes on to say that a "like precurse" (not like precursors, mark!) has in our country and climate presaged similar things.  We too have had our harbingers of the fates, and the coming imminent events have been darkly and fiercely foreshadowed to us on earth by awful signs and wonders in the heavens; or, as he puts it, the "like precurse" of "fierce events" have heaven and earth together demonstrated in the shape of meteors, bloody dews, disasters in the sun, and an almost total eclipse of the moon.  Now, as these latter had not taken place in Rome or Denmark, and had occurred in England in 1598, the conclusion is forced upon us that Shakspeare was writing Hamlet in 1598, and that the eclipses were introduced there because they had just occurred, and were well known to his audience.

    Our Poet had what we in our day of Positive Philosophy may think a weakness for the supernatural, a most quick apprehension of the neighbourhood of the spirit-world bordering on ours, and of its power to break in on the world of flesh.  So many of his characters are overshadowed by the "skiey influences."  And with this belief so firmly fixed in the popular mind, and so often appealed to and breathed upon by him in his Plays, he takes these two eclipses in the passage quoted from Hamlet, and covertly becomes the interpreter of their meaning to the English people.  He does not simply allude to the darkness that covered the land, does not merely describe the late event, but most distinctly and definitely points the moral of it for the behoof of his listeners.  Certain deadly signs are said to have ushered in the fate of Cæsar, and the Poet finds in the late eclipses and meteors the "like precurse" of a similar event to come; he holds these to be "harbingers preceding still the fates," the "prologue to the omen coming on."  He had done the same thing in King Richard II., where the Captain says—

"Meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
 The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth,
 And lean-look'd prophets whisper fearful change.
 These signs forerun the death or fall of kings."

And that was the play chosen for representation the night before Essex made his attempt.

    Having identified the eclipses as English, and not Romish or Danish, we must go one step further, and see that the application is meant to be English, and Shakspeare points to the death or deposition of Elizabeth!  Obviously, Shakspeare had read William of Malmsbury, who tells his readers that the eclipse of August 2nd, 1133, presaged the death of Henry I.  "The elements showed their griefs," he says, "at the passing away of this great king, for on that day the sun hid his resplendent face at the sixth hour, in fearful darkness, disturbing men's minds by his eclipse."  Our Poet treats the eclipses of 1595 in the same spirit, and holds them to presage similar fierce events to those that took place in Rome, which had been heralded and proclaimed by signs and portents in earth and heaven.  It may seem strange that Shakspeare should use the phrase "disasters in the sun;" but very possibly the eclipse had been preceded by other phenomena. [176]  Moreover, it is the eclipse of the moon he has to bring out.  The "moist star" has to do double duty for the moon and monarch too.  Elizabeth was the moon, and a changeful one also!  She was the "Cynthia" of Spenser, Raleigh, Jonson, and all the poets of the time.  She was governess of the sea as much as the moon was "governess of floods."  That is why the emphasis is laid on the lunar eclipse, when the sun's must have been so much the more obvious.  It is a personification; a fact with Janus faces to it.  The general effect of the year of eclipse would thus be gathered up and pointed with its most ominous and particular signification—the coming death or deposition of Elizabeth; and the Poet was turning contemporary circumstances to account, and underlining them for private purposes with a covert significance.

    He recurs to the subject again in King Lear.  Gloster says, "These late eclipses in the sun and noon portend no good to us.  We have seen the best of our time."  Possibly Shakspeare replied to himself in the person of Edmund, who, when asked by Edgar what he is thinking of, answers, "I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read the other day, what should follow these eclipses."  Edmund mocks at the superstitious notions entertained of eclipses: "This is the excellent foppery of the world! we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly ompulsion; all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on;" which sounds like a scoff at what he had previously written; and there looks like a sly allusion, a self-nudge, as it were, in Edgar's question, "How long have you been a sectary astronomical?"  Be this as it may, the allusion to the late eclipses in the sun and moon tends to the corroboration of my view that he refers to the same in Hamlet.  I think he certainly does allude to his prediction made in Hamlet with regard to the eclipses, and verify its supposed application to the Queen, thus clinching my conclusion, in the 107th of his Sonnets.  This Sonnet I hold to be written by Shakspeare as his greeting to the Earl of Southampton, who was released from the Tower on the death of Elizabeth.  In this Shakspeare says:—

"The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
 And the sad augurs mock their own presage

He himself had presaged "fierce events," and had afterwards feared the worst for his friend, doomed first to death and then to a life-long imprisonment, but he finds the great change has taken place peaceably.

    There is likewise in Sonnet 124 a link such as constitutes a perfect tally with the prediction deduced by me from the passage in Hamlet.  The speaker says his "love" is so happily circumstanced that it

                       "fears not policy—that heretic
 Which works on leases of short-numbered hours."

It was the Queen's "policy" for years to prevent the marriage of Southampton, and the Poet here implies that the "heretic" won't live for ever, and when she dies at last, he says,—

"The Mortal Moon hath her eclipse eudured."

    This correction of mine has since been adopted by certain editors, as it is by the editor of the Leopold Shakspeare, but with no recognition of my argument, or the pains taken to secure the proof for establishing the correction, and with no allusion whatever to the bearings of my discovery on the relations of Shakspeare to the Essex faction.

    I notice that the editor of the Leopold Shakspeare is now of opinion that Shakspeare did enter into the politics of his time.  He observes in his own early English, "To say that Shakspeare did not allude to political events is all gammon and pooh!" [177]  Yet the time was when the same writer publicly opposed my view on that subject in the Academy.

    I have now adduced the further evidence promised, p. 65, to show that Shakspeare wrought covertly on behalf of Essex, because of his own personal friendship for Southampton.  If we glance for a moment at the condition of things in England, and particularly in London, in 1598, it will increase the significance of Shakspeare's presaging lines.

    That year lies in shadow ominously and palpably as though the eclipses had sunk and stained into the minds of men: this is as obvious to feeling as the eclipses were to sight.  We breathe heavily in the atmosphere of that year; the scent of treason is rank in the air.  That was the year in which the nation grew so troubled about the future: the Queen's health was breaking, and Cecil opened secret negotiations with James VI. of Scotland.  Essex, his sister and associates, were on the alert with the rest.  A witness deposed that as early as 1594 Essex had said he would have the crown for himself if he could secure it; and whether the expression be true or not, one cannot doubt that it jumps with the Earl's and Lady Rich's intent.  Moreover, he was as near a blood relation to the Queen as was King James of Scotland.  The gathering of treason was ripening fast, to break in insurrection.  Essex became more and more secret in his practices.  Strange men flocked round him, and were noticed stealing through the twilight to Essex House.  He became more and more familiar with those who were known to be discontented and disloyal.  The mud of London life, in jail, and bridewell, and tavern, quickens into mysterious activity in this shadow of eclipse.  Things that have only been accustomed to crawl and lurk, begin to walk about boldly in the open day.  The whisperings of secret intrigue grow audible in the mutterings of rebellion and threats of the coming "fierce events."  The Catholics are seen to gather closer and closer round Essex; their chief fighting tools, their Jesuit agents, their dangerous outsiders, hem him round or hang upon his skirts.  Blount and others grow impatient of waiting so long, and are mad to strike an early blow.  The Earl, as usual, is irresolute.  He is not quite a Catholic, and no doubt has his views apart from the hopes and expectations of the Catholics.  Still, there is the conspiracy.  The plans are formed, the plot is laid, the leaders are all ready, could Hamlet—I mean Essex—but make up his mind to strike.  And in this year, in the midst of these circumstances, Shakspeare holds up that mirror, so often held up to Nature, to reflect the signs in heaven, and interpret them to the people as symbols of the coming death of Elizabeth, and the fall of her throne:—

"And even the like precurse of fierce events
 (As harbingers preceding still the fates,
 And prologue to the omen coming on),
 Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
 Unto our climatures and countrymen."

    The meetings of the conspirators were held at Southampton's house, and it is not possible to doubt that Shakspeare had an inkling of what was going on, and what was expected to occur.  Not only does he indicate the "fierce events" which may be looked for, but he reads the portents as heaven's warrant or sign manual of what is going to happen.  I have before argued that Shakspeare took sides with Southampton against the tyranny of Elizabeth in the matter of his marriage with Elizabeth Vernon: that fact I find written all through his Sonnets.  And that his intimacy with the Earl, to whom he dedicated "love without end," went still deeper, I cannot doubt.  Not that I think our Poet abetted Southampton on the path of conspiracy.  I know he bewails the young Earl's courses; his dwelling in the society of evil companions and wicked, dangerous men.  In Sonnet 67 he grieves that his young friend should live with "infection," and with his presence grace impiety; that he should give the "advantage" to "sin," by allowing it to take shelter and steal a grace from his "society."  In Sonnet 69 he tells the Earl that he has grown common in the mouths of men in consequence of his "ill-deeds," and because by his low companionship he to his "fair flower adds the rank smell of weeds;" and warns him that—

"Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

    In all likelihood these very men against whom our Poet is warning his young friend are the blackguardly crew that was creeping into the company of Essex and urging him on to his destruction.  But I do maintain that our Poet was induced by Southampton to lend his pen, so far as they could get him to go, with the view of serving the cause of Essex, and that for love of Southampton he kept beside him.  They sought to make use of him when and where they could, just as a statesman or a conspirator of the time might make use of a preacher at Paul's Cross, to be, as it were, a living poster for the purpose of announcing certain things to the crowd.  An intimation could be made by the Dramatist as effectively as though he had distributed hand-bills.  And in this covert way, I take it, was Shakspeare working in that passage quoted from Hamlet.

    The non-appearance of the lines in the first quarto, and their suppression in the first folio edition, tend to corroborate and increase the significance of the subject-matter.  They were not printed during the Queen's life, and, as they were not likely to be spoken when her Majesty was at the theatre or Court representation, they would demand careful handling.  This may have entailed such a manipulation of the passage as led to the shifting of the lines in print, and the consequent difficulty from which they have not till now recovered.

    This would be one of the Players' Shifting Scenes, like that of the Deposition in Richard II., which were not meant for the eye of the censor or the ear of the Queen.

    Sir Charles Percy was an adherent of the Essex cause.  He served with Essex in the Irish wars, and was at his side when the Earl made his mad ride into the City of London.  And it was he who represented the conspirators when they sought to have the Play of King Richard II. performed on the eve of Essex's attempt because of its political significance.  Augustine Phillips, the player, one of Shakspeare's company, testified that Sir Charles Percy, Sir Joselyne Percy, and Lord Monteagle (whom I hold to have been the "Suborned Informer"), and some three more, came and bespoke the "Play of the Deposing and killing of King Richard II. to be played," promising the players forty shillings more than their ordinary fee if they would perform that drama.  Sir Charles was Lord of Dumbleton, near Campden, in Gloucestershire, which is not far from Stratford; and it is possible there is by-play in the allusion to "Master Dumbleton," 2 King Henry IV., I. ii., who would not take Falstaff's bond or Bardolph's, because he "liked not the security."

    Shakspeare has been charged by Davies with turning "GRAVE MATTERS OF STATE" into a "PLAY OF PUPPETS," showing that he held up the mirror to the political world of his time, and represented its living characters on the stage.

    And now, since Shakspeare was the known author of King Richard II., and whispering tongues informed the Queen that the Play was intended to familiarize the people with the deposition and death of monarchs; since these hints affected her so much that she exclaimed fiercely to Lambard, Keeper of the Records, "I am Richard—know you not that?"—since such was the intimacy of Shakspeare with Essex's friends, and when the Lords Southampton and Rutland were inquired after for non-attendance at Court, her Majesty would learn that they passed their time in seeing plays at the theatre of this playwright, William Shakspeare,—is it possible that our Poet could have escaped suspicion and passed on his way quite unchallenged in the matter?  I more than doubt it.

    There is an unusual intensity of feeling in one or two of the Personal Sonnets, as when he says:—

"Against my love shall be, as I am now,
 With Time's injurious hand crushed and o'er-worn."

He appears to be broken down.  It is not a question of health only.  It may have had to do with political affairs.  One group looks as if the shadow of death lay on the lines, and also on himself, if not on the friend as well.  John Davies' words tend to strongly confirm that conjecture:—

"Well fare thee, man of art and world of wit,
 That by supremest mercy livest yet!"

Was it so near a chance with him, then, that it was only by the sheerest mercy that Shakspeare escaped from the wreck and ruin of
his "Private Friends?"  To all appearance that is what John Davies meant.

    All this tends to make it probable that Bacon may have been aimed at in that "hang hog is Latin for Bacon."  And if, as Mr. Donnelly contends, the "Francis" of 1 King Henry IV. is meant for Francis Bacon, why then there may be much meaning hidden in the lines—

"P. Hen.  Nay, but hark you, Francis: for the sugar thou gavest me, —
                 'twas a pennyworth was it not?
Fran.       O Lord, sir!  I would it had been two.
P. Hen.   I will give thee for it a thousand pound: ask me when thou

                wilt and then shalt have it."

    A thousand pounds for a penn'orth of sugar!  What does it mean?  The fooling in the play is incomprehensible.  Let us see what it might mean out of it.  It happens that in 1595 the Earl of Essex had given to Francis Bacon a small landed estate worth £1,000 or £1,200; and this play was written soon afterwards.  A thousand pounds for a penn'orth of sugar was possibly Shakspeare's estimate of Bacon's sycophantic services and Essex's payment.  It was not for nothing that Shakspeare began work as a Player.  He was a great mimic by nature, and the mimicry was not limited to the player when on the stage.  The Playwright was likewise a merry mocker beneath the dramatic mask.  See how he quizzed the Euphuistic affectations, and other non-natural fashions.  How he burlesqued the bombast of Tamburlaine, and made fun of the heroes of Homer.  After all, if Bacon was burlesqued and staged in that way as Francis the "WAITER," he had sufficient reasons for not calling attention to Shakspeare and what he OWED TO HIM.

    It was from the character of Essex, I think, that Shakspeare largely drew in portraying one of his most perplexing personages—the character of Hamlet.  There is nothing Norsk about the Hamlet of Shakspeare's tragedy.  Whereas, the puzzle of history, called "Essex," was well calculated to become that problem of the critic called "Hamlet."  The characters and circumstances of both have much in common.  The father of Essex was popularly believed to have been poisoned by the man who afterwards married the widow.  Then the burden of action imposed on a nature divided against itself, the restlessness of spirit, the wayward melancholy, the fantastic sadness, the disposition to look on life as a sucked orange,—all point to such a possibility.  We can match Hamlet's shifting moods of mind with those of the "weary knight," heart-sore and fancy-sick, as revealed in letters to his sister Lady Rich.  In one of these he writes—

    "This lady hath entreated me to write a fantastical.   .   .   . but I am so ill with my pains, and some other secret causes, as I will rather choose to dispraise those affections with which none but women, apes, and lovers are delighted.  To hope for that which I have not is a vain expectation; to delight in that which I have is a deceiving pleasure; to wish the return of that which is gone from me is womanish inconstancy.  Those things which fly me I will not lose labour to follow.  Those that meet me I esteem as they are worth, and leave when they are nought worth.  I will neither brag of my goodhap nor complain of my ill; for secrecy makes joys more sweet, and I am then most unhappy, when another knows that I am unhappy.  I do not envy, because I will do no man that honour to think he hath that which I want; nor yet am I not contented, because I know some things that I have not, Love, I confess to be a blind god.  Ambition, fit for hearts that already confess themselves to be base.  Envy is the humour of him that will be glad of the reversion of another man's fortune; and revenge the remedy of such fools as in injuries know not how to keep themselves aforehand.  Jealous I am not, for I will be glad to lose that which I am not sure to keep.  If to be of this mind be to be fantastical, then join me with the three that I first reckoned, but if they beyoung and handsome, with the first.
                                                          "Your brother that loves you dearly."[178]

Again he writes to his "dear sister"—

    "I am melancholy-merry; sometimes happy and often discontented.  The Court is of as many humours as the rainbow hath colours.  The time wherein we live is more inconstant than women's thoughts, more miserable than old age itself, and breedeth both people and occasions like itself, that is, violent, desperate, and fantastical.  Myself, for wondering at other men's strange adventures, have not leisure to follow the ways of mine own heart, but by still resolving not to be proud of any good that can come, because it is but the favour of chance; nor do I throw down my mind a whit for any ill that shall happen, because I see that all fortunes are good or evil as they are esteemed."  [179]

These read exactly like expressions of Hamlet's weariness, indifference, and doubt, as, for example, this sighing utterance, "How weary, flat, stale, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!"  And this—

    "Indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me as a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire; why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. . . . Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither."

