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Robert Ingersoll On Shakespeare

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On Shakespeare

Robert Green Ingersoll

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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was the greatest genius of our world. He
left to us the richest legacy of all the dead -- the treasures of
the rarest soul that ever lived and loved and wrought of words the
statues, pictures, robes and gems of thought.

It is hard to overstate the debt we owe to the men and women
of genius. Take from our world what they have given, and all the
niches would be empty, all the walls naked -- meaning and
connection would fall from words of poetry and fiction, music would
go back to common air, and all the forms of subtle and enchanting
Art would lose proportion and become the unmeaning waste and
shattered spoil of thoughtless Chance. Shakespeare is too great a
theme. I feel as though endeavoring to grasp a globe so large that
the hand obtains no hold. He who would worthily speak of the great
dramatist should be inspired by "a muse of fire that should ascend
the brightest heaven of invention" -- he should have "a kingdom for
a stage, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene."

More than three centuries ago, the most intellectual of the
human race was born. He was not of supernatural origin. At his
birth there were no celestial pyrotechnics. His father and mother
were both English, and both had the cheerful habit of living in
this world. The cradle in which he was rocked was canopied by
neither myth nor miracle, and in his veins there was no drop of
royal blood.

This babe became the wonder of mankind. Neither of his parents
could read or write. He grew up in a small and ignorant village on
the banks of the Avon, in the midst of the common people of three
hundred years ago. There was nothing in the peaceful, quiet
landscape on which he looked, nothing in the low hills, the
cultivated and undulating fields, and nothing in the murmuring
stream, to excite the imagination -- nothing, so far as we can see,
calculated to sow the seeds of the subtlest and sublimest thought.

So there is nothing connected with his education, or his lack
of education, that in any way accounts for what he did. It is
supposed that he attended school in his native town -- but of this
we are not certain. Many have tried to show that he was, after all,
of gentle blood, but the fact seems to be the other way. Some of

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his biographers have sought to do him honor by showing that he was
patronized by Queen Elizabeth, but of this there is not the
slightest proof.

As a matter of fact, there never sat on any throne a king,
queen, or emperor who could have honored William Shakespeare.

Ignorant people are apt to overrate the value of what is
called education. The sons of the poor, having suffered the
privations of poverty, think of wealth as the mother of joy. On the
other hand, the children of the rich, finding that gold does not
produce happiness, are apt to underrate the value of wealth. So the
children of the educated often care but little for books, and hold
all culture in contempt. The children of great authors do not, as
a rule, become writers.

Nature is filled with tendencies and obstructions. Extremes
beget limitations, even as a river by its own swiftness creates
obstructions for itself.

Possibly, many generations of culture breed a desire for the
rude joys of savagery, and possibly generations of ignorance breed
such a longing for knowledge, that of this desire, of this hunger
of the brain, Genius is born. It may be that the mind, by lying
fallow, by remaining idle for generations, gathers strength.

Shakespeare's father seems to have been an ordinary man of his
time and class. About the only thing we know of him is that he was
officially reported for not coming monthly to church. This is good
as far as it goes. We can hardly blame him, because at that time
Richard Bifield was the minister at Stratford, and an extreme
Puritan, one who read the Psalter by Sternhold and Hopkins.

The church was at one time Catholic, but in John Shakespeare's
day it was Puritan, and in 1564, the year of Shakespeare's birth,
they had the images defaced. It is greatly to the honor of John
Shakespeare that he refused to listen to the "tidings of great Joy"
as delivered by the Puritan Bifield.

Nothing is known of his mother, except her beautiful name --
Mary Arden. In those days but little attention was given to the
biographies of women. They were born, married, had children, and
died. No matter how celebrated their sons became, the mothers were
forgotten. In old times, when a man achieved distinction, great
pains were taken to find out about the father and grandfather --
the idea being that genius is inherited from the father's side. The
truth is, that all great men have had great mothers. Great women
have had, as a rule, great fathers.

The mother of Shakespeare was, without doubt, one of the
greatest of women. She dowered her son with passion and imagination
and the higher qualities of the soul, beyond all other men. It has
been said that a man of genius should select his ancestors with
great care -- and yet there does not seem to be as much in heredity
as most people think. The children of the great are often small.
Pygmies are born in palaces, while over the children of genius is
the roof of straw. Most of the great are like mountains, with the
valley of ancestors on one side and the depression of posterity on
the other.
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In his day Shakespeare was of no particular importance. It may
be that his mother had some marvelous and prophetic dreams, but
Stratford was unconscious of the immortal child. He was never
engaged in a reputable business. Socially he occupied a position
below servants. The law described him as "a sturdy vagabond." He
was neither a noble, a soldier, nor a priest. Among the half-
civilized people of England, he who amused and instructed them was
regarded as a menial. Kings had their clowns, the people their
actors and musicians. Shakespeare was scheduled as a servant. It is
thus that successful stupidity has always treated genius. Mozart
was patronized by an Archbishop -- lived in the palace, -- but was
compelled to eat with the scullions.

The composer of divine melodies was not fit to sit by the side
of the theologian, who long ago would have been forgotten but for
the fame of the composer.

We know but little of the personal peculiarities, of the daily
life, or of what may be called the outward Shakespeare, and it may
be fortunate that so little is known. He might have been belittled
by friendly fools. What silly stories, what idiotic personal
reminiscences, would have been remembered by those who scarcely saw
him! We have his best -- his sublimest -- and we have probably lost
only the trivial and the worthless. All that is known can be
written on a page.

We are tolerably certain of the date of his birth, of his
marriage and of his death. We think he went to London in 1586, when
he was twenty-two years old. We think that three years afterward he
was part owner of Blackfriars' Theater. We have a few signatures,
some of which are supposed to be genuine. We know that he bought
some land -- that he had two or three law-suits. We know the names
of his children. We also know that this incomparable man -- so
apart from, and so familiar with, all the world -- lived during his
literary life in London -- that he was an actor, dramatist and
manager -- that he returned to Stratford, the place of his birth,
-- that he gave his writings to negligence, deserted the children
of his brain -- that he died on the anniversary of his birth at the
age of fifty-two, and that he was buried in the church where the
images had been defaced, and that on his tomb was chiseled a rude,
absurd and ignorant epitaph.