    There is the same worm at the root, the same fatal fracture running through the character, the same vacillation and glancing aside the mark, that tendency to zigzag which made Coleridge swerve from side to side of his walk in the Garden, because he never could make up his mind to go direct.  It strikes me that the subject of Hamlet was forced on Shakspeare as a curious study from the life of his own time, rather than chosen from a rude remote age for its dramatic aptitude.  For the character is undramatic in its very nature; a passive, contemplative part, rather than an acting one.  It has no native hue of Norse resolution, but is sicklied over with the "pale cast" of more modern thought.  As with Essex, the life is hollow at heart, dramatic only in externals.  The Drama does not solve any riddle of life for us, it is the represented riddle of a life that to this day remains unread.  Doubtless, it would be the death of many fine-spun theories and rare subtleties of insight regarding Shakspeare's intentions, if we could oftener see how contented he was to let Nature have her way, how he trusted the realities which she had provided; steadily keeping to his terra firma, and letting his followers seek after him all through their cloudland.

    When the Poet put these words into the mouth of Ophelia—"Bonnie Sweet Robin is all my joy," they were not meant, I think, to refer merely to the tune of that name.  "Sweet Robin" was the pet name by which the Mother of Essex addressed him in her letters.  One wonders whether either of the Court ladies—Elizabeth Southwell, Mary Howard, Mrs. Russell, or the "fairest Brydges"—whose names have been coupled with that of Essex—as when Rowland White says, February 12, 1598, "It is spied out by Envy that 1000 (Essex) is again fallen in love with his fairest B."—whether either of these gave any hint to Shakspeare for the character of Ophelia?

    In adducing evidence that Essex was one of Shakspeare's Private Friends, we see that the Poet lent his pen on two occasions for the Earl's service.  I have now to suggest another instance.  There is a copy of verses in England's Helicon (1600), reprinted from John Douland's First Book of Songs; or, Ayres of four parts, with a Tableture for the Lute. [180]  It is an address to "Cynthia."

"My thoughts are winged with hopes, my hopes with love:
 Mount love unto the Moon in clearest night;
 And say as she doth in the heavens move,
 In earth so wanes and waxeth my delight.
     And whisper this—but softly—in her ears,
     How oft Doubt hangs the head and Trust sheds tears.

 And you, my thoughts that seem mistrust to carry,
 If for mistrust my Mistress you do blame;
 Say, though you alter, yet, you do not vary,
 As she doth change, and yet remain the same.
     Distrust doth enter hearts, but not infect,
     And love is sweetest seasoned with suspect.

 If she for this with clouds do mask her eyes,
 And make the heavens dark with her disdain;
 With windy sighs disperse them in the skies,
 Or with thy tears derobe [181] them into rain.
     Thoughts, hopes, and love return to me no more,
     Till Cynthia shine as she hath shone before.

    These verses have been ascribed to Shakspeare on the authority of a commonplace book, which is preserved in the Hamburg city library.  In this the lines are subscribed W. S., and the copy is dated 1606.  The little poem is quite worthy of Shakspeare's sonneteering pen.  And the internal evidence is sufficient to stamp it as Shakspeare's, for the manner and the music, with their respective felicities, are essentially Shakspearean, of the earlier time.  The alliteration in sound and sense; the aerial fancy moving with such a gravity of motion; the peculiar coruscation that makes it hard to determine whether the flash be a sparkle of fancy or the twinkle of wit, are all characteristic proofs of its authorship.  I judge the lyric to be Shakspeare's, and would suggest that it may have been written for Essex to serve him with the Queen, at a time when Cynthia had withdrawn the smile of her favour, and that he had it set to music by Douland to be sung at Court.

    "Of all Shakspeare's historical plays," says Coleridge, "Antony and Cleopatra is the most wonderful.  Not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so much—perhaps none in which he impresses it more strongly.  This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force is sustained throughout, owing to the numerous momentary flashes of nature counteracting the historic abstraction."

    There were reasons for this vivid look of life and warmth of colour unknown to Coleridge.  It is not merely life-like, but real life itself.  The model from which Shakspeare drew his Cleopatra was, like his statue of Hermione, a very real woman all a-thrill with life: "The fixure of her eye hath motion in't!"  Ripe life is ruddy on the lip; life stirs in the breath. A little closer, and we exclaim with Leonatias, "Oh, she's warm!"

    There was a woman in the North, whom Shakspeare had known, quite ready to become his life-figure for this siren of the East; her name was Lady Rich, the sister o£ Essex.  A few touches to make the hair dark, and give the cheek a browner tint, and the change was wrought.  The soul was already there, apparelled in befitting bodily splendour.  She had the tropical exuberance, the rich passionate life, and reckless, impetuous spirit; the towering audacity of will, and breakings-out of wilfulness; the sudden change from stillness to storm, from storm to calm, which kept her life in billowy motion, on which her spirit loved to ride triumphing, while others went to wreck; the cunning—past man's thought—to play as she pleased upon man's pulses; the infinite variety that custom could not stale; the freshness of feeling that age could not wither; the magic to turn the heads of young and old, the wanton and the wise.  Her "flashes of nature" were lightning-flashes!  A fitting type for the witch-woman, who kissed away kingdoms, and melted down those immortal pearls of price—the souls of men—to enrich the wine of her luxurious life.  The very "model for the devil to build mischief on," or for Shakspeare to work by, when setting that "historic abstraction" all aglow with a conflagration of passionate life, and making old Nile's swart image of beauty in bronze breathe in flesh and blood and sensuous shape once more to personify eternal torment in the most voluptuous guise.  The hand of the Englishwoman flashes its whiteness, too, in witness, when she offers to give her "bluest veins to kiss," forgetful that it was black with "Phœbus' amorous pinches."  The "lascivious Grace in whom all ill well shows," Sonnet 40, is that "serpent of old Nile," who was "cunning past man's thought."  She who is asked in Sonnet 150,

"Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
 That in the very refuse of thy deeds,
 There is such strength and warrantise of skill
 That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds?"

is the same person, of whom it is said in the tragedy, "the vilest things become themselves in her;" that

                              "Wrangling Queen,
 Whom everything becomes, to chide, to laugh,
 To weep: whose every passion fully strives
 To make itself, in thee, fair, and admired!"

This veri-similitude is not casual, it comes from no inadvertence of expression, but goes to the life-roots of a personal character, so unique, that the Poet on various occasions drew from one original—the Lady Rich.

    I think it also exceedingly probable that the same unique original, with her ambition, her power of will, her devilish audacity, her mournful mental breakdown when wrecked at last, supplied much of the life-likeness for Lady Macbeth.

    It would be a folly to try and measure off Shakspeare and his work in four periods, after the fashion of Mr. Furnivall.  It would be like trying to tie up Samson over again.  We should need a period for every play or two.  But, as already shown, he did have his "Sidney Period," which is reflected in the early Sonnets, and in Love's Labour's Lost.  Next we can identify a "Southampton Period," more especially in the trials and tragedies of thwarted love (Romeo and Juliet); the tiffs and jealousies of the two cousins (Hermia and Helena), and the glory of the warrior, Harry, personally reflected for Shakspeare by Henry Wriothesley, his first, foremost, best and dearest friend.  Then followed his "Herbert Period."  Herbert, as Heminge and Condell tell us, pursued the Poet with great favour; which from their point of view meant that he had countenanced, commanded, and paid for the performance of his own favourite Plays and characters.  This period (1599) is one of pure comedy.  Much Ado About Nothing, the Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night come crowding after each other so closely as to exclude all tragedy for a time.  Herbert is himself portrayed as Benedick, the lover whose name began with H.

    The period of these four comedies is the most prolific and marked in Shakspeare's mental career.  The external stimulus was quite in consonance with his own natural bent.  Stupendous and unparalleled as are his Tragedies of Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, I think we get more of himself when his powers were all at play in these great comedies.  He is indefinitely more original in his merry moods than in the utterly serious ones; and so are his humorous characters, from Costard to Autolycus.  Again and again he takes his tragic characters from old Chronicles or sources pre-extant, outside himself.  But his humorous ones are originals, all his own, and of himself.

    And here, it may be noticed, in relation to the Herbert Period of the Latter Sonnets, the Merry Wives of Windsor, and the subject of Lust in Love, that there is a very curious letter extant in p. 148 of the Appendix to 3rd Report of the Historical MSS. Commission, which letter was unearthed by Mr. Richard Simpson.  It has no date beyond that of "Chartley, 8th July," but was written about 1601.  It was written by Lady Southampton, at the house of her cousin, Lady Rich, to the Earl of Southampton.  In her postscript the Countess says—

"All the news I can send you that I think will make you merry is that I read in a letter from London that Sir John Falstaff is by his Mrs. Dame Pintpot made father of a godly Miller's Thumb, a boy that is all head and very little body.  But this is a secret." [182]

    A "Miller's Thumb," it may be remarked, is the Bullhead, a kind of Codfish.  In his comment on this letter (Academy, February 6th, 1875), Mr. Richard Simpson expressed his belief that the writer referred to Shakspeare himself under the name of Falstaff, as if he kept his own Dame Quickly or Doll Tearsheet for his "Dark Lady."  To my mind nothing could be more unwarranted or wanton than this suggestion.  Why should it be Shakspeare, seeing that the Countess of Southampton is quoting from the Falstaff in the play?  When Dame Quickly exclaims, "Oh, rare! he doeth it as like one of these harlotry players as I ever see," Falstaff turns on her with his "Peace, good Pint-pot!"  Those who have taken the Latter Sonnets seriously, and assumed that Shakspeare wrote them for himself, of himself, and to himself, seem to think they can also take any liberties they like with his personal character.  As they do.

    My reading of the matter is, that one of the Private Friends had been identified with Sir John by some trait of likeness in character.  This may have been lechery, as the subject of the postscript itself suggests.  Sir John I take to be a known nickname for the private friend, and I hold it to be indefinitely more probable that the "secret" may have been in relation to the Earl of Pembroke and Mistress Mary Fytton.  Lady Southampton seems to echo the statement of Tobie Matthew, who says in his letter to Dudley Carlton—"The Earl of Pembroke is committed to the Fleet; his Cause is delivered of a boy who is dead."  "Mrs. Dame Pintpot" also answers to the character already given of Mary Fytton in relation to the Earl of Pembroke, for whom she played the Amazonian trull when she marched out of Court to meet him with her clothes tucked up (p. 13).  It is not necessary to assume that "Mrs. Dame Pintpot," or Mary Fytton, was the original of Mrs. Quickly, or that Herbert supplied the model or life-likeness for Falstaff.  The language is allusive, and the allusions are made personal by means of the two Shakspearean characters!  It may be that Herbert's weakness for women, as described by Clarendon, was the source of a comparison with Falstaff.  It may well be that the two cousins, Lady Southampton and Lady Rich, were the living originals of the two "Merry Wives" of Windsor.  As previously pointed out, there appears to be some link of connection betwixt Herbert and Falstaff in the Merry Wives, in relation to the printing of love letters or the Sonnets.  "He will print them, out of doubt; for he cares not what he puts into the press."  Be this as it may, the allusion made by Lady Southampton to Falstaff, Mrs. Dame Pintpot and the boy-child, is a thousandfold more likely to be aimed at Herbert and Mary Fytton than at Shakspeare and—nobody knows who, as the "Dark Lady" can hardly be identified with Dame Quickly.

    Shakspeare's next period we may call the "Essex Period."  If we class Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth as belonging to a time peculiarly tragic which followed that overflow of humour in the Herbert phase, when he had laughed freely because his first dear friend was married at last and his own heart was all the lighter, we shall find it circling around the Earl of Essex.  We have the character of the "Weary Knight," the man unequal to the occasion, in Hamlet.  No one like Shakspeare ever saw or showed so profoundly that weakness and not strength of character was the unfathomable source of tragedy; and that after all the nature of evil is essentially negative.  He saw the difference betwixt the strong and the headstrong.  Hamlet is weak as water, and wavering as an image in it.  Lear's tempests of temper arise from his weakness.  Macbeth for all his bluster is betrayed by his weakness.  It was the weakness of Essex that made him one of the "Fools of Time," and caused his fall.  And it is the fall of Essex with its effects on Shakspeare and his Private Friends that may be seen reflected in our Poet's darkest, deepest tragedy.  The awful pall that looms so dreadly over these representations of human life was not spread from any gloom of guilt that darkened from within.  The insurrection he had passed through was outside of himself.

    Above that of all other writers Shakspeare's mind begets upon matter external to himself and not upon himself, as do the introspective and subjective self-reproducers.  If he shows in his deeper, darker tragedy that he had passed through a period of convulsion and earthquake, with signs of wreck and ruin, there is no warrant for assuming that these were personal.  Besides which, they are written and may be read in the world around him.  He had seen the headstrong Essex diverted to the "Course of altering things"—had felt the throne rock in the suppressed throes of revolution.  He had seen the head of Essex fall from the block with the black velvet of the scaffold for his pall of tragedy.  He had stood in the shadow of death beside his dearest friend Southampton with the headsman's axe in sight.  He had greeted his "dear Boy" when he emerged once more into daylight from the Tower.  He had lived in tragic times, and witnessed fierce events.  He had peered into the abysses that opened at his feet, and found their reflection in the deepest depths and gulfs unfathomable of his dramatic tragedies.  The Personal Theory of interpretation is as false and inadequate here in the Plays as it is in the Sonnets.  If unhappy at this time, it was not for self but on behalf of others.  After the fall of Essex, the imprisonment for life of Southampton, with the shadow of doom darkening over himself, he may have suffered a "Hell of time" (distinguished, you see, from the orthodox eternal Hell!), but that was a far different matter from suffering it because somebody had been "once unkind" to him in a quarrel about a harlot.

    It was said by Hallam, and the Echoes WILL go on repeating it in defiance of all the opposing facts, that "there seems to have been a period of Shakspeare's life when his heart was ill-at-ease, and ill content with the world or his own conscience: the memory of hours misspent, the pang of affection misplaced or unrequited, the experience of man's worser nature, which intercourse with ill chosen associates, by choice or circumstance, peculiarly teaches—these, as they sank down into the depths of his great mind, seem not only to have inspired into it the conception of Lear and Timon, but that of one primary character, the censurer of mankind."  So it may have seemed, but so it is not in reality.  This is but an illusion of those who have accepted the Sonnets as autobiographic revelations.  All that is observable is, that the great stream of his expanding power runs darker with depth, and if the searchings into the human heart grow more curious and profound, and the tragedy is palled in more awful sombreness, and the poetry draws our pleasure with approving tears out of deeper soundings of pain, the comedy is also richer and more real, the humour is as smiling as the terror is sublime; there is no unhappy laughter in it, no jesting with a sad brow; whilst the tender images of grace and purity are bodied forth more movingly attired than ever, as in Perdita, Miranda, and Imogen.

    It was the fall of Essex and other of the Private Friends that was so greatly tragic, not any fall of his own.  He has left us the proof.  The fall of Essex is not only represented or glanced at in King Henry VIII., we also find the last words of Essex worked up by the dramatist, with great fulness of detail.  The speech of Buckingham on his way to execution includes almost every point of Essex's address on the scaffold, as the comparative process will show—


    "I pray you all to pray with me and for me."

"All good people, pray for me."

    "I beseech you and the world to have a charitable opinion of me, for my intention towards her Majesty, whose death, upon my salvation, and before God, I protest I never meant, nor violence to her person."

"I have this day received a Traitor's judgment,
 And by that name must die: yet heaven
     bear witness
And, if I have a conscience, let it sink me,
Even as the axe falls, if I be not faithful."

    "Yet I confess I have received an honourable trial, and am justly condemned."

    "I had my trial, and must needs say a noble

    "I beseech you all to join yourselves with me in prayer, not with eyes and lips only, but with lifted up hearts and minds to the Lord for me . . . O God, grant me the inward comfort of Thy Spirit. Lift my soul above all earthly cogitations, and when my soul and body shall part, send Thy blessed angels to be near unto me, which may convey it to the joys of heaven."

                                      "You few that loved me,
 And dare be bold to weep for Buckingham,
 His noble friends and fellows, whom to leave
 Is only bitter to him; the only dying;
 Go with me like good angels to the end;
 And as the long divorce of steel falls on me,
 Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice,
 And lift my soul to heaven."