No letter of his to any human being has been found, and no
line written by him can be shown. And here let me give my
explanation of the epitaph. Shakespeare was an actor -- a
disreputable business -- but he made money -- always reputable. He
came back from London a rich man. He bought land, and built houses.
Some of the supposed great probably treated him with deference.
When he died he was buried in the church. Then came a reaction. The
pious thought the church had been profaned. They did not feel that
the ashes of an actor were fit to lie in holy ground. The people
began to say the body ought to be removed. Then it was, as I
believe, that Dr. John Hall, Shakespeare's son-in-law, had this
epitaph cut on the tomb; "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare to
digg the dust enclosed heare: Blest be ye man yt spares these
stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones." "Certainly Shakespeare
could have had no fear that his tomb would be violated. How could

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it have entered his mind to have put a warning, a threat and
blessing, upon his grave? But the ignorant people of that day were
no doubt convinced that the epitaph was the voice of the dead, and
so feeling they feared to invade the tomb. In this way the dust was
left in peace.

This epitaph gave me great trouble for years. It puzzled me to
explain why he, who erected the intellectual pyramids, -- great
ranges of mountains -- should put such a pebble at his tomb. But
when I stood beside the grave and read the ignorant words, the
explanation I have given flashed upon me.


It has been said that Shakespeare was hardly mentioned by his
contemporaries, and that he was substantially unknown. This is a
mistake. In 1600 a book was published called England's Parnassus,
and it contained ninety extracts from Shakespeare. In the same year
was published the Garden of the Muses, containing several pieces
from Shakespeare, Chapman, Marston and Ben Jonson. England's
Helicon was printed in the same year, and contained poems from
Spenser, Greene, Harvey and Shakespeare.

In 1600 a play was acted at Cambridge, in which Shakespeare
was alluded to as follows: "Why, here's our fellow Shakespeare who
puts them all down." John Weaver published a book of poems in 1595,
in which there was a sonnet to Shakespeare. In 1598 Richard
Bamfield wrote a poem to Shakespeare. Francis Meres, "clergyman,
master of arts in both universities, compiler of school books," was
the author of the Wits' Treasury. In this he compares the ancient
and modern tragic poets, and mentions Marlowe, Peele, Kyd and
Shakespeare. So he compares the writers of comedies, and mentions
Lilly, Lodge, Greene and Shakespeare. He speaks of elegiac poets,
and names Surrey, Wyatt, Sidney, Raleigh and Shakespeare. He
compares the lyric poets, and names Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare
and others. This same writer, speaking of Horace, says that England
has Sidney, Shakespeare and others, and that "as the soul of
Euphorbus was thought to live in Pthagoras, so the sweet-wittie
soul of Ovid lives in the mellifluous and honey-tongued
Shakespeare." He also says: "If the Muses could speak English, they
would speak in Shakespeare's phrase." This was in 1598. In 1607,
John Davies alludes in a poem to Shakespeare.

Of course we are all familiar with what rare Ben Jonson wrote.
Henry Chettle took Shakespeare to task because he wrote nothing on
the death of Queen Elizabeth.

It may be wonderful that he was not better known. But is it
not wonderful that he gained the reputation that he did in so short
a time, and that twelve years after he began to write he stood at
least with the first?

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BUT there is a wonderful fact connected with the writings of
Shakespeare. In the Plays there is no direct mention of any of his
contemporaries. We do not know of any poet, author, soldier,
sailor, statesman, priest, nobleman, king, or queen, that
Shakespeare directly mentioned.

Is it not marvelous that he, living in an age of great deeds,
of adventures in far-off lands and unknown seas -- in a time of
religious wars -- in the days of the Armada -- the massacre of St.
Bartholomew -- the Edict of Nantes -- the assassination of Henry
III. -- the victory of Lepanto -- the execution of Marie Stuart --
did not mention the name of any man or woman of his time? Some have
insisted that the paragraph ending with the lines: "The imperial
votress passed on in maiden meditation fancy free," referred to
Queen Elizabeth; but it is impossible for me to believe that the
daubed and wrinkled face, the small black eyes, the cruel nose, the
thin lips, the bad teeth, and the red wig of Queen Elizabeth could
by any possibility have inspired these marvelous lines.

It is perfectly apparent from Shakespeare's writings that he
knew but little of the nobility, little of kings and queens. He
gives to these supposed great people great thoughts, and puts great
words in their mouths and makes them speak -- not as they really
did -- but as Shakespeare thought such people should. This
demonstrates that he did not know them personally.

Some have insisted that Shakespeare mentions Queen Elizabeth
in the last scene of Henry VIII. The answer to this is that
Shakespeare did not write the last scene in that Play. The
probability is that Fletcher was the author. Shakespeare lived
during the great awakening of the world, when Europe emerged from
the darkness of the Middle Ages, when the discovery of America had
made England, that blossom of the Gulf-Stream, the center of
commerce, and during a period when some of the greatest writers,
thinkers, soldiers and discoverers were produced.

Cervantes was born in 1547, dying on the same day that
Shakespeare died. He was undoubtedly the greatest writer that Spain
has produced. Rubens was born in 1577. Carnoens, the Portuguese,
the author of the Lusiad, died in 1597. Giordano Bruno -- greatest
of martyrs -- was born in 1548 -- visited London in Shakespeare's
time -- delivered lectures at Oxford, and called that institution
"the widow of learning." Drake circled the globe in 1580. Galileo
was born in 1564 -- the same year with Shakespeare. Michael Angelo
died in 1563. Kepler -- he of the Three Laws -- born in 1571.
Calderon, the Spanish dramatist, born in 1601. Corneille, the
French poet, in 1606. Rembrandt, greatest of painters, 1607.
Shakespeare was born in 1564. In that year John Calvin died. What
a glorious exchange!

Seventy-two years after the discovery of America Shakespeare
was born, and England was filled with the voyages and discoveries
written by Hakluyt, and the wonders that had been seen by Raleigh,
by Drake, by Frobisher and Hawkins. London had become the center of
the world, and representatives from all known countries were in the

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new metropolis. The world had been doubled. The imagination had
been touched and kindled by discovery. In the far horizon were
unknown lands, strange shores beyond untraversed seas. Toward every
part of the world were turned the prows of adventure. All these
things fanned the imagination into flame, and this had its effect
upon the literary and dramatic world. And yet Shakespeare -- the
master spirit of mankind -- in the midst of these discoveries, of
these adventures, mentioned no navigator, no general, no
discoverer, no philosopher.

Galileo was reading the open volume of the sky, but
Shakespeare did not mention him. This to me is the most marvelous
thing connected with this most marvelous man.

At that time England was prosperous -- was then laying the
foundation of her future greatness and power.

When men are prosperous, they are in love with life. Nature
grows beautiful, the arts begin to flourish, there is work for
painter and sculptor, the poet is born, the stage is erected -- and
this life with which men are in love, is represented in a thousand

Nature, or Fate, or Chance prepared a stage for Shakespeare,
and Shakespeare prepared a stage for Nature.

Famine and faith go together. In disaster and want the gaze of
man is fixed upon another world. He that eats a crust has a creed.
Hunger falls upon its knees, and heaven, looked for through tears,
is the mirage of misery. But prosperity brings joy and wealth and
leisure -- and the beautiful is born.

One of the effects of the world's awakening was Shakespeare.
We account for this man as we do for the highest mountain, the
greatest river, the most perfect gem. We can only say: He was. "It
hath been taught us from the primal state that he which is was
wished until he were."


In Shakespeare's time the actor was a vagabond, the dramatist
a disreputable person -- and yet the greatest dramas were then
written. In spite of law, and social ostracism, Shakespeare reared
the many-colored dome that fills and glorifies the intellectual

Now the whole civilized world believes in the theater -- asks
for some great dramatist -- is hungry for a play worthy of the
century, is anxious to give gold and fame to any one who can
worthily put our age upon the stage -- and yet no great play has
been written since Shakespeare died.

Shakespeare pursued the highway of the right. He did not seek
to put his characters in a position where it was right to do wrong.
He was sound and healthy to the center. It never occurred to him to
write a play in which a wife's lover should be jealous of her

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There was in his blood the courage of his thought. He was true
to himself and enjoyed the perfect freedom of the highest art. He
did not write according to rules -- but smaller men make rules from
what he wrote.

How fortunate that Shakespeare was not educated at Oxford --
that the winged god within him never knelt to the professor. How
fortunate that this giant was not captured, tied and tethered by
the literary Lilliputians of his time.

He was an idealist. He did not -- like most writers of our
time -- take refuge in the real, hiding a lack of genius behind a
pretended love of truth. All realities are not poetic, or dramatic,
or even worth knowing. The real sustains the same relation to the
ideal that a stone does to a statue -- or that paint does to a
painting. Realism degrades and impoverishes. In no event can a
realist be more than an imitator and copyist. According to the
realist's philosophy, the wax that receives and retains an image is
an artist.

Shakespeare did not rely on the stage-carpenter, or the scenic
painter. He put his scenery in his lines. There you will find
mountains and rivers and seas, valleys and cliffs, violets and
clouds, and over all "the firmament fretted with golden fire." He
cared little for plot, little for surprise. He did not rely on
stage effects, or red fire. The plays grow before your eyes, and
they come as the morning comes. Plot surprises but once. There must
be something in a play besides surprise. Plot in an author is a
kind of strategy -- that is to say, a sort of cunning, and cunning
does not belong to the highest natures.

There is in Shakespeare such a wealth of thought that the plot
becomes almost immaterial -- and such is this wealth that you can
hardly know the play -- there is too much. After you have heard it
again and again, it seems as pathless as an untrodden forest.

He belonged to all lands. "Timon of Athens" is as Greek as any
tragedy of Eschylus. "Julius Caesar" and "Coriolanus" are perfect
Roman, and as you read, the mighty ruins rise and the Eternal City
once again becomes the mistress of the world. No play is more
Egyptian than "Antony and Cleopatra" -- the Nile runs through it,
the shadows of the pyramids fall upon it, and from its scenes the
Sphinx gazes forever on the outstretched sands. In "Lear" is the
true pagan spirit. "Romeo and Juliet" is Italian -- everything is
sudden, love bursts into immediate flower, and in every scene is
the climate of the land of poetry and passion.

The reason of this is that Shakespeare dealt with elemental
things, with universal man. He knew that locality colors without
changing, and that in all surroundings the human heart is
substantially the same.

Not all the poetry written before his time would make his sum
-- not all that has been written since, added to all that was
written before, would equal his.

There was nothing within the range of human thought, within
the horizon of intellectual effort, that he did not touch. He knew

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the brain and heart of man -- the theories, customs, superstitions,
hopes, fears, hatreds, vices and virtues of the human race.

He knew the thrills and ecstasies of love, the savage joys of
hatred and revenge. He heard the hiss of envy's snakes and watched
the eagles of ambition soar. There was no hope that did not put its
star above his head -- no fear he had not felt -- no joy that had
not shed its sunshine on his face. He experienced the emotions of
mankind. He was the intellectual spendthrift of the world. He gave
with the generosity, the extravagance, of madness.

Read one play, and you are impressed with the idea that the
wealth of the brain of a god has been exhausted -- that there are
no more comparisons, no more passions to be expressed, no more
definitions, no more philosophy, beauty, or sublimity to be put in
words -- and yet, the next play opens as fresh as the dewy gates of
another day.

The outstretched wings of his imagination filled the sky. He
was the intellectual crown o'the earth.


The plays of Shakespeare show so much knowledge, thought and
learning, that many people -- those who imagine that universities
furnish capacity -- contend that Bacon must have been the author.

We know Bacon. We know that he was a scheming politician, a
courtier, a time-server of church and king, and a corrupt judge. We
know that he never admitted the truth of the Copernican system --
that he was doubtful whether instruments were of any advantage in
scientific investigation -- that he was ignorant of the higher
branches of mathematics, and that, as a matter of fact, he added
but little to the knowledge of the world. When he was more than
sixty years of age he turned his attention to poetry, and dedicated
his verses to George Herbert.

If you will read these verses you will say that the author of
"Lear" and "Hamlet" did not write them.