"I desire all the world to forgive me, even as I do freely and from my heart forgive all the world."

"I as free forgive you,
 As I would be forgiven:  I forgive all."

"The Lord grant her Majesty a prosperous reign, and a long, if it be His will. O Lord, grant her a wise and understanding head!  O Lord, bless Her!"

Act II. sc. i.

"Commend me to his grace.    My vows and
 Yet are the King's; and, till my soul forsake,
 Shall cry for blessings on him! may he live,
 Longer than I have time to tell his years!
 Ever beloved and loving may his rule be."


    In the present instance, the identification of the fact in the fiction is easy, for not only has the Poet used the thoughts and expressions of Essex and dramatized his death-scene, but he has also rendered the very incidents of Essex's trial, his bearing before his Peers, and given an estimate of persons and circumstances exact in application.  Obvious reference is made to the brutal vehemence of Coke, the Attorney-General, to the private examinations of the confederates, whose depositions were taken the day before the trial of Essex and Southampton; to the confession of Sir Christopher Blount, who had been Essex' right-hand man in his fatal affair; to the treachery of Mr. Ashton, Essex' confessor; and a most marked and underlined allusion to Cuffe, the Jesuitical plotter, the man that "made the mischief."  Various other allusions to the circumstances of the time can be identified, e.g.

                    "Plague of your policy!
 You sent me deputy for Ireland;
 Far from his succour."

    Now this play reflects and the prologue intimates the mental change in the so-called "Unhappy Period."

"I come no more to make you laugh.    Things now
 That bear a weighty and a serious brow,
 Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe."

    And that mood is continued through four acts of the Play, but the fifth act manifests a festive spirit.  This "strange inconsistency" may be accounted for if Shakspeare wrote the first four acts during the tragic time, and then the Play was retouched and finished by the "other hand" after the accession of James.  Even so did he who held that the Players were the "abstract and brief chronicles of the time;" and that the dramatist should show the "very age and body of the time, its form and pressure," reflect the realities around him; the men whom he knew, the scenes which he saw, the events as they occurred; although these, when seen through the luminous ether of his poetry, and heard in his larger utterance, are often so changed in their translated shape, that they are difficult to identify.

    One great cause of Shakspeare's contemporaries telling us no more about him is still operant against our making him out in his works.  He was one of the least self-conscious men, and so he is the least personally visible in his writings.  This was the condition of his greatness.  He was to be so unconscious of self as to be purely reflective of all passing forms.  If he had been a lesser man, he would have shown us more of himself.  If more limited, he would have revealed more idiosyncrasy.  We should have caught him taking a peep at himself in the dramatic mirror.  But Shakspeare's nature is all mirror to the world around him.  A more conscious man would have managed to make the darkness that hides him from us a sort of lamp-shade which should concentrate the light on his own features, when he looked up in some self-complacent pause.  Not so Shakspeare: he throws all the light on his work, and bends over it so intently that it is most difficult for us to get a glimpse of his face.  Our main chance is to watch him at his work, and note his human leanings and personal relationships.

    There is a psychological condition in which the reading of a book will place us en rapport with the nature of the writer, as if by an interior mode of converse, mind to mind, we could divine the personality of the man behind the mask.  The experience I speak and wot of may be substratal, but it is none the less actual, and it is especially necessary in the reading of Shakspeare.  Also any true representation of the man demands something of the spirit that is akin to his own, whatsoever may be the degree of relationship; the mental mirror that is clear enough from the subjective mists of self for him to reflect himself.  We cannot portray Shakspeare by reading our own selves into his works.  There are pigmies who would confine Shakspeare within their own limitations, would outline their own size on his body, or try to pass off a reflected likeness of themselves as a portrait of him.  The less grip they have of the true data, or the total facts which go to make up that other self, the more they are compelled to draw on their own likeness for their ideal, which is the glorified shadow of themselves.  Many a false ideal of Shakspeare has been thus begotten through making love to their own likeness in the mirror of Shakspeare's Sonnets.  Thus, if one of the most impulsive men of our time should portray Shakspeare, he will become one of the most impulsive men of his time, and the exact opposite of the man we know.  "He must have been impulsive," says Mr. Furnivall.  "This was a note of the time."  But what a gauge to apply to Shakspeare, who was the ripened result of ages of heredity!  He must have followed the fashion of his time, and therefore been impulsive!"  He must have been impulsive," is meant to imply that he was false in friendship and fickle in love; a blind fool in the snares of a wanton Woman; a Bavian fool in drivelling about it to make fun for his Private Friends.  But no true conception nor authentic likeness of the man ever was or ever will be possible to those who read the Sonnets as entirely personal to himself.  Such a reading reverses all that we otherwise learn of him.  The happy soul delighting in his wealth of work and "well-contented day" becomes a moody, disappointed, discontented man, envious of this one's art and that one's scope; dissatisfied with his own face, and disgusted with his work, which brought him.  friends and made his fortune; disgraced by writing for the stage; bearing the name of player as a brand; miserable in his lot; an outcast in his life; blotted and stained in his character; meanly immoral in his friendship; a hypocrite, a knave, and a fool.  Also, impulsiveness and precipitancy are the dominant characteristics of his youthful lovers, and therefore not of himself in his maturity of manhood or ripened age.

    He approves of those who are the "Lords and owners of their faces," who "husband Nature's riches from expense," they who are "to temptation slow" (Sonnet 94).  He says in person—

"So is it not with me as with that Muse," &c. (Sonnet 21),

which is exaggerative and intemperate.  He constantly inculcates and practises moderation, as when he schools the actors in Hamlet in a character that is the more like his own the less it is like Hamlet's.  For a writer who wields such forces his temperance is immense.  As in his humour.  What temptations to rollick and roll in the mire—to break out of bounds.  Yet see how little he takes advantage of the latitude and liberty.  He brims the cup, but carries it full with a steady hand without spilling.  He seldom caricatures, and never grossly.  He certainly attained the large tolerance, the philosophic equanimity, the serenity of soul that are only to be reached at the lofty altitude where the human touches the divine.  The greatest power of genius is manifested by the most perfect mastery.  It is not shown in the impulse beyond law; not in the flood of gush or overflow of spilth; not in the whirlwind, but in the power that rides and reigns; not in the whip and spur, but in the seat and hand and proof of complete possession!

    Shakspeare was not a Shelley to be measured by the Shelleyites.  He was neither a child nor a seraph, nor a mixture of both that never blended, but a sound-hearted, sanely-conscionable, and thoroughly made-out man.  Matthew Arnold describes him as being "Self-schooled, self-scanned, self-honoured, self-secure."  Perhaps that poses him a little too stiffly in his self-erectness, but it renders the likeness far truer than that of the autobiographists, who see in the Sonnets the proofs of an impulsive, irresolute, and erring nature, who can renounce all self-respect and abdicate the common rights of humanity in cringing and fawning; a man "too weak to tread the paths of truth."  These are no nearer the mark than Sir Walter Scott was when he introduced Shakspeare into Kenilworth, merely to call him a "halting fellow," or a cripple, because the speaker of Sonnet 37 has been "made lame by Fortune's dearest spite;" and in Sonnet 89 he says,

"Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt."

    It is instructive to observe the lasting effect of the Personal Theory of the Sonnets.  After it has been given up perforce, it will infect the mind and break out again like some hereditary disease.  For instance, Karl Elze affirms that "no importance can be attached to any attempt made to form an idea of Shakspeare's disposition from the Sonnets, and least of all can they serve as a foundation, or as evidence for the delineation of the Poet's character." [183]  Elsewhere (pp. 326-7) he declares the autobiographic reading "absolutely untenable."  And yet this same writer assumes that the Latter Sonnets must be personal to Shakspeare when he says, "What determines our judgment of the case is, that the whole story of the friendship, even the seduction of the beloved lady by the friend, and the subsequent reconciliation of the friends, is met with in Lilly's 'Euphues,' and that it is ridiculed by Ben Jonson in his 'Bartholomew Fair'" (V. iii.); then he asks, "What spectator in watching a performance of Bartholomew Fair would be likely to think of the Euphues, which was thirty years old at the time, and not of the Sonnets, which had appeared only five years previously?"  "I say, between you both you have both but one drab!" says the puppet, and so says Mr. Tyler, and so say all the autobiographists of Shakspeare and Will Herbert.  But we must not allow a story that is found in Lilly's Euphues, years earlier, to be imported into Shakspeare's life by the readers of his Sonnets, and then have the story THUS told against him thought to be corroborated by Ben Jonson.  If Jonson was not too blind-drunk to take any aim at all in that scene, his mark would be Beaumont and Fletcher, who were such fast friends that they were notoriously reputed to keep one mistress between the two.

    In regretfully giving up the personal reading, this same writer puts in a saving clause, and says, "But, in any case, there can be no doubt that Shakspeare's nature was one of an impulsive and strongly developed sensuousness, such as is peculiar to great geniuses, and he must have had his love-affairs in London."  But what has that to do with the matter?  If the Latter Sonnets are not personal, such a gratuitous assertion is an impertinent and impotent speculation.  It comes to this finally.  When the supposed diamond has been demonstrated to be nothing more than charcoal that has soiled the holder's hand, its blackness is made use of to give one last dirty daub to the character or the, portrait of Shakspeare!

    I am not called upon to swear that he was an immaculate man; that would be equally impertinent.  But it is my work to clear his statue from the mud-stains of the autobiographists.  Whosoever accepts the present reading of the Sonnets will also have done for ever with the false notion that Shakspeare was a moody, melancholy kind of man, like Hamlet or Jacques.  He was essentially a man of mirth and Master of the Revels for all humanity.  We may claim him to have been the world's greatest Merriman; not in the sense of a Motley, a Merry-Andrew, or the Fool, but a man who was of the blithest and most happy soul.  I know no truer gauge or measure that we can apply to the nature of Shakspeare than this—whereas in creating such characters as Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Iago, Romeo, and Macbeth, he wrought from types that were pre-extant in their outlines and groundwork, his Costard, Parolles, Dogberry, Benedick, and Autolycus are pure Shakspeare without prototype; original, all of himself!  He was the sprightliest but soundest and least fantastical of all Elizabethan Wits, a man who was religious in his mirth as others may be in their melancholy.  Indeed the Shakspearean religion of joy is an antidote for ever to the orthodox religion of sorrow.  He associates melancholy with the Mask, with duplicity, imposture, and hypocrisy.  "My cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam," says the deceiver Edmund in Lear.  He makes fun of the fantastical sadness of the melancholy Jacques, and has no sympathy with a pensive pretender.

    Many of his wisest things are said in a playful mood.  He could be most profoundly in earnest in a humorous manner.  He does not sweat and agonize to show that he is in earnest, but often expresses double the moaning with a smile.  He can make us feel the gravest when he smiles; such a weight of wisdom is so lightly uttered.  Indeed when we think of the smiling mood and the seriousness of the thing said we sometimes wonder whether he laughed at us the while.

    The delusion has not quite died out that the truly poetic temperament is Byronian with a tragic touch of the blighted being in it, such as was once rendered to the life by the actor Robson.  But nothing could be falser to fact or more entirely confuted than it was by Shakspeare himself.  Instead of the corners of his mouth being turned down with depressing thought, they curl upward, as if with the merry quip just caught in them.  What says Wordsworth—

"A cheerful spirit is what the Muses love."

    The dramatic mood could be troubled, contemplative, melancholy, according to his purpose, but the man himself was of a happy temperament.  A melancholy man would have been more self-conscious, and shut up within limits indefinitely narrower.

    We may depend upon it that such sunny smiling fruits of living as his works offer to us did not spring out of any root of bitterness in his own experience; they are ripe on the lower branches as well as on the highest; are sound and sweet to the core, and show no least sign of having been pierced by a worm that never dies.  Had he felt sad for himself it would have broken out, if at all, not lugubriously, but in a very humorous sadness—the diamond-point of wit pricking the gathering tear before it was fairly formed, or the drops would have been shaken down in a sun-shower.  The true Shakspearean sadness is more nearly expressed in Mercutio and some of the clowns, like the "fool" in Lear.  Hence the humour is just sadness grown honey-ripe!  Beside which, we get no suggestion from his contemporaries of a melancholy man.  They never saw him in the dumps like John Ford.  So far as he left any impression on them it was that of a gracious and pleasant man, full of good spirits, equable at a cheerful height.  They certainly saw nothing of the social "outcast," or the friendless, melancholy man.  They caught no writhing of the face that indicated the devouring secret within his breast!  They never suspected that he had gone about "frantic-mad with evermore unrest."

    The sadness of the early Sonnets is on behalf of the friend for whom he utters so many complaints against unkindly Fortune.

    The true personal application of the Latter Sonnets is, not that Shakspeare was gloomy and guilty enough to write them for himself, but that he had the exuberant jollity, the lax gaiety to write them for the young gallant, Herbert.

    He must have been an eminently healthy man.  He must have had the moral health that resists infection; the health that breathes like all spring within the theatre.  As Coleridge says, there is not one really vicious passage in all Shakspeare.  There are coarse things; for the customs and the language of the time were coarse.  Plenty of common clay, but no mental dirt—he does not offer us entertainment for man and beast.  There is nothing rotten at the root; nothing insidious in the suggestion.  Vice never walks forth in the mental twilight wearing the garb of virtue.  You hear the voices of right and wrong, truth and error, in his works, but there is no confusion of tongues for confounding of the sense.  Not from any sediment of vice and folly did he gather all those precious grains of golden wisdom; nor did he reap the rich harvest of his works through sowing a bountiful crop of wild oats.

    In his life he left the gracious, happy impress of a cheery, healthful nature, a catholic and jocund soul, on all who came near him.  All the traditions tell of a radiating genius that ripened in content, and gave forth of its abundance joyfully.  His art is dedicated to joy.  It was out of his own sportive, beneficent, genial nature that he endowed all his beautiful fairy beings, which could only have been begotten by one of the blithe powers of nature.  It is true he never took sides with any religious sect or system, puritan or papist, and did not look upon the eternal welfare of humanity as being bound up with the little orthodoxies of his day.  He was not the man to be fretting and fussing about the salvation of his soul.  Indeed, we are by no means sure that he knew of his own soul being lost.  He was a world too wide for any or all of those theologies, which are but a birth or abortion of misinterpreted mythology.  Certainly Shakspeare did not accept the scheme of salvation and tenets of Historic Christianity, for all his characters put together could not drag it out of him.  As Dean Plumptre admits, the Philosophy of Shakspeare is "not a Christian view of life and death.  The Ethics of Shakspeare are no more Christian, in any real sense of the word, than those of Sophocles or Goëthe."  That is the true confession of a devout Christian.

    We can apply the test in this way.  Shakspeare's own sense of atonement is certainly personal and not vicarious.  Repentance for the doing of wrong must be wrought out and made objective in life and deed.  Redemption must come from within.  This is as definitely opposed to the doctrine of vicarious atonement as anything can be.  He teaches the sacrifice of self and not the sacrifice of another for the salvation of self.  He sets up the standard in conscience, and the law given from within through a living relationship with the divine, instead of preaching and imposing it from without.  His test lies in what we are, not in what we believe.  No such immoral plea on behalf of irrational faith, as this of Bacon's, can be found in Shakspeare's works.  "The more irrational and incredible any divine mystery is, the greater the honour we do God in believing it, and so much the more noble is the victory of faith!"  He did not found on faith but on knowledge, as when he says—

"Ignorance is the curse of God
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven."

There was not ground enough in the Christian "hope of immortality" founded upon a physical resurrection for the dramatist to build upon.  His Christians can die unconscious of continuity.  It is the pre-Christian characters, Antony and Cleopatra, only who look forward to the meeting hereafter.  Historic Christianity had reduced the heathen doctrine of immortality which was founded upon facts in nature, such as abnormal vision and the veritability of spiritual apparition, to a matter of belief.  Shakspeare reverts to the original grounds of belief in the ghost, the revenant, as a fact in nature.