Bacon dedicated his work on the Advancement of Learning,
Divine and Human, to James I., and in his dedication he stated that
there had not been, since the time of Christ, any king or monarch
so learned in all erudition, divine or human. He paced James the
First before Marcus Aurelius and all other kings and emperors since
Christ, and concluded by saying that James the First had "the power
and fortune of a king, the illumination of a Priest, the learning
and universality of a philosopher." This was written of James the
First, described by Macaulay as a "stammering, slobbering,
trembling coward, whose writings were deformed by the grossest and
vilest superstitions -- witches being the special objects of his
fear, his hatred, and his persecution."

It seems to have been taken for granted that if Shakespeare
was not the author of the great dramas, Lord Bacon must have been.

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It has been claimed that Bacon was the greatest philosopher of
his time. And yet in reading his works we find that there was in
his mind a strange mingling of foolishness and philosophy. He takes
pains to tell us, and to write it down for the benefit of
posterity, that "snow is colder than water, because it hath more
spirit in it, and that quicksilver is the coldest of all metals,
because it is the fullest of spirit."

He stated that he hardly believed that you could contract air
by putting opium on top of the weather glass, and gave the
following reason;

"I conceive that opium and the like make spirits fly rather by
malignity than by cold."

This great philosopher gave the following recipe for stanching

"Thrust the part that bleedeth into the body of a capon, new
ripped and bleeding. This will staunch the blood. The blood, as it
seemeth, sucking and drawing up by similitude of substance the
blood it meeteth with, and so itself going back."

The philosopher also records this important fact.

"Divers witches among heathen and Christians have fed upon
man's flesh to aid, as it seemeth, their imagination with high and
foul vapors."

Lord Bacon was not only a philosopher, but he was a biologist,
as appears from the following. "As for living creatures, it is
certain that their vital spirits are a substance compounded of an
airy and flamy matter, and although air and flame being free will
not mingle, yet bound in by a body that hath some fixing, will."

Now and then the inventor of deduction reasons by analogy. He

"As snow and ice happen, and their cold activated by nitre or
salt, will turn water into ice, so it may be it will turn wood or
stiff clay into stone."

Bacon seems to have been a believer in the transmutation of
metals, and solemnly gives a formula for changing silver or copper
into gold. He also believed in the transmutation of plants, and had
arrived at such a height in entomology that he informed the world
that "insects have no blood."

It is claimed that he was a great observer, and as evidence of
this he recorded the wonderful fact that "tobacco cut and dried by
the fire loses weight;" that "bears in the winter wax fat in sleep,
though they eat nothing;" that "tortoises have no bones;" that
"there is a kind of stone, if ground and put in water where cattle
drink, the cows will give more milk;" that "it is hard to cure a
hurt in a Frenchman's head, but easy in his leg; that it is hard to
cure a hurt in an Englishman's leg, but easy in his head;" that
"wounds made with brass weapons are easier to cure than those made

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with iron;" that "lead will multiply and increase, as in statues
buried in the ground;" and that "the rainbow touching anything
causeth a sweet smell."

Bacon seems also to have turned his attention to ornithology,
and says that "eggs laid in the full of the moon breed better
birds," and that "you can make swallows white by putting ointment
on the eggs before they are hatched."

He also informs us "that witches cannot hurt kings as easily
as they can common people;" that "perfumes dry and strengthen the
brain;" that "any one in the moment of triumph can be injured by
another who casts an envious eye, and the injury is greatest when
the envious glance comes from the oblique eye."

Lord Bacon also turned his attention to medicine, and he
states that "bracelets made of snakes are good for curing cramps;"
that "the skin of a wolf might cure the colic, because a wolf has
great digestion;" that "eating the roasted brains of hens and hares
strengthens the memory;" that "if a woman about to become a mother
eats a good many quinces and considerable coriander seed, the child
will be ingenious," and that "the moss which groweth on the skull
of an unburied dead man is good for staunching blood."

He expresses doubt, however, "as to whether you can cure a
wound by putting ointment on the weapon that caused the wound,
instead of on the wound itself"

It is claimed by the advocates of the Baconian theory that
their hero stood at the top of science; and yet "it is absolutely
certain that he was ignorant of the law of the acceleration of
falling bodies, although the law had been made known and printed by
Galileo thirty years before Bacon wrote upon the subject. Neither
did this great man understand the principle of the lever. He was
not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes, and as a
matter of fact was ill-read in those branches of learning in which,
in his time, the most rapid progress had been made."

After Kepler discovered his third law, which was on the 15th
of May, 1618, Bacon was more than ever opposed to the Copernican
system. This great man was far behind his own time, not only in
astronomy, but in mathematics. In the preface to the "De scriptio
Globi Intellectualis," it is admitted either that Bacon had never
heard of the correction of the Parallax, or was unable to
understand it. He complained on account of the want of some method
for shortening mathematical calculations; and yet "Napier's
Logarithms" had been printed nine years before the date of his

He attempted to form a table of specific gravities by a rude
process of his own, a process that no one has ever followed; and he
did this in spite of the fact that a far better method existed.

We have the right to compare what Bacon wrote with what it is
claimed Shakespeare produced. I call attention to one thing -- to
Bacon's opinion of human love. It is this:

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"The stage is more beholding to love than the life of man. As
to the stage, love is ever matter of comedies and now and then of
tragedies, but in life it doth much mischief -- sometimes like a
siren, some times like a fury. Amongst all the great and worthy
persons there is not one that hath been transported to the mad
degree of love, which shows that great spirits and great business
do keep out this weak passion."

The author of "Romeo and Juliet" never wrote that. It seems
certain that the author of the wondrous Pays was one of the noblest
of men.

Let us see what sense of honor Bacon had.

In writing commentaries on certain passages of Scripture, Lord
Bacon tells a courtier, who has committed some offence, how to get
back into the graces of his prince or king. Among other things he
tells him not to appear too cheerful, but to assume a very grave
and modest face; not to bring the matter up himself; to be
extremely industrious, so that the prince will see that it is hard
to get along without him; also to get his friends to tell the
prince or king how badly he, the courtier, feels; and then he says,
all these failing, "let him contrive to transfer the fault to

It is true that we know but little of Shakespeare, and
consequently do not positively know that he did not have the
ability to write the Plays -- but we do know Bacon, and we know
that he could not have written these Plays -- consequently, they
must have been written by a comparatively unknown man -- that is to
say, by a man who was known by no other writings. The fact that we
do not know Shakespeare, except through the Plays and Sonnets,
makes it possible for us to believe that he was the author.