    We find in Shakspeare an active sense of the so-called supernatural, and the nearness of the spirit-world.  He has a profound recognition of its immediate influence, and its power to break in on the world of flesh when nature prays for its help or darkly conspires to let it in.  His province was the daylight world of human life; his work as a dramatist was to give that life a palpable embodiment in flesh and blood; endow it with speech and action; and make it mirror the common round of human experience in our visible world.  But he knew that human nature was composed of spirit as well as flesh and blood, and that we are under the "skiey influences" of a world not realized.  Indeed, it is in this direction that he looks for the solution of his subtlest dramatic problems.  In Macbeth, for example, you sea the visible tragedy is also being enacted in spirit-world.  And one reason why Hamlet will always remain so perplexing a study to those who seek to divine Shakspeare's intentions, is because his characters are so much a part of nature as to include the commonly called supernatural; and whatsoever Hamlet proposes, you see that it is Fate which disposes.  It is not Hamlet who finds the solution of his problem of life and death.  It is Fate and its ministers that catch him up in their swifter execution and surer working, and when the final crash comes, Hamlet is just one of the most weak and helpless victims in the omnipotent hands.  Natural laws override all human prayers or wishes.  The innocent suffer alike with the guilty.   And only that is sure to happen which was the most unforeseen.  Thus it is in life; and so it is with Shakspeare.  His teaching is that we have to face the facts of life and death in time, and not whine over them when it is too late.  "The use we make of time is fate!"

    The life lived here and now must be the basis of the life hereafter.  We each of us prepare our own pathway, and must follow it in our own projected Light or Shadow.  In death we carry our own very selves and our own heaven or hell with us, and no false belief will alter the laws of cause and effect.  With the Buddhist he teaches that we all of us make our own Karma, good or bad.  Here, as elsewhere, he holds on fast by nature, and takes his stand on a footing with her that is for ever.  He was religious without professing it; this is shown by his saying so little about it.  He does not proclaim his piety, but manifests his reverence by his reticence.  He has no set teaching or system for saving or reforming the world, and makes no crusade for any temporary cause.  If he taught anything, he inculcated sincerity, toleration, mercy, and charity.  Look for the good, he says, even in things evil, make the good better, and work for the best.  For himself, he sees a germ of good in things that look all evil to the careless eye—his eyes being large with love.  If there is only the least little redeeming touch he is sure to point it out.  If there be only one word to be said for some abandoned nature he pleads it, to arrest the harsh judgment and awake the kindly thought.  If there be only one solitary spark of virture in some dark heart, what a sigh of gentle pity he breathes over it, trying to kindle it into clearer life.  He has infinite pity for the suffering and struggling and wounded by the way.  He takes to his warm heart much that the world has cast out to perish in the cold.  There is nothing too poor or mean to be embraced within the circle of his sympathies.  One of his characters says, "I am one of those gentle ones that will use the devil himself with courtesy" (Twelfth Night, IV. ii.).   And of such was the Gentle Shakspeare.

    Then what an all embracing charity! what an all-including kindliness he shows toward many things that are apt to put us out!  He never flies into a passion with stupidity.  He divines how Conservative a makeweight it is in this world; knows that it gets largely represented in Parliament; is the father of a good many families, and altogether too respectable a thing to be ignored.  He shows how a fool like Cloten in the play of Cymbeline may be a person of consequence and consideration in the Council of State.  The humours of the obtusely ignorant, the unfathomably conceited, the hopelessly dull, were for the first time adequately translated out of dumb nature into our English tongue by him.  And the revelations thus made at times are as if the animals were suddenly endowed with human speech.  They grow garrulous with the wine of his wit.

    How he listens to the simplicities or pretentious pomp of ignorance!  Pearls might be dropping from its lips!  He does not say, "Let no dog bark or donkey bray in my presence!"  On the contrary, he likes to hear what they have to say for themselves, and delights in drawing them out for a portrait full-length!  He seems to smile and say, "If God can put up with all these fools and ignoramuses, why should I fume and fret and denounce them?  No doubt they serve some great purposes in His scheme of creation.  I shall put them into mine."  And no botanist ever culled his simples with more loving care than Shakspeare his samples of what we might pharisaically call the God-help-them sort or species of human beings; or God's own unaccountables.  It is as though he thought Nature had her precious secret hidden here as elsewhere, and with sufficient patience we should find it all out, if we only watched and waited.  See the generous encouragement he gives to Dogberry!   How he draws him out, and makes much of him.  You would say he was "enamoured of an ass."  But perhaps the glory of all his large toleration shines out in his treatment of that "sweet bully" Bottom.  Observe how he heaps the choicest gifts and showers the rarest freaks of Fortune around that ass's head.  All the wonders of fairy-land are revealed, all that is most exquisitely dainty and sweet in poetry is scattered about his feet.  Airy spirits of the most delicate loveliness are his ministers.  The Queen of Fairy is in love with him.  He is told how beautiful he is in person, how angelic is his voice.  And Bottom accepts it all with the most sublime stolidity of conceit.  There is a self-possession of ignorance that Shakspeare himself could not upset, although he seems to delight in seeing how far it can go.  Nick Bottom has no start of surprise, no misgiving of sensitiveness, no gush of gratitude, no burst of praise.  He is as calm in his Ass-head as dove in his Godhead.  Shakspeare knew how often blind Fortune will play the part of Titania, and lavish all her treasures and graces on some poor conceited fool, some Lord Rich, and feed him with the honey-bag of the bee, and fan him with the wings of butterflies, and light him to bed with glow-worm lamps, and the Ass will still be true to his nature, and require his "peck of provender."

    Instead of fretting and fuming at folly, or arguing with pig-headedness, and losing his temper, he laughed and showed them how they looked in the magic mirror of his mirth.  One often thinks with a longing sigh of that beatitude of Shakspeare's in the domain of his humour, and the great delight he must have had in being a Showman.

    As all intelligent actors will testify, the Plays were written and managed by an actor.  It was an essential condition for the production of Shakspeare—a feat that Nature herself in conjunction with Art could only perform once—that the supreme dramatist should also be a born actor, a working actor, and have a theatre all to himself for the mould of his mind, for the trying on of his work, and the fitting out of his characters.  In this unique combination it was of the first necessity that the playwright should be the Player as well as the great Poet.

    He shows no scorn for actors in his plays.  His disgust for bad acting proves his relish for the good.  No critic has ever bettered his criticism in Hamlet.  He bespeaks kindly treatment for his fellows in the Taming of the Shrew, when the Lord commands a servant to take them to the buttery—

"And give them friendly welcome every one,
 Let them want nothing that my house affords."

Nor does he overlook them in his will.  And when all is said, the one character adequate to express the Man Shakspeare at work is that of the Showman. He held up the mirror to Nature as the showman of the world.  It is as showman for the human race that he takes them all off with his impartial representations and gives them all a show.

    Goëthe has said that Shakspeare's characters are mere incarnate Englishmen.  But how should they be only that when he was the incarnation of all humanity?  Are we to say that his women are mere Britishers?  It is true the national spirit was most Englishly embodied in his works, but he himself cannot be considered insular.  He bids us remember that there are "livers out of England"!   We know, of course, where his nationality lies.  He was a dear lover of this dear land of ours.  He loved her homely face, and took to his heart her "tight little" form, that is so embraceable!  He loved her tender glory of green grass, her gray skies, her miles on miles of rosy apple-bloom in spring-time, her valleys brimful of the rich harvest gold in autumn; her leafy lanes and field-paths, and lazy, loitering river-reaches; her hamlets nestling in the quiet heart of rural life; her scarred old Gothic towers and mellow red-bricked chimneys with their Tudor twist, and white cottages peeping through the jasmine and roses.  We know how he loved his own native woods and wild flowers, the daisy, the primrose, the wild honeysuckle, the cowslip, and most of all, the violet.  This was his darling of our field flowers.  And most lovingly has he distilled or expressed the spirit of the violet into one of his sweetest women, and called her Viola!  His favourite birds also are the common homely English singing birds, the lark and nightingale, the cuckoo and blackbird that sang to him in his childhood and still sing to-day in the pleasant woods of Warwickshire.  He loved all that we call and prize as "so English."  He loved the heroes whom he saw round him in every-day life, the hardy, bronzed mariners that went sailing "Westward Ho."  Indeed, the mention of England's name offers one of our best opportunities for a personal recognition; when an English thought has struck him, how he brands the "mark of the lion" on his lines!  We may see also in his early plays what were his personal relations to the England of that memorable time which helped to mould him: see how the war stirred his nature to its roots, and made them clasp England with all their fibres: we may see how he fought the Spaniard in feeling, and helped to shatter their "invincible" armadas.  We learn how these things made him turn to teach his country's history, portray its past, and exalt its heroes in the eyes of all the world.  How often does he show the curse of civil strife, and read the lesson that England is safe so long as she is united.  Thus he lets us know how true an Englishman he was.

    There are times when he quite overruns the speech of a character with the fulness of his own English feeling.  In one or two instances this is very striking; for example, in that speech of old Gaunt's in Richard II., at the name of England the writer is off, and cannot stop.  His own blood leaps along the shrunken veins of grave and aged Gaunt; Shakspeare's own heart throbs through the whole speech; the dramatic mask grows transparent with the light of his own kindled countenance, and you know it is Shakspeare's own face behind; his own voice that is speaking; a fact that he had forgotten for the moment, because Nature was at times too strong for his art.  Again, we have but to read the speech of King Harry V., on the night, or rather the dawn, of Agincourt, to feel how keen was the thrill of Shakspeare's patriotism.  Harry was a hero after our Poet's own English heart, and he takes great delight in such a character.  His thoughts grow proud and jolly; his eyes fill, his soul overflows, and there is a riot of life which takes a large number of lines to quell!  That "little touch of Harry in the night" gives us a flash of Shakspeare in the light.

    Shakspeare's starting-point for his victorious career had been the vantage-ground that England won when she had broken the strength of the Spaniard, and sat enthroned in her sea-sovereignty, breathing an ampler air of liberty, glowing with the sense of a lustier life, and glad in the great dawn of a future new and limitless.  He had an eye very keenly alive to the least movement of the national life.  When the fresh map of England is published he takes immediate note of it.  Maria, in Twelfth Night, says, "He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies."  And when the two crowns of England and Scotland are united in the person of James, Shakspeare alters the old doggerel,—

"Fi, fo! fum!
 I smell the blood of an Englishman,"


"I smell the blood of a British man."

for which the Scotch take him closer to heart, and give him a hug of additional delight.

    The tradition is that Shakspeare in person was a handsome, well-made man, and that the parts he played were those demanding dignity of presence and nobility of bearing.  Such a man is roughly rendered by the Droeshout etching and the Stratford bust.  These two are sufficient for us to re-create our Shakspeare as a man of sturdy build, with large lineaments; with a coronal region to his head as royal as the intellectual.  The hair of a warm brown, and the beard somewhat more golden; a man, not made out of cheeseparings and heeltaps, but full of ripe life and cordial spirits and concentrated energy; with eyes to be felt by those on whom they looked; such eyes as see most things without the head turning about; a full mouth, frank and brave, and richly humorous, capable of giving free utterance to the laugh that would ring out of the manly chest with all his heart in it.  Mr. Dyce observed that the bust exhibits the Poet in the act of composition, and enjoying, as it were, the richness of his own conceptions.

    A happy remark in illustration of Shakspeare's smile was likewise made by R. B. Haydon the painter, in a note of his written June 13th, 1828, in the album kept at Stratford Church.  Speaking of the bust, he says, "The forehead is fine as Raphael's or Bacon's, and the form of the nose and exquisite refinement of the mouth, with its amiable, genial hilarity of wit and good-nature, so characteristic, unideal, bearing truth in every curve, with a little bit of the teeth showing at the moment of smiling, which must have been often seen by those who had the happiness to know Shakspeare, and must have been pointed out to the sculptor as necessary to likeness when he was dead."  [184]

    These outward presentments of the man are a sufficient warrant for what we feel in communing with the spirit of his works.  In these we apprehend him as having been essentially a cheerful man, full to overflowing with healthy gladness.  This is manifest from the first, in his poems written at an age when most youngsters are wanton with sadness.  There is no sadness in his first song; he sustains a merry note lustily; the Venus and Adonis, the Lover's Complaint, are brimful of health; they bespeak the ruddy English heart, the sun-browned mirth, "country quicksilver," and country cheer.  The royal blood of his happy health runs and riots in their rural vein.  It is shown in his hearty and continuous way of working.  It is proved by his great delight in common human nature, and his full satisfaction with the world as he found it.  It is supremely shown in the nature of his whole work.  A reigning cheerfulness was the sovereign quality of the man.  And no one ever did so much in the poetic sphere to delight and make men nobly happy.  The Shakspeare of the present version of the Sonnets is one in personality with the writer of the Poems and Plays, the Etching and the Bust.

    The Kesselstadt Mask, weak, thin-lipped, consumptive-looking, and lacking in the backbone of character, is a likeness good enough for the Shakspeare evolved by a wrong reading of the Sonnets.  But these two are as opposite as substance and shadow, different as life from death.  The bust is a gloriously real if a rough embodiment of the man.  The Mask is a fitting representative of the diseased Ideal of Shakspeare.

    It is pleasant to think of our great Poet so amply reaping the fruits of his industry and prudence early in life, and spending his calm latter days in the old home of his boyhood which he had left a-foot and come back to in the saddle.  The date of his retirement from London cannot be determined.  I am decidedly of opinion that it was before the publication of the Sonnets in 1609, and other circumstances seem to indicate that he was living at Stratford in 1608, in the August of which year he sued Addenbroke; on the 6th of September, his Mother was buried; and, on the 16th of October, he was sponsor at the baptism of Henry Walker's son.

    He had the feeling, inexpressibly strong with Englishmen, for owning a bit of this dear land of ours and living in one's own house; paying rent to no man.  We know how he clung to his native place all through his London life, strengthening his rootage there all the while.  We learn how he went back once a year to the field-flowers of his childhood, to hear in the leaves the whispers of Long-Ago and "get some green"—as Chaucer says—where the overflowing treasure of youth had, dew-like, given its glory to the grass, its freshness to the flower, and climb the hills up which the boy had run, and loiter along the lanes where he had courted his wife as they two went slowly on the way to Shottery, and the boy thought Anne Hathaway fair whilst lingering in the tender twilight, and the honeysuckles smelled sweet in the dusk, and the star of love shone over them, and shook with tremulous splendour, and Willie's arm was round her, and in their eyes would glisten the dews of that most balmy time.

    We might fancy, too, that on the stage, when he was playing some comparatively silent part, his heart would steal away and the audience melt from before his face, as he wandered back to where the reeds were sighing by Avon stream, and the nightingale was singing in the Wier-brake just below Stratford Church, and the fond fatherly heart took another look at the grave of little Hamnet—patting it, as it were, with an affectionate "Come to you, little one, by and by," and the play was like an unsubstantial pageant faded in the presence of that scenery of his soul.

    Only we know what a practical fellow he was, and if any such thought came into his mind, it would be put back with a "lie thou there, Sweetheart," and he would have addressed himself more sturdily than ever to the business in hand.

    At last he had come back to live and write; die and be buried at home.  He had returned to the old place laden with honours and bearing his sheaves with him; wearing the crown invisible to most of his neighbours, but having also such possessions as they could appreciate.  They looked up to him now, for the son of poor John Shakspeare, the despised deer-stealer and player, had become a most respectable man, able to spend £500 or so a year amongst them.  He could sit under his own vine, and watch the on-goings of country life whilst waiting for the sunset of his own; nestle in the bosom of his own family, walk forth in his own fields, plant his mulberry-tree, compose several of his noblest dramas, and ripen for his rest in the place where he had climbed for birds'-nests, and, as they say, poached for deer by moonlight.  I think he must have enjoyed it all vastly.  He entered into local plans, listened to the tongue of Tradition babbling in the mouth of the old folks, "Time's doting chronicles;" and astonished his fellow townsmen by his business habits.  And they would like him too, if only because he was so practical by habit, so English in feeling.  We know that he fought on their side in resisting an encroachment upon Welcomb Common.  He "could not bear the enclosing of Welcomb," he said.  We feel, however, that as he moved amongst these honest, unsuspecting folk, with so grave and douce a face, he must have had internal ticklings at times, and quite enough to do to keep quiet those sprites of mirth and mischief lurking in the corners of his mouth and in the twinkle of his eyes as he thought how much capital he had made out of them, and how he had taken their traits of character to market, and turned them into the very money to which his fellow-townsmen were so respectful now.