Some people have imagined that the Plays were written by
several -- but this only increases the wonder, and adds a useless
burden to credulity.

Bacon published in his time all the writings that he claimed.
Naturally, he would have claimed his best. Is it possible that
Bacon left the wondrous children of his brain on the door-step of
Shakespeare, and kept the deformed ones at home? Is it possible
that he fathered the failures and deserted the perfect?

Of course, it is wonderful that so little has been found
touching Shakespeare -- but is it not equally wonderful, if Bacon
was the author, that not a line has been found in all his papers,
containing a suggestion, or a hint, that he was the writer of these
Plays? Is it not wonderful that no fragment of any scene -- no line
-- no word -- has been found?

Some have insisted that Bacon kept the authorship secret
because it was disgraceful to write Plays. This argument does not
cover the Sonnets -- and besides, one who had been stripped of the
robes of office for receiving bribes as a judge, could have borne
the additional disgrace of having written "Hamlet." The fact that

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Shakespeare claimed to be the author, and no one else in his time
or day. Bacon did not claim to be the author, demonstrates that he
was not denied the claim. This demonstrates that Shakespeare was.

Bacon published his works, and said to the world; This is what
I have done.

Suppose you found in a cemetery a monument erected to John
Smith, inventor of the Smith-churn, and suppose you were told that
Mr. Smith provided for the monument in his will, and dictated the
inscription -- would it be possible to convince you that Mr. Smith
was also the inventor of the locomotive and telegraph?

Bacon's best can be compared with Shakespeare's common, but
Shakespeare's best rises above Bacon's best, like a domed temple
above a beggar's hut.


Of course it is admitted that there were many dramatists
before and during the time of Shakespeare but they were only the
foot hills of that mighty peak the top of which the clouds and
mists still hide. Chapman and Marlowe, Heywood and Jonson, Webster,
Beaumont and Fletcher wrote some great lines, and in the monotony
of declamation now and then is found a strain of genuine music, but
all of them together constituted only a herald of Shakespeare. In
all these Plays there is but a hint, a prophecy, of the great drama
destined to revolutionize the poetic thought of the world.

Shakespeare was the greatest of poets. What "Greece and Rome
produced was great until his time. "Lions make leopards tame."

The great poet is a great artist. He is painter and sculptor.
The greatest pictures and statues have been painted and chiseled
with words. They outlast all others. All the galleries of the world
are poor and cheap compared with the statues and pictures in
Shakespeare's book.

Language is made of pictures represented by sounds. The outer
world is a dictionary of the mind, and the artist called the soul
uses this dictionary of things to express what happens in the
noiseless and invisible world of thought. First a sound represents
something in the outer world, and afterwards something in the
inner, and this sound at last is represented by a mark, and this
mark stands for a picture, and every brain is a gallery, and the
artists -- that is to say, the souls -- exchange pictures and

All art is of the same parentage. The poet uses words -- makes
pictures and statues of sounds. The sculptor expresses harmony,
proportion, passion, in marble; the composer, in music; the painter
in form and color. The dramatist expresses himself not only in
words, not only paints these pictures, but he expresses his thought
in action.

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Shakespeare was not only a poet, but a dramatist, and
expressed the ideal, the poetic, not only in words, but in action.
There are the wit, the humor, the pathos, the tragedy of situation,
of relation. The dramatist speaks and acts through others -- his
personality is lost. The poet lives in the world of thought and
feeling, and to this the dramatist adds the world of action. He
creates characters that seem to act in accordance with their own
natures and independently of him. He compresses lives into hours,
tells us the secrets of the heart, shows us the springs of action
-- how desire bribes the judgment and corrupts the will -- how weak
the reason is when passion pleads, and how grand it is to stand for
right against the world.

It is not enough to say fine things, -- great things, dramatic
things, must be done.

Let me give you an illustration of dramatic incident
accompanying the highest form of poetic expression:

Macbeth having returned from the murder of Duncan says to his
wife "Methought I heard a voice cry: Sleep no more, Macbeth does
murder sleep; the innocent sleep; Sleep, that knits up the revelled
sleeve of care, The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great Nature's second course, Chief nourisher
in life's feast." * * * "Still it cried: Sleep no more, to all the
house, Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cowdor shall sleep
no more -- Macbeth shall sleep no more."

She exclaims: "Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy Thane,
you do unbend your noble strength. To think so brain-sickly of
things; get some water, and wash this filthy witness from your
hand. Why did you bring the daggers from the place?"

Macbeth was so overcome with horror at his own deed, that he
not only mistook his thoughts for the words of others, but was so
carried away and beyond himself that he brought with him the
daggers -- the evidence of his guilt -- the daggers that he should
have left with the dead. This is dramatic.

In the same play, the difference of feeling before and after
the commission of a crime is illustrated to perfection. When
Macbeth is on his way to assassinate the king, the bell strikes,
and he says, or whispers. "har it not, Duncan, for it is a knell."

Afterward, when the deed has been committed, and a knocking is
heard at the gate, he cries: "Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I
would thou counlst."

Let me give one more instance of dramatic action. When Antony
speaks above the body of Caesar he says; "You all do know this
mantle: I remember The first time ever Caesar put it on -- 'Twas on
a summer's evening, in his tent, That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look! In this place ran Cassius' dagger through: See the rent the
envious Casca made! Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed,
And as he plucked his cursed steel away, Mark how the blood of
Caesar flowed it."

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There are men, and many of them, who are always trying to show
that somebody else chiseled the statue or painted the picture, --
that the poem is attributed to the wrong man, and that the battle
was really won by a subordinate.

Of course Shakespeare made use of the work of others -- and,
we might almost say, of all others. Every writer must use the work
of others. The only question is, how the accomplishments of other
minds are used, whether as a foundation to build higher, or whether
stolen to the end that the thief may make a reputation for himself,
without adding to the great structure of literature.

Thousands of people have stolen stones from the Coliseum to
make huts for themselves. So thousands of writers have taken the
thoughts of others with which to adorn themselves. These are
plagiarists. But the man who takes the thought of another, adds to
it, gives it intensity and poetic form, throb and life, -- is in
the highest sense original.

Shakespeare found nearly all of his facts in the writings of
others, and was indebted to others for most of the stories of his
plays. The question is not who furnished the stone, or who owned
the quarry, but who chiseled the statue?

We now know all the books that Shakespeare could have read,
and consequently know many of the sources of his information. We
find in Pliny's Natural History, published in 1601, the following:
"The sea Pontis evermore floweth and runneth out into the
Propontis; but the sea never retireth back again with the
Impontis." This was the raw material, and out of it Shakespeare
made the following; "Like to the Pontic Sea, Whose icy current and
compulsive course Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on to the
Propontic and the Hellespont -- Even so my bloody thoughts, with
violent pace, Shall ne'er turn back, ne'er ebb to humble love, Till
that a capable and wide revenge Swallow them up."

Perhaps we can give an idea of the difference between
Shakespeare and other poets, by a passage from "Lear." When
Cordelia places her hand upon her father's head and speaks of the
night and of the storm, an ordinary poet might have said' "On such
a night, a dog Should have stood against my fire."

A very great poet might have gone a step further and
exclaimed: "On such a night, mine enemy's dog Should have stood
against my fire."

But Shakespeare said: "Mine enemy's dog, though he had bit me,
Should have stood, that night, against my fire."

Of all the poets -- of all the writers -- Shakespeare is the
most original. He is as original as Nature. It may truthfully be
said that "Nature wants stuff to vie strange forms with fancy, to
make another.

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There is in the greatest poetry a kind of extravagance that
touches the infinite, and in this Shakespeare exceeds all others.

You will remember the description given of the voyage of Paris
in search of Helen: "The seas and winds, old wranglers made truce,
And did him service; he touched the ports desired, And for an old
aunt, whom the Greeks held captive, He brought a Grecian queen
whose young and freshness Wrinkles Apollo, and makes stale the

So in Pericles, when the father finds his daughter, he cries
out: "O Helicanus! Strike me, honered sir; Give me a gash, put me
to present pain Lest the great sea of joys, rushing upon me,
O'erbear the shores of my mortality."

The greatest compliment that man has ever paid to the woman he
adores is this line. "Eyes that do mislead the morn."

Nothing can be conceived more perfectly poetic. In that
marvelous play, the "Midsummer Night's Dream," is one of the most
extravagant things in literature: "Thou rememberest Since once I
sat upon a promontory, And heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back
Uttering such dulect and harmonious breath that the rude sea grew
civil at her song, And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maids music."

This is so marvelously told that it almost seems probable.

So the description of Mark Antony: "For his bounty There is no
winter in't -- an autumn t'was That grew the more by reaping. His
delights Were dolphin-like -- they showed his back above The
element they lived in."

Think of the astronomical scope and amplitude of this: "Her
bed is India -- there she lies a pearl."

Is there anything more intense than these words of Cleopatra?
"Rather on Nilus mud lay me stark naked And let the water-flies
blow me into abhorring."

Or this of Isabella:

"The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies, And strip
myself to death as to a bed That longing I've been sick for, ere I
yield My body up to shame."

Is there an intellectual man in the world who will not agree
with this? "Let me not live After my flame lacks oil, to be the
snuff Of younger spirits."

Can anything exceed the words of Troilus when parting with
Cressida: "We two, that with so many thousand sighs Did buy each
other, must poorly sell ourselves With the rude brevity and
discharge of one. Injurious time now with a robber's haste Crams
his rich thievery up, he knows not how; As many farewells as be

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stars in heaven, With distinct breath and consigned kisses to them,
He fumbles up into a loose adieu, And scants us with a single
famished kiss, distasted with the salt of broken tears."

Take this example, where pathos almost touches the grotesque.
"O dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that
unsubstantial death is amorous, And that the lean, abhorred monster
keeps thee here I' the dark, to be his paramour?"

Often when reading the marvelous lines of Shakespeare, I feel
that his thoughts are "too subtle potent, tuned too sharp in
sweetness, for the capacity of my ruder powers." Sometimes I cry
out, "O churl! -- write all, and leave no thoughts for those who
follow after."


Shakespeare was an innovator, an iconoclast. He cared nothing
for the authority of men or of schools. He violated the "unities,"
and cared nothing for the models of the ancient world.

The Greeks insisted that nothing should be in a play that did
not tend to the catastrophe. They did not believe in the episode --
in the sudden contrasts of light and shade -- in mingling the comic
and the tragic. The sunlight never fell upon their tears, and
darkness did not overtake their laughter. They believed that nature
sympathized or was in harmony with the events of the play. When
crime was about to be committed -- some horror to be perpetrated --
the light grew dim, the wind sighed, the trees shivered, and upon
all was the shadow of the coming event.

Shakespeare knew that the play had little to do with the tides
and currents of universal life -- that Nature cares neither for
smiles nor tears, for life nor death, and that the sun shines as
gladly on coffins as on cradles.

The first time I visited the Place de la Concorde, where
during the French Revolution stood the guillotine, and where now
stands an Egyptian obelisk -- a bird, sitting on the top, was
singing with all its might. -- Nature forgets.

One of the most notable instances of the violation by
Shakespeare of the classic model, is found in the 6th scene of the
I. Act of Macbeth.

When the King and Banquo approach the castle in which the King
is to be murdered that night, no shadow falls athwart the
threshold. So beautiful is the scene that the King says: "This
castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends
itself Unto our gentle senses." And Banquo adds: "This guest of
summer, The temple-haunting martlet, does approve By his loved
mansionry that the heaven's breath Smells wooingly here; no jutty,
frieze, Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird Hath made his
pendent bed and procreant cradle, Where they most breed and haunt,
I have observed The air is delicate."