    The few facts that we get of Shakspeare's life at Stratford are very homely, and one or two of his footprints there are very earthy; but they tell us it was the foot of a sturdy, upright, thrifty, matter-of-fact Englishman, such as will find a firm standing-place even in the dirt, and it corresponds to the bust in the Church at Stratford.  Both represent, though coarsely, that yeoman side of his nature which would be most visible in his everyday dealings.  For example, we learn that in August, 1608, he brought an action against John Addenbroke for the recovery of a debt.  The verdict was in his favour, but the defendant had no effects.  Shakspeare then proceeded against Thomas Horneby, who had been bail for Addenbroke.  We cannot judge of the humanity of the case.  The law says the Poet was right.  But, by this we may infer that Shakspeare had learned to look on the world in too practical a way to stand any nonsense.  He would be abused, no doubt, for making anybody cash up that owed him money.  There would be people who had come to argue that a player had no prescriptive or natural right to be prudent and thrifty, or exact in money transactions.  Shakspeare thought differently.  He had to deal with many coarse and pitiful facts of human life; and this he had learned to do in a strong, effectual way.  There would be a good deal of coarse, honest prose even in Shakspeare, but no sham poetry of false sentimentality.

    The Epitaph said to have been written by himself was evidently composed by some pious friend of Susannah's, from a Scriptural text taken from the Second Book of Kings (ch. xxiii.).  When Josiah was desecrating the sepulchres and removing the bones of the dead to burn them, he came to "the sepulchre of the Man of God," and Josiah spared his bones and said, "Let him alone!  Let no man move his bones.  So they let his bones alone."

    Ben Jonson, in his tribute to Shakspeare, his "Book and his fame," uttered the very one word once for all, when he said—"Thou wert not of an age, but for all time."  He has nothing merely Elizabethan or Archaic in his work; his language never gets obsolete; in spirit he is modern up to the latest minute; other writers may be outgrown by their readers, as they ripen with age, or lose the glory of their youth, but not Shakspeare; at every age he is still mature, and still ahead of his readers, just as he always overtops his actors; here also he is not of an age, but abides for all time.

    Shakspeare not only does not recede, he is for ever dawning into view.  We never do come up with him.  He is always ahead of us.  Whatsoever new thought is proclaimed in the human domain, whether it be the doctrine of Evolution, or the laws of Heredity, we find Shakspeare still abreast and in line with the latest demonstration of a natural fact or scientific truth!

    There is a tradition that our gentle Willie died after a grand merry-making and a bout of drinking.  It is said that Ben Jonson and some other of his poet playfellows called on Shakspeare, who was ill in bed, and that he rose and joined them in their jovial endeavours to make a night of it, and that his death was the sad result.  This story may illustrate his warm heart and generous hospitality, but I think it is not a true account of his end.  I do not for one moment believe that he died of hard drinking.  We shall find no touch of delirium tremens in his last signature.  Nothing in his life corroborates such a death.

    I have no doubt that he would be unselfish enough to get out of bed when ill, to give a greeting to his old friends if they called.  He must have had the very soul of hospitality.  He kept open house and open heart for troops of friends, and loved to enfranchise and set flying the "dear prisoned spirits of the impassioned grape;" many a time was his broad silver and gilt bowl set steaming; his smile of welcome beamed like the sun through mist; his large heart welled with humanity, and overflowed with good fellowship; his talk brightened the social circle with ripple after ripple of radiant humour as he presided at his own board, Good Will in visible presence and in very person.

    We learn from his last Will and Testament that he was in sound health a month before his death; and his sudden decease after so recent a record of his "perfect health" is quite in keeping with our idea of the man Shakspeare, who was the image of life incarnate.  Such a death best re-embodies such a life!  It leaves us an image of him in the mortal sphere almost as consummate and imperishable as is the shape of immortality he wears forever in the world of mind!

    Measured by years and the wealth of work crowded into them, his time was brief; "Small time, but in that small most greatly lived this star of England!"  He went before the fall of leaf, and escaped our winter and the snows of age.  We see him in the picture of his life and the season of his maturity just as

"Smiling down the distance, Autumn stands,
 The ripened fruitage glowing in his hands,"

with no signs of weakness that make us sigh for the waning vitality.  He passed on with his powers full-summed, his faculties in their fullest flower, his fires unquenched, his sympathies unsubdued.  There was no returning tide of an ebbing manhood, but the great ocean of his life—which had gathered its wealth from a myriad springs—rose to the perfect height, touched the complete circle, and in its spacious fulness stood divinely still.




[171.](page 446)   "Gods" as Girls.   Cf. p. 183.

[172.](page 446)   Shakspeare Society's Papers, 1843.

[173.](page 448)   William Shakspeare, p. 178, English Translation; Essays on Shakspeare, pp. 30-36;  Shakspeare, Jahrbuch, 4. 300.

[174.](page  449)   Sydney Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 91.

[175.](page  452)   Superintendent of the Nautical Almanack.

[176.](page 453)


    Probably a comet seen by day. On the 7th, 8th, and 16th of December, 1590, "a great black spot on the sun, apparently about the bigness of a shilling, was observed at sea by those on board the ship Richard of Arundell, previous to the invention of the telescope."—Dr. KIRKWOOD, quoted in Nature, January 13, 1870.

    "Several comets stand on record as having been luminous enough to be seen in the day-time, even at noon and in bright sunshine. Such were the comets of 1402 and 1532, and that which appeared a little before the assassination of Cæsar, and was (afterwards) supposed to have predicted his death."—Sir J. F. W. H
ERSCHEL'S Astronomy.

    Cardan reports that in 1532 the curiosity of the inhabitants of Milan was strongly excited by a star which every one could see by broad daylight. At the period he indicates (that of the death of Sforza the Second), Venus was not in a position sufficiently favourable to be seen in presence of the sun. Cardan's star was then a comet. It is the fourth visible at full mid-day of which historians have made mention.

    The fine comet of 1577 was discovered the 13th of November, by Tycho Brahe, from his Observatory on the Isle of Huène, in the Sound, before the sunset —Arago on Comets.

    Instances might also be given of cometary matter having fallen in what looked like a rain of blood.

[177.](page 454)   Introduction, (p. 68.).....

Our most observant Man, most unobserved;
Maker of Portraits for Humanity!
He held the Mirror up to Nature's face,
Forgetting with colossal carelessness
To look into it and reflect his own:
Even in the Sonnets he put on the Mask
And was, at times, a Player as in the Plays.

[178.](page 458)   Court and Society front Elizabeth to Anne, vol. i, pp. 297-9.

[179.](page 458)   Ibid., vol. i. p. 297.

[180.](page 459)   Peter Short, 1597, folio.  In Oldys' MS. notes to Langbain, Douland and Morley are said to have set various of Shakspeare's songs to music'

[181.](page 459)   "Derobe."  This fine expression, so illustrative of Shakspeare's art of saying a thing in the happiest way at a word, Mr. Collier suspects ought to be "dissolve"!!  Even so, if they were allowed, would some of his Critics dissolve Shakspeare out of his poetry.

[182.](page 461)   Centurie of Prayse, p. 40.

[183.](page 467)   William Shakspeare, p.436.

[184.](page 474)   Shakspeare Seciety's Papers, vol. ii. p. 10.



Ed.—within the context of Victorian working-class literature, The Secret Drama of  Shakespeare's Sonnets (here reproduced) represents a significant example of a self-acquired yet detailed understanding of a complex literary subject, as is evidenced by Massey's dexterity in manipulating its component parts to uncover, ostensibly, a catalogue of events that lie hidden within.  Of particular interest is his historical preamble, his ordering (and re-ordering) of the sonnets to establish his case, his views on those of the sonnets that he chooses to analyze (perhaps tainted by the Victorian view of Shakespeare) and, of course, his speculative attributions of the personalities and their relationships that he believes gave rise to them.  Alas, it must also be said, perhaps inevitably, that Massey's approach to researching his subject is flawed and ultimately, as our reviewer concludes, "his thesis tries to make the sonnets, on minimal evidence, carry far too much both historically and literarily".  Thus, Massey's conclusions—while within the bounds of possibility—remain as such assertions about the Sonnets are ever likely to remain, "not proven".  Ernie Wingeatt explains why . . . .



A Short Critique of Gerald Massey’s work on Shakesapeare’s Sonnets


Ernie Wingeatt.

Copyright © 2008 Ernie Wingeatt.

Probably more nonsense has been talked and written, more intellectual and emotional energy expended in vain, on the sonnets of Shakespeare than on any other literary work in the world.  Indeed, they have become the best touchstone I know of for distinguishing the sheep from the goats, those, that is, who love poetry for its own sake and understand its nature, from those who only value poems either as historical documents or because they express feelings or beliefs of which the reader happens to approve."

W. H. Auden,  The Sonnets,
 Introduction to the Signet Classic Shakespeare, 1964.


"Wherever we look in Shakespeare’s work, we see the impossibility of assigning purpose or unassailable meaning."

Peter Ackroyd,   Shakespeare a Biography,   2005,   p288.



"The date is out of such prolixity."

 Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 scene 4.



1.    This brief critique of Gerald Massey’s work on Shakespeare’s sonnets is based on the 1872 edition entitled, The Secret Drama of Shakspeare’s Sonnets Unfolded.  There are references to and some discussion, where relevant, of his later 1888 edition.  The 1888 edition only is available on this website.

2.    The critique is not intended in any way to be extensive or exhaustive.  Rather it is a brief overview of some of the issues the new and/or relatively inexperienced reader of Massey on the sonnets of Shakespeare is likely to encounter.  It should be added that the original invitation from the website publisher to write on Massey was based on the understanding that the ’88 edition was substantively the same as the ’72 edition, but a comparative reading of the two revealed that this is not the case.  There are considerable substantive differences in detail, order, argument and exposition between the two.  These will, to some extent, be dealt with below.  The decision to continue to base the critique on the ’72 work (using a paper facsimile) with occasional references to the later work was taken on the basis that the bulk of the research was already undertaken using that edition.   There still being some advantages of printed paper over web-based text similarly influenced the decision to continue with an analysis of the ’72 edition.

3.    It also needs to be said that, although the differences are considerable, the main thrust of Massey’s assertions remain the same.   These differences, of which the website publisher was unaware as indeed was Massey’s biographer, David Shaw, may account for some of the apparent discrepancies between the factual points and views expressed in this piece and the account of Massey’s life to be found on this website. [e.g. changes to Massey’s suggested ordering of the sonnets, editions 1872 cf. 1888.  See Appendix.]

4.    There are a number of contemporary and more recent reviews and articles on Massey’s work on Shakespeare accessible through this site.  None of these was particularly influential in the writing of this critique.  Should any reader wish to access them, they will repay careful reading and help to give a clearer picture of Massey if read alongside this work, the sonnets and either of the two editions. [Ed.―see various references to 'Shakspeare' under Reviews of Massey's work.]

5.    Massey used, by present day conventions, a slightly unusual spelling for Shakespeare’s name (cf. the title above).  Shakespeare in his own time used several spellings.  Massey’s spelling is recognised here only in the titles and any quotations from his text.

6.    All page references are to the facsimile ’72 edition.

7.    I am indebted to Ian Petticrew, whose interest in the life and work of Massey and other nineteenth century author-artisans has supported the efforts made in this critique, and advice on various issues when they arose.


The Sonnets

8.    Shakespeare’s Sonnets was first published fully in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe.  There are one hundred and fifty-four sonnets.  Each sonnet is numbered.  They are followed by a narrative poem, A Lover’s Complaint.  In 1599 William Jaggard published The Passionate Pilgrim containing two sonnets (by Thorpe’s numbering 138 and 144) which show slight textual differences to the 1609 versions.  In 1598 Frances Meres wrote of: “mellifluous & hony-tongued Shakespeare, witness his…sugred Sonnets among his private friends”, evidencing the existence of sonnets in manuscript form. [1]  Beyond these few scant facts nothing else is known and all else is speculation.  And in the field of speculation about Shakespeare, his life and works it is that corner occupied by the sonnets that has generated the greatest amount of activity.

9.   The sonnets as a body of work are generally recognised to divide, in terms of the original Thorpe ordering, into three major sections.  Sonnets 1-17 are addressed to an apparently high ranking young man urging him to marry and have children and so achieve immortality through those children.  These sonnets promise also that immortality will come from the lavish praise they make of the young man’s beauty.  Sonnets 18-126 follow an apparently developing relationship with the young man as the poet’s love for his virtues grows still further.  Sonnets 127-152 are concerned with a relationship between the poet and a woman, the “Dark Lady” who appears at once both morally repulsive and physically attractive to him.  The remaining sonnets 153 and 154 can be set apart for the purposes of this essay.  In the case of sonnets 18-126 the poet suffers at times because he fears that the attentions of a rival poet have better engaged the attention of the young man and that their relationship is threatened.

10.    It is an inevitable outcome of any contact with a work of poetry that the reader is drawn to imagine the circumstances that gave rise to it.  Certainly, the nature of the sonnets raise any number of questions about Shakespeare’s reasons for writing them and what possible real events and related personalities might have been involved.  But while providing an entertaining or even absorbing diversion, until further relevant and convincing primary evidence emerges none of those questions is ever likely to be resolved.  Being tempted down the path of endless speculation ― Auden called it: “plain vulgar idle curiosity” ― when applied to a sequence of individual poems written by a man who was predominately a dramatist, can easily draw the speculator ― as it did Massey ― towards the idea that there is a story (or drama), however dimly observed, which is being worked out through them.  In the four hundred years since their publication this has been the enduring fate of the sonnets.  That dim aberrant notion of a real life drama has driven a whole industry.

11.    It would be helpful broadly to categorise the plethora of works on the sonnets that have appeared over many years in order to help place Massey’s work in a context. Conventional editions present the original Thorpe order and include, alongside this, editorial information of the sort we would expect in any of Shakespeare’s plays: introductory material, notes and explanations about vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, perhaps variations in text between one edition and another, some attempt at glossed meaning and perhaps a little specific speculation relating them to real historical events, etc.  These editions, however, do not attempt to construct any but the vaguest of outlines of probable sequences of events in historical terms such as those given above.  They are essentially teaching editions intended for students of English and Shakespeare focusing on the poems themselves.  There are also numerous works about the sonnets or works about Shakespeare in general which have chapters centring on them. They feature many, even all, of the above characteristics, but the focus in them is not entirely an aesthetic one.  These works seek to speculate on a possible biographical perspective whilst retaining the original order of the sonnets.  Occasionally some authors seek to rearrange the order to fit their speculative ideas.  Massey’s works best fit into this last category.  There are also any numbers of biographical works on Shakespeare which deal with the sonnets to a lesser extent, perhaps as an individual chapter within the biography.  And finally, it needs to be said, there are various extreme groups and publications that hold the view that someone other than Shakespeare, say Jonson, Bacon or the Earl of Oxford is the real author of the works.  In other words that Shakespeare isn’t Shakespeare.  They seek thereby to create an entirely different history for them and all the works.   Mainstream academia generally regards this extreme as the crankery of people with no conscience, their ideas being baseless.


Massey’s Works on the Sonnets

Overview of content

12.    In 1866 Gerald Massey published his first of three full works on the sonnets of Shakespeare, Shakspeare’s Sonnets Never Before Interpreted.  In 1872 a “second and enlarged edition” was published re-entitled: The Secret Drama of Shakspeare’s Sonnets Unfolded.  Sixteen years later in 1888 he published a new and substantially reworked edition (the one to be found on this website).  This was re-entitled: The Secret Drama of Shakspeare’s Sonnets.  The starting point for his 1866 work was an short essay published in 1864 in the Quarterly Review.[2]  The theoretical thrust of all these works is substantively the same and is explained in more detail below.  Essentially it revolves around the powerfully asserted notion that the sonnets, if read in a certain order and not that of the original Thorpe edition, reflect a previously undiscovered history which Massey claims “solves” the various unexplainable “anomalies” of the original sonnet order.  What is not the same in the two earlier works compared with the final publication is the order in which Massey suggests the sonnets should be read if his notion is to be borne out.  There are substantial and significant differences in Massey’s proposed reading order between the 1872 and the 1888 publications.  Of itself this would not seem to be important.  However, set against the fact that in his 1888 work Massey does not make any significant reference to the previous two works nor attempt to explain in any detail, or even generally, what led him to change his perspective, it is unusual.  That Massey should make substantial changes to his proposed order of reading (if not the overall idea behind it) over twenty-two years and not attempt at least some reasoned explanation as to what prompted his reordering, raises questions.  Much depends on the order Massey proposes since he claims it above all others: “surmounts the obstacles, disentangles the complications, resolves the discords…from beginning to end” [p436] of all other published orders, including the original Thorpe edition.  The two proposed orders are given in the Appendix.