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Another notable instance is the porter scene immediately
following the murder. So, too, the diaogue with the clown who
brings the asp to Cleopatra just before the suicide, illustrates my

I know of one paragraph in the Greek drama worthy of
Shakespeare. This is in "Medea." When Medea kills her children she
curses Jason, using the ordinary Billingsgate and papal curse, but
at the conclusion says: "I pray the gods to make him virtuous, that
he may the more deeply feel the pang that I inflict."

Shakespeare dealt in lights and shadows. He was intense. He
put noons and midnights side by side. No other dramatist would have
dreamed of adding I to the pathos -- of increasing our appreciation
of Lear's agony, by supplementing the wail of the mad I king with
the mocking laughter of a loving clown.


The ordinary dramatists -- the men of talent -- (and there is
the same difference between talent and genius that there is between
a stone-mason and a sculptor) create characters that become types.
Types are of necessity caricatures -- actual men and women are to
some extent contradictory in their actions. Types are blown in the
one direction by the one wind -- characters have pilots.

In real people, good and evil mingle. Types are all one way,
or all the other -- all good, or all bad, all wise, or all foolish.

Pecksniff was a perfect type, a perfect hypocriteand will
remain a type as long as language lives -- a hypocrite that even
drunkenness could not change. Everybody understands Pecksniff and
compared with him Tartuffe was an honest man.

Hamlet is an individual, a person, an actual being -- and for
that reason there is a difference of opinion as to his motives and
as to his character. We differ about Hamlet as we do about Caesar,
or about Shakespeare himself.

Hamlet saw the ghost of his father and heard again his
father's voice, and yet, afterward, he speaks of "the undiscovered
country from whose bourne no traveler returns."

In this there is no contradiction. The reason outweighs the
senses. If we should see a dead man rise from his grave, we would
not, the next day, believe that we did. No one can credit a miracle
until it becomes so common that it ceases to be miraculous.

Types are puppets -- controlled from without -- characters act
from within. There is the same difference between characters and
types that there is between springs and water-works, between canals
and rivers, between wooden soldiers and heroes.

In most plays and in novels the characters are so shadowy that
we have to piece them out with the imagination.

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One waking in the morning sometimes sees at the foot of his
bed a strange figure -- it may be of an ancient lady with cap and
ruffles and with the expression of garrulous and fussy old age --
but when the light gets stronger, the figure gradually changes and
he sees a few clothes on a chair.

The dramatist lives the lives of others, and in order to
delineate character must not only have imagination but sympathy
with the character delineated.

The great dramatist thinks of a character as an entirety as an

I once had a dream, and in this dream I was discussing a
subject with another man. It occurred to me that I was dreaming,
and I then said to myself: If this is a dream, I am doing the
talking for both sides -- consequently I ought to know in advance
what the other man is going to say. In my dream I tried the
experiment. I then asked the other man a question, and before he
answered made up my mind what the answer was to be. To my surprise,
the man did not say what I expected he would, and so great was my
astonishment that I awoke.

It then occurred to me that I had discovered the secret of
Shakespeare. He did, when awake, what I did when asleep -- that is,
he threw off a character so perfect that it acted independently of

In the delineation of character Shakespeare has no rivals. He
creates no monsters. His characters do not act without reason,
without motive.

Iago had his reasons. In Caliban, nature was not destroyed --
and Lady Macbeth certifies that the woman still was in her heart,
by saying: "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done

Shakespeare's characters act from within. They are centers of
energy. They are not pushed by unseen hands, or pulled by unseen
strings. They have objects, desires. They are persons -- real,
living beings.

Few dramatists succeed in getting their characters loose from
the canvas -- their backs stick to the wall -- they do not have
free and independent action -- they nave no background, no
unexpressed motives -- no untold desires. They lack the complexity
of the real.

"Shakespeare makes the character true to itself. Christopher
Sly, surrounded by the luxuries of a lord, true to his station,
calls for a pot of the smallest ale.

Take one expression by Lady Macbeth. You remember that after
the murder is discovered -- after the alarm bell is rung -- she
appears upon the scene wanting to know what has happened. Macduff
refuses to tell her, saying that the slightest word would murder as
it fell. At this moment Banrluo comes upon the scene and Macduff
cries out to him: "Our royal master's murdered." What does Lady

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Macbeth then say? She in fact makes a confession of guilt. The weak
point in the terrible tragedy is that Duncan was murdered in
Macbeth's castle. So when Lady Macbeth hears what they suppose is
news to her, she cries "What! In our house!" Had she been innocent,
her horror of the crime would have made her forget the place -- the
venue. Banquo sees through this, and sees through her. Her
expression was a light, by which he saw her guilt -- and he
answers: "Too cruel anywhere."

No matter whether Shakespeare delineated clown or king,
warrior or maiden -- no matter whether his characters are taken
from the gutter or the throne -- each is a work of consummate art,
and when he is unnatural, he is so splendid that the defect is

When Romeo is told of the death of Juliet, and thereupon makes
up his mind to die upon her grave, he gives a description of the
shop where poison could be purchased. He goes into particulars and
tells of the alligators stuffed, of the skins of ill-shaped fishes,
of the beggarly account of empty boxes, of the remnants of pack-
thread, and old cakes of roses -- and while it is hardly possible
to believe that under such circumstances a man would take the
trouble to make an inventory of a strange kind of drug-store, yet
the inventory is so perfect -- the picture is so marvelously drawn
-- that we forget to think whether it is natural or not.

In making the frame of a great picture -- of a great scene --
Shakespeare was often careless, but the picture is perfect. In
making the sides of the arch he was negligent, but when he placed
the keystone, it burst into blossom. Of course there are many lines
in Shakespeare that never should have been written. In other words,
there are imperfections in his plays. But we must remember that
Shakespeare furnished the torch that enables us to see these

Shakespeare speaks through his characters, and we must not
mistake what the characters say, for the opinion of Shakespeare. No
one can believe that Shakespeare regarded life as "a tale told by
an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." That was the
opinion of a murderer, surrounded by avengers, and whose wife --
partner in his crimes -- troubled with thick-coming fancies -- had
gone down to her death.

Most actors and writers seem to suppose that the lines called
"The Seven Ages" contain Shakespeare's view of human life. Nothing
could be further from the truth. The lines were uttered by a cynic,
in contempt and scorn of the human race.