13.    Massey was not an academic; far from it.  He was a self-educated man from a background of acute poverty.  Elsewhere on this website, David Shaw’s biography of Massey well describes the deprivations and difficulties of that background.  These did not, however, hold him back from becoming an accomplished writer of some weight.  A former Chartist, he was a radical thinker whose interests were naturally eclectic; he became extraordinarily widely read in a number of very different subjects apart from Shakespeare, including Egyptology and comparative religion as well as being a minor poet.[3]  In the case of his work on the sonnets, he was writing at a time when English Literature was not studied at university undergraduate level in the way that would be understood today.  There is a sense in which Massey’s work on Shakespeare was a part (though perhaps not for him a wholly conscious part) of a wider movement towards the rising status of English.  Terry Eagleton has described this movement as one which saw English as: “a liberal, ‘humanizing’ pursuit [which] could provide a potent antidote to political bigotry and ideological extremism”.[4]  It is fair to say that Massey would probably have recognised the argument Eagleton makes: “that ‘English’ as an academic subject was first institutionalized not in the Universities, but in the Mechanics’ Institutes, working men’s colleges and extension lecturing circuits”.[5]  Likewise it needs to be said that the study of history had not yet fully established itself as an academic discipline in Western Europe.  Writing at a time when historical methodology, in its modern form, was at an early stage of development, Massey would probably not have been fully aware of, let alone able to deploy those emergent techniques to mount a rational argument in support of his views on Shakespeare’s sonnets.

14.    Bearing in mind these points about the study of English and history when looking at Massey’s Shakespeare work, brings us to a point where it is best to consider his approach as apparently scholarly.  Deeper analysis does reveal that there are serious weaknesses in the techniques that he uses, for whilst Massey might not have been able to apply a more rigorous historical method this cannot be an excuse for failing to be entirely transparent in how he achieves what he intends.  The need for principled meticulousness in any scholarship is paramount.  Massey lacks such caution and perhaps at times conscience, a point that will be touched on below when considering the work of Akrigg on the possible relationship between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton.[6]
15.    The question of Massey’s scholarship leads to another important consideration when appraising his work on Shakespeare: he did not, so far as it is possible to tell, have the services of an editor (or even it seems a colleague or a friend) who might have acted as a sounding board for his ideas, technique and style.  It appears that Massey published without the benefit of someone else’s detailed objective reflection on what he had to say and how he set about saying it.  This may explain some of the more eccentric excesses of both his theory and his style.

16.    A number of other points need mention.  Massey sees his theory of the sonnets as in some way being in opposition to any other theory which takes them as being entirely personal to Shakespeare, in the sense that they are directly about events in his life and how he felt about those events.  It will become clear that the idea of the “personal” is central to his thinking.  His exposition of the “personal theory” he takes, to some extent, from C. A. Brown’s work on the sonnets, Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems (1838).  Brown’s work is of moderate scholarship and he died well over 20 years before Massey produced his theory.  This does not prevent Massey, though, from mounting a quite scathing attack on Brown and indeed upon several other critics and/or theorists who hold contrary positions to his own.  There is no sense in which he shows due deference to his predecessors or contemporaries in the field.  This does not help his case.  First, because it does not allow him sufficient scope to discuss significant issues (especially where they impinge on matters of textual analysis) and so come down rationally and reasonably to the position he does; secondly, because this lack of regard appears to be antagonistic towards other writers and critics; thirdly, because it does not make for continuing balanced scholarly deliberation, which, if he really seeks truth and is not just concerned with the standing of his own ideas, he should be about.  His whole approach and technique revolve on what at times becomes almost belligerent assertion rather than argument.  Time and again Massey presents his theories as axiomatic, thereby losing opportunities to debate ideas and issues that might otherwise have lent credibility to his arguments.  There is a stark contrast here between the temperate tones of Brown and the apodictics of Massey!

17.    Some of Massey’s case derives from his interpretation of the two dedications to Southampton, the first appearing in Venus and Adonis (1593), the second in The Rape of Lucrece (1594) together with the address/dedication to the mysterious “Mr W.H.” at the beginning of Sonnets (1609).  Evidentially they are meagre evidence for his case and they are about the only primary sources that he could bring to bear.  It is always as well to remember that primary sources on Shakespeare, aside from the plays and poetry, are few and far between.  Certainly the dedications from the earlier poems show that there was a close relationship between Shakespeare and his patron, Southampton, at the point of publication.  The first of these is a fairly typical dedication for its time, genuinely deferential.  The second, strikingly florid, shows a considerable shift in the relationship, since it is altogether more adulatory and fervent in its declaration of “love” for the patron.  The dedication of Sonnets is another matter altogether.  It defies any attempt to identify and analyse it as valid and reliable primary evidence.  It is typographically and literally abstruse.  The initials “W.H.” could and have over the years, been used to justify any number of possibilities.  And the final confusion comes with the addition of the printer’s initials “T.T.” for Thomas Thorpe rather than Shakespeare’s.  None of this can be supposed conclusive evidence of anything.  Massey, however, does see these dedications as significant evidence, particularly the 1594, that Shakespeare intended everything he said in it and was already in the process of writing a sonnet sequence that would bear out his “love” for the nobleman in an unparalleled literary form.

18.    Massey proposes that if we study the sonnets with sufficient care and in the light of the known history, then there is indeed a clear and meaningful story to be discovered in them.  It will be found, for example, that the young man addressed in sonnets 1-126 was the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wroithesley, that the rival poet was Christopher Marlowe and that the “Dark Lady” of the later sonnets was Lady Penelope Rich.  So abundant is the evidence, he claims, it is possible to flesh out far more than these simple (and at this level not altogether unlikely) facts and attribute all the sonnets to specific events in a developing elaborate courtly intrigue that Shakespeare was drawn into as a poetic recorder and in truth, go between.  And so Massey supplies us with the full “secret drama” of the sonnets shifting in his discourse from individual sonnets or groups of sonnets into the historical events he identifies for us.

19.    There is, as already noted, some difference between the 1872 and 1888 editions in the historical events he sees and the way they relate to the sonnets, but in essence the ideas are tantamount.  Massey makes a distinction between those sonnets which are written by Shakespeare for Southampton entirely of his own volition ― these he calls “personal sonnets” ― and those Shakespeare wrote at the behest of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon about their developing relationship (including Southampton’s flirtations with Lady Penelope Rich) and eventual marriage; these he calls the “dramatic sonnets”.  The “dramatic sonnets” also include those commonly referred to as the “Dark Lady” sonnets, that is the final sonnets in the Thorpe edition from sonnet 127 on.  These he attributes to a supposed obsession of William Herbert’s for Lady Rich at a date after the marriage of Southampton.  In order to achieve this new “dramatic” perspective on the sonnets, the original and only known ordering of them produced in Shakespeare’s life time has to be reassembled.

20.    It has already been pointed out that there is always a danger with the sonnets that the reader is tempted, when considering them as a body, to read a real sequence of events into them or imagine that they work out a plot, however vague, of some sort, hence the idea of a “drama”.   Massey is not alone in this sort of perspective and explanation; it remains a feature of some approaches to the sonnets even today.  A further danger is that the sonnets are perceived as “personal”.  This idea of personal writing, in the sense that Massey seems to use it, would surely not have occurred to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, indeed it is doubtful they would have been capable of such a concept.[7]  The idea of the personal in writing has its roots in the developing romantic traditions of nineteenth century literature and attitudes.  Massey and his contemporaries would not have been as so aware of this romantic influence as we are today since he and his contemporaries stood in the midst of it.  As it is, he uses both ideas, making them critical to the working out his theory.  In this sense his ideas are, inevitably, of the age in which they were written.

21.    The detailed “drama” Massey constructs around the sonnets creates a problem of probability for the reader.  Clearly it is not a problem he sees.  It centres on the fact that we are asked to believe that Shakespeare spent his time during the writing of the bulk of the sonnets, being called on by the protagonists to write poetry at their behest in order for them to work out their relationships.  Massey never actually comes down and explains the manner in which each “dramatic” sonnet could have been produced.  He maintains a cautious distance from the implied complexity of his proposals and prefers to write at greater length about the characters involved.  Of the group which will be considered in more detail below [see pp256-269] concerning, he claims, a reconciliation between Southampton and Vernon, he writes in extended detail about his view of the content (that Shakespeare is adopting the persona of Southampton and addressing Vernon).  He does not describe the process which brought the content into being in the sense that Shakespeare had to listen to what Southampton required and to know that Vernon would find the words acceptable.  Nor does he consider the limitations that this process would place on the poetry.

22.    The idea of Shakespeare being a literary “go between” looks to be, by any reasonable analysis, a precarious one. It is almost beyond historical doubt today that the poet was acquainted with the great and the good in the Elizabethan court (and probably to some extent in the way that Massey ― however vaguely ― suggests).  Most modern biographers would agree this point.  But that he could do so with full impunity seems very unlikely.  That Shakespeare was called in to write in the most intimate way about the fluctuating passions and whims of the mid to late Elizabethan nobility (and fluctuate they did as Massey and all can see) does not by any stretch of the imagination appear probable.  In a society which was as highly socially stratified as England’s in the 1590’s, Shakespeare did not strictly belong even to the “gentry”.  Being acquainted with is quite different from being asked to render the deepest intimacies of those people into poetic pillow-talk.  In such circumstances he would have been extremely vulnerable; one wrong move in terms of the way the verse would be understood and he would have been a marked man and easily dispensed with.

23.    We are also forced to ask how it comes about that such low intrigue as the loves and courtships of these men and women could produce such high art.  It is generally acknowledged in terms of Shakespeare’s work, that the sonnets range in literary quality from the engagingly indifferent/good to the most supreme expressions of poetic art in English.  Shakespeare, if Massey’s analysis is right, loses a good deal of literary control over his art.  He becomes a mere producer of love sonnets for the various members of Elizabeth’s court involved in the intrigue.  Is it believable that they would have revealed their thoughts and feelings to Shakespeare in such a way when they had far more straightforward ways of conducting their affairs?  Without a constant toing and froing of each sonnet in draft form between poet and each protagonist as and when they requested him to write, how could they be sure that Shakespeare was getting the message right in their terms?   Is it believable that the set of circumstances Massey puts forward took place in such a way as to inspire the poet to supreme expression?  Is it plausible that the process by which the “dramatic” sonnets were created was one that left us with poetry the language of which is without doubt highly ambiguous in nature and that that was acceptable to the protagonists and that Shakespeare was willing to let that be so?

24.    This issue of how acceptable the sonnets might have been to the protagonists is a problem for Massey, clearly.  Their ambiguity cannot be escaped and he knows it, which is why the “drama” has to remain secret.  Massey circumvents the problem of how the public might have perceived the sonnets on publication by making out that the protagonists where the “private friends” of Shakespeare amongst whom the poems circulated, those referred to by Meres, and that the sonnets were never intended for publication originally since their nature was so deeply personal.  However, if Meres knew of them he must have been amongst those privy and his revelation that they were in existence (though at this stage clearly not all of those published in 1609) in 1598, ten years before publication, is a breach of the suggested privacy.  More to the point, the issue is not simply one of publication; the sonnets were extant and it is the element of risk in the possibility of loss of secrecy which presents a far greater problem for the viability of his ideas.  This cannot be circumvented and brings into question much of what he suggests.

25.    His errors of judgement in terms of the likelihood of what he is proposing are further compounded by his handling of source material.  Massey uses extensive source references but does so relatively uncritically.  Significantly, he is not concerned to establish or debate the validity and reliability of his sources (or to interpret them other than superficially at times).  There are occasions when he fails to reference and/or acknowledge his sources making it impossible to follow through the dependability of what he says.  His readers cannot help but draw the conclusion that he is methodologically careless.[8]  It will be seen below, however, that when these failures are combined with others, his case does become irretrievably flawed.

26.    In addition, as Massey seems to be unaware, or worse unconcerned, that his sources and method may or may not convince the critical reader of the veracity of the picture he paints of, say, Southampton or Lady Rich or Elizabeth’s court, we are forced ask why?  Whether it is because it does not occur to him to examine sources (as already stated he was not well versed in historical technique), or because he thinks (arrogantly?) that he has no need to do so because his theory is right and his readers just need to accept what he says, or because he fears (perhaps a little ignorantly and defensively) that debate may suggest doubt rather than rigour, is not clear.  We are left with having to accept that Massey, lacking historical technique, proceeds uncritically with his source evidence and consequently weakens his case.  What he has to say must be treated with caution.  His “history” would not withstand any serious test of authenticity in a modern context and even in its own mid to late nineteenth century context would have been highly questionable.

27.    A closer look at one section of the ’72 edition [pp50-93], where Massey devotes over 40 pages to an outline account of Southampton’s life, can serve to exemplify some of the points above.  First of all he paints Southampton in a more than favourable light compared with less partial accounts that are available (cf Akrigg or DNB).[9]   Little of what he writes is directly relevant to his case, and he never adduces factual evidence for a relationship (of any nature) between the two men other than that which all authorities acknowledge ― the two dedications.  We can recognise, though, that what Massey is about here is association.  In his view, it seems, Shakespeare’s stature grows by being closely, indeed according to the theory, intimately, associated with a high ranking courtier nobleman of the time.  And one who, to some extent, is given an appearance, allowing for Massey’s propensity for effusion, beyond his true nature: “. . . brave, frank, magnanimous, thoroughly honourable, a true lover of his country, and the possessor of such natural qualities as won the love of Shakespeare.  A comely noble of nature, with highly finished manners; a soldier whose personal valour was proverbial; a lover of letters, and a munificent patron of literary men.” [p90]  Southampton was, in truth, of the second rank of his time ― he was no Dudley, Cecil or Essex.

28.    Massey then devotes another 14 pages to the “personal” friendship between the two men.  Here the historical referencing stops (because there is nothing to reference), but for one exception.  He quotes from a letter [p 100], purportedly written by Southampton, which makes a direct and favourable mention of Shakespeare to another high ranking statesman.  If it were a genuine document of the time this letter would be a major contribution to our understanding of Shakespeare and his theatre.  He does not reference this letter; he does not tell us where it is to be found nor does he date it.  From the quoted content and Massey’s gloss, were the letter to exist, we can guess the date to be c1608.  However, it is not possible to discover any other historical evidence for the existence of the letter and its authenticity.  None of the other major biographers of Shakespeare mention it.  Particularly and significantly Akrigg in his detailed study of the two men does not.  Massey does acknowledge that the letter’s authenticity is not established and puts forward an obscure and tendentious case for it being genuine.  He then goes on to make out a further case for accepting the letter as bona fide because his ensuing reading of the sonnets will prove it so.  This is highly questionable methodology, and it serves as an example of how he works.  In any reasonable assessment he is, sadly, throwing his case away by laying himself open to accusations of credulity.


Massey’s grouping of the sonnets

29.    Working through Massey’s approach to individual sonnets and how he organises them into larger groups, which he claims deal with certain specific historical events in the lives of the protagonists, can help to give a more detailed idea of how he approaches his task.  It can also serve to point up some of the differences between the ’72 and ’88 editions.

30.    In the ’72 edition Massey takes the following sonnets: 109, 110, 111, 112, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, & 121.   He proposes they be read in sequence so: 109, 110, 111, 112, 121, 117, 118, 119, 120, & 116.  These “dramatic sonnets”, he claims, relate to a period of reconciliation (following a period of separation and upset over other dalliances) in the developing relationship between Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon and eventual marriage.  These events, which broadly are historically correct, occurred in 1598-99.  In terms of the Thorpe order he leaves out sonnets 113, 114, & 115.  Sonnets 113 & 114 he places with what he claims is an earlier group written in 1595, also “dramatic”, which relate to Southampton’s temporary removal from the Court since the Queen did not favour the attentions he paid Elizabeth Vernon.  Sonnet 115 is placed with others seen by Massey as relating to Southampton’s imprisonment by the Queen for his association with the Essex rebellion and its fallout from 1601-03.

31.    Conventionally the full sequence of sonnets 109 to 121 can be seen by readers unconcerned with speculations on the underlying history of how the sonnets came to be written, as clearly and intricately interrelated in terms of subject, theme, imagery, vocabulary, style, tone, etc.  Any sensitive reading shows these sonnets as broadly centring on tensions created by the speaker’s absence from the addressee, the speaker’s concerns over his public life at the whim of Fortune (personified in 111), the confusions of absolute love (including unfaithfulness) and how it is tested, the shadows of previous betrayals, and the damage to reputations caused by false rumours and their perpetrators.  Massey’s proposed new order for reading breaks from whatever artistic integrity the original published order of these sonnets has.  In his analysis he does not give too much time to aesthetic implications of the proposals.  In fact at some points he actively (and bizarrely) attacks purely aesthetic considerations of the sonnets because they cannot attempt to take account of his ideas on the history of how they came to be written.  He does, however, move on to produce a general commentary on the sonnets in this group.

32.    When it comes to this group of sonnets in his ’88 edition Massey suggests that they be read in a different order, one which in fact is quite close to the original Thorpe edition.  The order is straightforward from 109 to 122 with sonnets 115 & 116 omitted (though 116 is given a chapter to itself immediately following), sonnets 113 & 114 are restored to the group and sonnet 122 is additional.  There is no attempt to explain how his thinking has changed between the two suggested orders.

33.    Taking sonnets 113 & 114 as a specific example of how Massey works with these two sonnets in both of his suggested orders, we find that in the ’88 edition Massey makes no reference to or analysis of them at all; he simply places them within the suggested sequence.  This is exactly what he does in the ’72 edition; they appear within a different group but they are never analysed or commented on.  In the ’72 edition, however, he does attach footnotes to 113 and 114.  He makes an editorial change to the final line of sonnet 113.  His change is not original or unusual; other editors, both before and since, have seen fit to edit the line in the same or similar way.  In the ’88 edition he restores the line to the original and there is of course no footnote.  The footnote to 114 in the ’72 edition does acknowledge that there is a possibility of these two sonnets finding: “a fit place with other sonnets” [p179].  There is no footnote to 114 in the ’88 edition.  The ’72 edition footnote is clearly not a glancing nod to the fact that many of the sonnets would find a fit place with many of the other sonnets [see introductory note to ’88 Edition in Appendix].

34.    We can see more clearly from the above how Massey is working.  His technique in this section dealing with the group of sonnets, which he claims relate to a reconciliation in the pre-marital relationship between Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon, is similar to that he uses with all the other “personal” and “dramatic” groupings of sonnets.  He does not engage in a detailed commentary or analysis of each the sonnets in either of the two orders he proposes.  Rather, he chooses those which best fit his purpose and outlines in general terms how they match in with the history he is exposing.  He cannot escape the need to focus on those sonnets which are, to a general reader at least, the best known and most frequently quoted, but he can chose to ignore those that aren’t.  He can also use to advantage sonnets which are similar in theme, in the case of this group that of separation and reunion, and so link them with the real events that took place in the lives of his putative protagonists.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with what Massey is doing per se; it is not by any means unusual for a writer to rethink and rework historical or literary ideas.  However, it is necessary to recognise that confusion is bound to arise when the same sonnets are used, with a few inclusions and exclusions here and there, in different ways without a clear explanation of how he achieved his change of mind about the order of reading.


Massey’s approach to individual sonnets

35.    It is also useful to consider more closely Massey’s approach to some individual sonnets in the context of his theory and compare that with more conventional approaches to them.  That is the sort of approach taken by literary commentators over the years who have concerned themselves only with their aesthetics and used the original Thorpe ordering.  A focus on just three sonnets 20, 151 and 38 as a means of studying Massey’s approach can be revealing.

36.    Sonnet 20 is a highly charged sexual and physically descriptive poem about the relationship between the poet and his subject who is undoubtedly the young man featuring in the bulk of the sonnets.  Setting aside for a moment the: “slippery and self-subverting”[10] language of this poem, which Massey does not engage with, it is interesting to note how he treats, in particular, of the directly explicit concluding couplet.  The original Thorpe imprinting of these lines reads:

But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.

The “she” equipping the young man is Nature, and he is “created” by Nature to love a woman.  The poet’s intention here is plain.  His use of “prick” for penis with all its denotations and connotations is well attested in the plays, most notably Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare in Sonnet 20 meets the subject of sexual passion (heterosexual or homosexual) head on.   For the reader it is quite unmistakeable that the poet sees and directly addresses the issue of the youth’s prevailing potency and attractiveness to women.  In Massey’s work, however, the text of the poem has been altered: the powerful “pricked” replaced by the neutral, indeed, limp “marked”.  Massey, we have to conclude, trapped by mid-nineteenth century squeamishness and anxiety about sexual matters, did not feel he could do this.  He makes no reference at all to the change he has made to the text.  He offers no explanation of the sonnet in the section of the ’72 edition dealing with this particular poem and which he classifies along with various others as “Personal Sonnets. 1592-3” and which he claims were written by Shakespeare in “praise” of Southampton’s “personal beauty”.  Clearly he changes this text in order to avoid censure of himself and presumably any damaging reflection on Shakespeare.  There seems to be no other way to understand his actions except in this light.

37.    Sonnet 20 also bears out a point we have already noted: the way in which Massey reorganises his ideas in the ’88 edition without explanation or comment.  This sonnet, in the ’72 edition, is included in the group mentioned above as “personal” and in praise of Southampton, etc.  In order those sonnets appear thus: 25, 20, 59, 106, 18, 62, 22, 53, & 54.  In the ’88 edition, however, the sonnet appears in order in a group running from 14 to 26: no reordering at all.  These sonnets, he claims, are written by Shakespeare to encourage the earl to marry.  This is a conventional interpretation and a substantial unacknowledged change from his previous position in the ’72 edition.

38.    If, in Sonnet 20, a single word presents Massey with a problem of taste derived from its perceived morality, which is to be neatly avoided by surreptitiously editing in a neutral replacement, then Sonnet 151 presents him an even greater problem.  Sonnet 151 in conventional readings is seen as picking up again on the theme of conflict between body and soul, touched on in other sonnets with, in this case, the body being “triumphant” (lines 8&10).  Here, nature (or sexual potency), having “pricked out” her subject, is given full reign through the innuendo of an extended vocabulary of double entendre. The vocabulary is unmistakeable and richly suggestive: “flesh”, “rising”, “point”, “proud”, “stand”, “fall”, “rise and fall”.  Editorial commentary on this sonnet from a variety of modern editions denies none of the obvious suggestiveness.  The evocation of male sexual excitation, tumescence and detumescence, are plain.  Massey’s approach, in the face of overwhelming evidence of Shakespeare’s capacity as a poet for frank exposition of an aspect of the human sexual condition, is honestly direct: he denies the sonnet is Shakespeare’s and attributes it to William Herbert.  His case tells us much: “It is a matter of moral certainty that Shakspeare did not write the 151st sonnet, which is irrecognisable as his by any light flashed from his spirit, or reflected in his works; it has no likeness to the other sonnets...” [pp432-433].  He continues in this vein before eventually consigning his feelings to footnotes.  The response is telling.  He produces no textual evidence for his case, basing it instead entirely on his view that Shakespeare’s “infinite felicity” renders him incapable of such writing.  What is more unusual about the ideas he puts forward on Sonnet 151 is that they do not appear in the section he devotes to the “Dark Lady” sonnets, but in a section where he deals with his own speculations on the circumstances which led to the publication of the original Thorpe edition of the sonnets in 1609.  This again raises issues of Massey’s approach, technique and the overall structure of his work.

39.    Finally, in this brief consideration of Massey’s approach to individual sonnets, is Sonnet 38.  In Massey’s proposed secret “drama” of the sonnets this poem is central.  For him it is a turning point in the sequence indicating that Shakespeare was now sufficiently close to Southampton, having written about him so intimately in earlier sonnets, as to bow to his request to write on his behalf and at his direction about his growing relationship and love for Elizabeth Vernon.  This growing relationship with Elizabeth Vernon eventually led to her pregnancy (and the minor court scandal already referred to) a fact which, by its nature, Massey struggles to deal with openly ― he relies on ephemism ― when he reaches that point in his theory since it tends to run counter to a deeper motive he has for introducing the ideas he has about sonnet 38.  Massey entitles the sonnet, rather clumsily and confusingly: “Shakespeare is about to write sonnets upon the Earl’s love for Elizabeth Vernon.” [p157].  What is critical for Massey’s theory here is that he can use the idea of Shakespeare’s increasing intimacy with Southampton as a way of demonstrating the poet’s standing.  He is, quite transparently, seeking kudos for Shakespeare.  However, having set up the sonnet (and for that matter the poet) in this way he makes no attempt at a critical analysis of it.  Instead he emphasises the idea of the new theme of love and his view that the sonnet is an inception to the “dramatic” sonnets which follow it saying: “Shakspeare accepts the Earl’s suggestion that he should write dramatic sonnets upon subjects supplied by Southampton, who has thus ‘GIVEN INVENTION LIGHT’.” [p159, Massey’s capitals quoted from line 8 of the sonnet].  His case hangs on the idea of the writer’s subject pouring his “own sweet argument” into the verse.  Conventional analysis of the sonnet sees it as a traditional and familiar conceit where the poet identifies the subject as the inspiration for his verse ― humbly offered as a “slight Muse” ― in the light of the subject as a greater muse.  It is difficult to see just where Massey gets the idea that there is an acceptance since there appears to be no proposal or suggestion on offer in the first place.  There is no part of the sonnet to which any conscientious critical analyst could point and say, that is Southampton’s or the subject’s suggestion and this is Shakespeare’s acceptance of it.  Still less is there any part which indicates that the proposed suggestion from the subject is that the new theme of the sonnets is to be his love for a particular woman.  The “proof” for “all eyes to see” [p156] which Massey promises is never adduced.  He attempts to make it so through lavish description of what he claims is the depth of understanding and trust between the older and younger man but there is no convincing hard fact or analytical evidence.  At best Massey is guilty of poor scholarship and questionable reasoning.


Implications of his approach and other points.

40.    Despite all the shortcomings that accrue from the way Massey treats of individual sonnets and the groupings of sonnets he devises, it is possible to recognise his work as informed by a detailed knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry.  His use of comparative analysis to date sonnets against plays is thorough and more or less convincing.[11]  It appears at times that he pushes very hard at the limits of such analysis, again taking his claims too far, especially where he simply presents long lists of extracts from sonnets juxtaposed with extracts from the plays entirely without comment [e.g. pp28-49].  He does not make any attempt in such sections to point out the pros and cons of the technique.  It must be remembered too, that he did not have the advantage of the sophisticated techniques scholars today would bring to textual analysis.  A dependable etymological resource such as the Oxford English Dictionary was not available to him, nor was, as already noted, historical scholarship which could reliably inform on the age of which he writes.  There are occasions when he begins to engage with the meaning of words and produces some interesting conjectures on the possibility of compositorial errors (and the sonnets clearly contain a fair number).  For example most modern commentators would agree his fairly conventional analysis of line 11 in Sonnet 51 on the awkwardness of the Quarto wording: “naigh noe” (i.e. “neigh no”) in relation to the call of horse to horse, and that, unsatisfactory though it is, it remains the best option since those of all other commentators fail to improve the idea.  There are any number of these observations which are enlightening, though they are not intended as part of the argument.  Equally there are times when he misses the obvious.

41.    The detailed footnotes Massey writes on Shakespeare’s use of “fitted” in line 7 of Sonnet 119, for example, fail to apprehend the simple idea that it is the “maddening fever” which forces the lover’s eyes from their sockets (cf. Macbeth: “What hands are here?  Ha! they pluck out mine eyes!”).  “Fitted” in this sense is the past participle of the transitive verb “to fit” meaning to be forced by paroxysm or fit out of position.  The ideas of fit and fever are in clear agreement, yet Massey insists there is a typo and what Shakespeare intended was “flitted”; a more lame and transgressive alternative is difficult to imagine.  Massey mistakes the verb as meaning to be of the right size and shape as to fill a certain space, in this case the orbits of the eyes.  His reasoning on Shakespeare’s use of “twire not” in line 12 of Sonnet 28 (which commentators would now agree describes the stars as not peeping out from the night sky), is well-evidenced, drawing on several commentators as to what the word might mean and is broadly accurate.  But he gradually and bizarrely works away from what is an accurate description of its meaning to eventually suggest that Shakespeare intended the phrase “tire not” in the sense of not dressing.  He compounds his error here in his next footnote by mistakenly attributing a quotation from Romeo and Juliet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

42.    Massey is not the first editor or commentator to make these sorts of errors, and it would be unfair to dwell overly on them.  They do, nevertheless, indicate again his propensity, at times, for slack scholarship and worse still of a seeming intransigence (when it comes to weighing evidence) to move from a preconceived position to a more even-handed and open-minded one regarding issues of meaning.

43.    It is clear from the nature of the ’72 edition that Massey is well-read in terms of detailed textual analysis and that he wants that to be seen to be so.  Aside from his main theme this edition includes a considerable number of random observations on disputed readings of the plays and some historical observations, etc, which form an appendix to the book but which have little bearing, if any, on his case.  Clearly for him his works on the sonnets created an opportunity to publish these observations and at the same time add to the effect of the scholarly approach he wishes to be seen as taking.  There is no index, though that is not uncommon for works of this nature at that period.  It does not make for easy cross-referencing for the reader.  There is an appearance of order about the work but it is a rough and ready one, and the reader is left with a feeling that there is something bordering on the shambolic about it also.  We must remember again that Massey does not seem to have had the benefit of any objective editing which might have curbed his wilder excesses of style and speculation [see para 15].  Massey also goes on to outline other histories, for example a decidedly partial account of the life of Lady Rich which, by its nature, lends supports to his idea that William Herbert is the male protagonist of the “Dark Lady” sonnets and indeed was responsible for writing some of them.  In this way, as we have seen, it might be said that he protects Shakespeare from proximity to anything unwholesome.

44.    It is in this apparent effort to protect Shakespeare’s character that he also includes in the ’72 edition a closing section which he calls a “re-touched portrait” of the man in the belief that his “solving” of the sonnets problem allows us to see him in a different and more glowing light. There is a real sense here in which it is possible to understand that Massey believes he is engaged in dispelling all and any doubts about that character which the unavoidable ambiguities of the sonnets create in the mind of any reader.  Of all the sections of his work this is where he achieves a floridity of style of such magnitude it is difficult to think of any other written commentary on Shakespeare which exceeds it for sheer fulsomeness.  He composes to some 75 pages of prose close approaching hagiography:

It is impossible to commune with the spirit of Shakespeare in his works and not feel that he is essentially a cheerful man and full of healthy gladness, that his royal soul was magnificently lodged in his fine physique, and looked out on life with a large contentment; that his conscience was clear and his spiritual pulse was sober.  This is manifest in his poems written at an age when most youngsters are wanton with sadness.  There is no sadness in his first song; he sustains a merry note lustily; the “Venus and Adonis,” the “lover’s Complaint,” are brim-full of health; they bespeak the ruddy English heart, the sunbrowned mirth, “country quicksilver,” and country cheer.  The royal blood of his happy health runs and riots in their rural vein.  It is shown in his hearty and continuous way of working.  It is proved by his great delight in common human nature, and his full satisfaction in the world as he found it.  It is supremely shown in the nature of his whole work.  A reigning cheerfulness was the sovereign quality of the man, and his art is dedicated to Joy.  No one ever did so much in the poetic sphere to make men nobly happy.  A most profound and perennial cheerfulness of soul he must have had to bring so bright a smile to the surface, and put so pleasurable a colour into the face of human life, which never shone more round and rosy than it does in his eyes at times; he who well knew what an infinite of sorrow may brood beneath; what sunless depths of sadness and lonely leafless wastes of misery; who felt so intimately its old heartache and pain; its mystery of evil and all the pathetic pangs with which nature gives birth to Good!  [p540]

Such unrestrained prolixity is indicative of Massey’s desire to have “our poet” rinsed clean of all blemish and brought alive for all to see in that cleanliness; that above all, he loved the man and his works to an extent that, ultimately, exceeds reason and reasonableness.

45.    In this sense too that we can see Massey loves the poet but has almost nothing to say about the art.  This is reflected in the fact that he does not attempt any detailed analysis or evocation of the cultural milieu in which the sonnets were written.  Such analysis almost certainly does not occur to him since, as already touched on, the study of English Literature and the study of the varying cultural circumstances that has led to its creation over the centuries, was not an establish academic discipline at the time he was writing.  There is no attempt on his part to consider the constraints and opportunities that faced poets and their art in the mid to late Elizabethan/early Jacobean periods.  The social, material, economic, political and spiritual dimensions of society in the period are almost entirely absent from Massey, in sharp contrast to modern day writing about Shakespeare.  It is a further reason why his work does not stand up well today, thoroughly overtaken as it has been by developments in academic methodology and technique since the late nineteenth century, and which now cast greater clearer light on the nature of the sonnets and their author.

46.    The portrayal of Shakespeare in such terms as those above makes it clear Massey could admit no fault in the man.  “Our poet” in his eyes is a paragon and beyond reproach of any kind.  And because in his mind Shakespeare is beyond reproach so too must be Southampton.  The effusive portrait of the latter is mentioned above.  The stress throughout Massey’s work is always on the absolute purity and strength of the love which he insists existed between the two men and is the prime motivator for all but the “Dark Lady” sonnets.  If this were the case it would raise at least one question.  Why is it that, although Shakespeare died in the lifetime of Southampton, there is no historical evidence of how Southampton was affected by this?  A man who, according to Massey’s theory, over a period of some 15 years played such a large part in the development of the Southampton’s attitude to women and his subsequent marital, courtly and indeed political tribulations (i.e. Massey’s not unreasonable interpretation of sonnet 107), passes away and there is no mention of this in any documentation of the time relating to Southampton.  This is in no way conclusive but does serve to point up a problem for Massey’s view that the two men were so close: he does not follow through his thinking especially where there is a danger that it might impinge on the likelihood of his ideas.

47.    The social and cultural context in which Massey wrote has been noted, but there are some other final points to bear in mind.  He and his writing could not escape prevailing Victorian prudery.  The implicit homosexually of the sonnets is not directly discussed by Massey in either edition.  He seems at times to be making oblique references to it, through his consideration of other earlier and less inhibited writers on the sonnets, but his line is one of denial rather than attempting to meet the issue.  It would have been anathema for Massey even to raise the possibility.  The “Labonchère amendment” of 1885 criminalised homosexual acts and had considerable impact on scholarship of the time as did the association of Oscar Wilde with the sonnets.  By failing to be honest about all the possible interpretations of the sonnets, effectively in his terms admitting no flaw in Shakespeare as a man, he places himself in a position where cannot allow any hint of homosexuality which might prompt adverse reaction to his case.  Any suggestion of it would have placed him and his efforts in a precarious position.



The belief that one can find out something about real things by speculation alone is one of the most long-lived delusions in human thought.

Robert H Thouless,  Straight and Crooked Thinking.  1930.

48.    Elsewhere on this website, David Shaw, in his biography of Massey, describes how Massey reacted to the way his work on the sonnets was received: “He was exceedingly perplexed as to the unwillingness of critics to follow his reading of what he termed the Dramatic Sonnets.  Although very pleased with his work, Massey must have been disappointed that the book did not reach a second edition, and that no publisher accepted it in America”.[12]   If Shaw’s observation is correct, then it reveals much of Massey as a personality.  Being “perplexed” and “disappointed” suggest he did not understand the critics’ “ follow” as being indicative of a reasonably justifiable reservation; a reluctance to engage with an elaborate and convoluted explanation of debateable literary worth (and also one which was not to stand the test of time in its entirety).  Massey in this perspective comes across as naive and unaware.  He suffered, clearly, because of all the inherent weaknesses of his approach and execution.  Ultimately his thesis tries to make the sonnets, on minimal evidence, carry far too much both historically and literarily.

49.    For the modern reader of Sonnets at a literary level, Massey has little to offer.  His case is that his reordering: “surmounts the obstacles, disentangles the complications, resolves the discords…from beginning to end” [p436].  It does not occur to him that those obstacles, complications and discords are amongst the very things that help make the sonnets so intriguing as a body of poetry and accounts to some extent for their undiminished popularity.  The absence in his writing of any considered literary response to the poems is a consequence of his single-minded pursuit of what he believes to be the history behind their composition.  This partial treatment is not thorough and leaves his reader no opportunity to engage in debate which rises above his speculations in an attempt to achieve an honest evaluation and critical appreciation of the poetry.  Likewise the modern scholar of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean history is unlikely to find much of merit or use in Massey’s work.  His efforts and background knowledge, both historical and literary, are not inconsiderable and their strengths recognisable, but too much manipulation of scant fact and half-truth, and textual tampering, together with a propensity not to recognise where the ideas are taking him and an inability fully to analyse (or even perceive) the position he places himself in with regard to the poems and their meaning, leave him vulnerable to any more temperate argument.  He has no fall-back position.

50.    Modern day references to Massey, in terms of recognition of his work in biographical publications about Shakespeare or editions of Sonnets, are few and far between.  His theory, even if it holds some modicum of truth, would surely have been picked up and thoroughly explored by others perceiving some worthiness in it: this is not the case.  References to him when they can be found are brief and passing, acknowledging, perhaps a suggestion of his regarding a textual detail or an idea in an individual sonnet.  No modern biographer of Shakespeare who writes about the sonnets in appraising his life and works, mentions Massey; all recognise Southampton as a patron, though none see more than the slightest of connections between that fact and the sonnets themselves.  He receives no mention in The Penguin or Oxford editions of Sonnets, the Cambridge edition makes one and the Arden edition three.[13]

51.    Ultimately what Massey’s research lacks is complete intellectual honesty and rigour.  This is emphasised when considering what Akrigg has to say at the end of his study of Shakespeare and Southampton where he touches precisely on the problems that a modern academic faces in achieving a truly objective account of what took place historically.  He notes the need for caution by observing: “all those warning uses of ‘probably’, ‘apparently’, ‘might’ and ‘may’ which scholarly conscience requires” are what he as a scholar for a moment suspends in order to summarize the probable in terms of the relationship between the two men.[14]  And his conclusion is as simple as it is direct; the only thing we can say for certain about them, in the light of the meagre evidence we have, is that: “Many of Southampton’s friends were probably Shakespeare’s friends also.”[15]   Curiously, however, he makes one further suggestion which is that there was probably in fact a significant break between poet and patron on publication of Sonnets in 1609.  This is, of course, a long way from the position that Massey takes, though the matter should not rest there.

52.    What should matter about Massey and his ideas on Shakespeare is that they be studied more for the worth of the understanding it gives to us of the age in which he [Massey] lived, its view of the world and how he [Massey] fits into that age, rather than for the work alone.  There is a rich seam of material here for the student of Victorian mores, the growth of English Literature as a subject for academic study and the working man’s part in those things.  We should never forget the humble origins of Massey and that therein his works represent an achievement albeit not as great as he would have wanted.  He lived in a time which, in its own way, was far less accepting than Shakespeare’s.  Massey well knew that a pious and bourgeois paying public on which he relied for his income, in particular those he lectured to over many years on a huge variety of subjects apart from Shakespeare, would not have him entertain them (and still less the lower social orders) with anything but the most scrupulously sanitised interpretation of the sonnets and the man.  If he did not know this then he is merely unwittingly culpable in the prevailing mid to late nineteenth century need to uphold the moral social fabric through a carefully controlled educative mechanism, for fear that any truth (the aesthetic truth about the poems as it seemed, in their view, to be and which, however carefully sanitised, lurked just below the surface) would lead towards social subversion.

53.    If, by conventional interpretation, interpretation based solely on their unalloyed contents of the sort of that Massey and many others of his time baulked at, the sonnets do bear to us ideas about the nature of love, lust, betrayal, angst, etc, then they should stand to serve in precisely the way that should have been welcomed by those living in the mid to late Victoria era, since there is as much of suffering in them as there is of hope.  Massey though, is trapped by his underlying and unstated precept (the root of his extravagant and overweening portrait of Shakespeare) which is that there is something unwholesome about the sonnets best tackled head on by painting a picture of them and their author admitting no part of any such perceived depravity.  And only time allows us to see this and so place Massey, the sonnets and Shakespeare where they are best seen as ultimately indicative of humanity’s greatest strivings and failures.



1.    Frances Meres,  Palladis Tamia.  Wits Treasury.  Being the Second Part of Wits Commonwealth (1598), fols 281v-2r.
2.    SHAKSPEARE AND HIS SONNETS: Quarterly Review.  vol. 115, April, 1864.
3.    See David Shaw’s Biography of Gerald Massey.
4.    T. Eagleton, Literary Theory, 1983, p25.
5.    Ibid, p27
6.    G. P. V. Akrigg, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, 1968.
7.    The problem of the personal in the sonnets caused Massey and others who were his contemporaries much difficulty.  For a brief discussion of its nature see P. Ackroyd, Shakespeare a Biography, 2005, p287.
8.    Massey’s methodological and referencing short comings are well-documented by Jon Lange in his "Brief Introduction" to Massey's works on comparative religion.
9.     Op cit.  Akrigg or Dictionary of National Biography.
10.    K. Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Arden Shakespeare, 2004, p150.
11.    K. Muir, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1979.
12.    Op cit.  Shaw’s biography of Massey, Ch 5.
13.    All four editions, which are probably the most popular for study purposes, are easily available, as cited, via a Google search.
14.    Op cit, p266.
15.    Ibid, p264.



Massey’s 1872 and 1888 arrangements of the sonnets.

1872 edition.

Below is the printed order of the sonnets as they appear in the 1872 edition of Massey.  They are sectioned off in the various groupings he suggests, together with the headings to these groupings and the dates (where given) of composition according to his theory.  Massey never explains in detail why he locates a good many of the sonnets in the order he does.  He does offer at times some very general comments as to his reasoning and presumably believes readers can see the connections he sees for themselves.  On occasions Massey creates individual titles for the sonnets: these have not been used in this case.

Personal Sonnets 1592

Shakspeare to the Earl, Wishing him to Marry.

26  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17

Personal Sonnets 1592-3

Shakspeare to the Earl, In Praise of his Personal Beauty.

25  20  59  106  18  62  22  53  54

Personal Sonnets 1592-3

Shakspeare to the Earl, Promising Immortality.

23  19  60  64  65  55

Personal Sonnets 1592-3

Shakspeare to the Earl, chiefly Concerning a Rival Poet, Adjudged to be Marlowe.

78  79  80  86  85  21  83  84  82  32

A Personal Sonnet 1593-4

Shakspeare is about to Write on the Courtship of his friend Southampton, According to the Earl’s Suggestions.


Dramatic Sonnets 1593-4

Southampton in Love with Elizabeth Vernon.

29  30  31  37

Personal Sonnets 1594

Shakspeare to the Earl, when he has Known him some Three Years.

104  126

A Personal Sonnet

Shakspeare Proposes to Write of the Earl in his Absence Abroad.


Dramatic Sonnets 1595

The Earl to Mistress Vernon on and in his Absence Abroad.

36  50  51  113  114  27  28  43  61  48  44  45  52

Personal Sonnets 1595

Shakspeare of the Earl in his Absence.

24  46  47

Dramatic Sonnets

Elizabeth Vernon’s Jealousy of her Lover, Lord Southampton, and her Friend, Lady Rich.

144  33  34  35  41  42  133  134  40

Dramatic Sonnet

Shakspeare on the Slander.


Dramatic Sonnets

The Earl to Mistress Vernon after the Jealousy.

56  75  49  88  91  92  93  95  66  67  68  69  94  77

Dramatic Sonnets 1597-8

A Farewell of the Earl’s to Elizabeth Vernon.

87  89  90

Dramatic Sonnets 1598

The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon after his Absence.

97  98  99  100  101  102  103  76  108  105

Dramatic Sonnets 1598-9

The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon – their final Reconciliation: with Shakspeare’s Sonnet on their Marriage.

109  110  111  112  121  117  118  119  120  116

Personal Sonnets 1599-1600

Shakspeare to the Earl, Chiefly on his own Death

71  72  73  74  63  81

Dramatic Sonnets 1601-03

Southampton, in the Tower, to his Countess.  Also  Shakspeare to the Earl in Prison, and upon his Release.

123  124  125  115  107

The Earl to Elizabeth Vernon on Parting with a book Which she has given him. [1]


Dramatic Sonnets 1599-1600

William Herbert’s Passion for Lady Rich.

145 [2]  127  132  128  138  130  131  96  135  136  142  143  57  58  139  140  149  137 148  141  150  147  152  151  129  146  {153  154} [3]


1888 edition.


There is a clear contrast between the two orders Massey proposes.  In the 1888 edition the order of Thorpe is followed by and large.  Some sonnets, such as 46 and 47, change classification from personal to dramatic without explanation.  If anything this serves to point up that individual sonnets can easily be transposed between would be groupings with relative editorial impunity.  It is not possible to discover any overarching principle for the changes made.  Looked at one way, this almost allows them to achieve the sublime status of coming to mean all things to all men, clearly something Massey did not intend and almost certainly did not foresee. 


Personal Sonnets

The earliest Sonnets personal to Shakspeare commending marriage to his young friend the Earl of Southampton.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13

The argument for marriage continued, with the introduction of a new theme; that of the writer's power to immortalize his friend.

14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26

A Personal Sonnet

Which affords a clue to the dramatic treatment of subjects suggested by Southampton, who is to supply his "own sweet argument," and "give invention light."


Dramatic Sonnets

Southampton when in "disgrace with Fortune" solaces himself with thoughts of his new love, Elizabeth Vernon.

29  20  31

A Personal Sonnet


Dramatic Sonnets

Elizabeth Vernon to her Lover the Earl of Southampton.
The Dark Story: or Elizabeth Vernon's jealousy of her cousin Lady Rich.

33  34  35  41  42

Elizabeth Vernon to her cousin Lady Rich.

133  134  40

Elizabeth Vernon's Soliloquy.


A Personal Sonnet

Shakspeare to the Earl, who is leaving England.


Dramatic Sonnets

Southampton to Elizabeth Vernon—at parting, in absence abroad, and on the return home.

36  37  27  28  43  61  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  56

Personal Sonnets

53  54  55  59  60  62  63  64  65

Dramatic Sonnets

Elizabeth Vernon's sadness for her lover's reckless course of life.

66  67  68  69

A Personal Sonnet

Shakspeare in defence of his friend.


Personal Sonnets

71  72  73  74  76  77

Personal Sonnets

Shakspeare to Marlowe.

78  79  80  81  82  83  84  85  86

Dramatic Sonnets

Southampton to Elizabeth Vernon.

87  75  88  89  90  91  92  93

Dramatic Sonnets

Elizabeth Vernon to Southampton on his ill deeds.

94  95  96

Southampton to Elizabeth Vernon.  "Vernon Semper Viret."

97  98  99

Personal Sonnets

Shakspeare to Southampton after some time of silence.

100  101  102  103  104  105  106  108

Dramatic Sonnets

1598 - Southampton to Elizabeth Veron—their Final Reconciliation: with Shakspeare's Sonnet in allusion to their Marriage.

109  110  111  112  113  114  117  118  119  120  121  122

A Personal Sonnet

Shakspeare on the Marriage of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon.


Dramatic Sonnets

Southampton in the Tower, condemned to death or to a life-long

123  124  125

Shakspeare to the Earl of Southampton in prison.


Shakspeare to Southampton on his release from prison.

107 [4]

Fragment of a Personal Sonnet.


Dramatic Sonnets ― Composed for Master Will. Herbert. 1599.

127  128  129  130  131  132  135  136  137  138  139  140  141  142  143  57  58 145  146  147  148  149  150  151  152  153  154



1.         Massey does not make it clear how he classifies this sonnet.  It would be safe to say that he sees it as dramatic.
2.         Sonnet 145 presents problems of its own written as it is in octosyllabic lines.   Massey treats of it separately from the section it has been included above.  However, he regards it essentially as one of the Herbert set.
3.         The final two sonnets, which all critics recognise as problematic within the sequence since they are distinct in style and theme, do not feature in the main body of Massey’s text.  They are consigned to his Appendix A where he uses them to “prove” a number of points, including the claim that Shakespeare was not involved in preparing the sonnets for press.  All of the points he makes are debateable and made without attempting a critical analysis [p 569].
4.         Sonnets 107 and 115 appear in Massey’s terms to be personal.  They are, he claims, written directly to and about Southampton.  In his reprint of the sonnets in the 1888 edition, however, he places them under a dramatic heading.


About the author.

Ernie Wingeatt was an English teacher for over 35 years, working with both children and adults.  A former DES Schoolteacher Fellow, he has extensive experience in educational assessment and now works as an independent consultant.  He is currently advising schools and colleges, on behalf of the AQA, where students are studying for the new Extended Qualification Project prior to university entrance.

Ernie is happy to receive reasonable correspondence regarding this critique (e-mail ― shkspr at but does not guarantee to respond in all cases.