Shakespeare did not put his characters in the livery and
uniform of some weakness, peculiarity or passion. He did not use
names as tags or brands. He did not write under the picture, "This
is a villain." His characters need no suggestive names to tell us
what they are -- we see them and we know them for ourselves.

It may be that in the greatest utterances of the greatest
characters in the supreme moments, we have the real thoughts,
opinions and convictions of Shakespeare.

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Of all writers Shakespeare is the most impersonal. He speaks
through others, and the others seem to speak for themselves. The
didactic is lost in the dramatic. He does not use the stage as a
pulpit to enforce some maxim. He is as reticent as Nature.

He idealizes the common and transfigures all he touches -- but
he does not preach. He was interested in men and things as they
were. He did not seek to change them -- but to portray. He was
Nature's mirror -- and in that mirror Nature saw herself.

When I stood amid the great trees of California that lift
their spreading capitals against the clouds, looking like Nature's
columns to support the sky, I thought of the poetry of Shakespeare.


What a procession of men and women -- statesmen and warriors
-- kings and clowns -- issued from Shakespeare's brain! What women!

Isabella -- in whose spotless life love and reason blended
into perfect truth.

Juliet -- within whose heart passion and purity met like white
and red within the bosom of a rose.

Cordelia -- who chose to suffer loss, rather than show her
wealth of love with those who gilded lies in hope of gain.

Hermione -- "tender as infancy and grace" -- who bore with
perfect hope and faith the cross of shame, and who at last forgave
with all her heart.

Desdemona -- so innocent, so perfect, her love so pure, that
she was incapable of suspecting that another could suspect, and who
with dying words sought to hide her lover's crime -- and with her
last faint breath uttered a loving lie that burst into a perfumed
lily between her pallid lips.

Perdita -- "a violet dim, and sweeter than the lids of Juno's
eyes" -- "The sweetest low-born lass that ever ran on the green
sward." And

Helena -- who said: "I know I love in vain, strive against
hope. Yet in this captious and intenable sieve I still pour in the
waters of my love, And lack not to lose still, Thus, Indian-like,
Religious in mine error, I adore, The sun that looks upon his
worshiper, But knows of him no more."

Miranda -- who told her love as gladly as a flower gives its
bosom to the kisses of the sun. And

Cordelia -- whose kisses cured and whose tears restored. And

Imogen -- who cried: "What is it to be false?" And here is the
description of the perfect woman; "To feed for aye her lamp and
flames of love; To keep her constancy in plight and youth --

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outliving beauty's outward with a mind That doth renew swifter than
blood decays."

Shakespeare has done more for woman than all the other
dramatists of the world.

For my part, I love the Clowns. I love Launce and his dog
Crabb and Gobbo, whose conscience threw its arms around the neck of
his heart, and Touchstone, with his lie seven times removed; and
dear old Dogberry -- a pretty piece of flesh, tedious as a king.
And Bottom, the very paramour for a sweet voice, longing to take
the part to tear a cat in; and Autolycus, the snapper-up of
unconsidered trifles, sleeping out the thought for the life to
come. And great Sir John, without conscience, and for that reason
unblamed and enjoyed -- and who at the end babbles of green fields,
and is almost loved. And ancient Pistol, the world his oyster. And
Bardolph, with the flea on his blazing nose, putting beholders in
mind of a damned soul in hell. And the poor Fool, who followed the
mad king, and went "to bed at noon." And the clown who carried the
worm of Nilus, whose "biting was immortal." And Corin, the shepherd
-- who described the perfect man: "I am a true laborer: I earn that
I eat -- get that I wear -- owe no man aught -- envy no man's
happiness -- glad of other men's good -- content."

And mingling in this motley throng, Lear, within whose brain
a tempest raged until the depths were stirred, and the intellectual
wealth of a life was given back to memory -- and then by madness
thrown to storm and night -- and when I read the living lines I
feel as though I looked upon the sea and saw it wrought by frenzied
whirlwinds, until the buried treasures and the sunken wrecks of all
the years were cast upon the shores.

And Othello -- who like the base Indian threw a pearl away
richer than all his tribe.

And Hamlet -- thought-entangled -- hesitating between two

And Macgeth -- strange mingling of cruelty and conscience,
reaping the sure harvest of successful crime -- "Curses not loud
but deep -- mouth-honor -- breath."

And Brutus, falling on his sword that Caesar might be still.

And Romeo, dreaming of the white wonder of Juliet's hand. And
Ferdinand, the patient log-man for Miranda's sake. And Florizel,
who, "for all the sun sees, or the close earth wombs, or the
profound seas hide," would not be faithless to the low-born lass.
And Constance, weeping for her son, while grief "stuffs out his
vacant garments with his form."

And in the midst of tragedies and tears, of love and laughter
and crime, we hear the voice of the good friar, who declares that
in every human heart, as in the smallest flower, there are encamped
the opposed hosts of good and evil -- and our philosophy is
interrupted by the garrulous old nurse, whose talk is as busily
useless as the babble of a stream that hurries by a ruined mill.

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From every side the characters crowd upon us -- the men and women
born of Shakespeare's brain. They utter with a thousand voices the
thoughts of the "myriad-minded" man, and impress themselves upon us
as deeply and vividly as though they really lived with us.

Shakespeare alone has delineated love in every possible phase
-- has ascended to the very top, and actually reached heights that
no other has imagined. I do not believe the human mind will ever
produce or be in a position to appreciate, a greater love-play than
"Romeo and Juliet." It is a symphony in which all music seems to
blend. The heart bursts into blossom, and he who reads feels the
swooning intoxication of a divine perfume.

In the alembic of Shakespeare's brain the baser metals were
turned to gold -- passions became virtues -- weeds became exotics
from some diviner land -- and common mortals made of ordinary clay
outranked the Olympian Gods. In his brain there was the touch of
chaos that suggests the infinite -- that belongs to genius. Talent
is measured and mathematical -- dominated by prudence and the
thought of use. Genius is tropical. The creative instinct runs
riot, delights in extravagance and waste, and overwhelms the mental
beggars of the world with uncounted gold and unnumbered gems.

Some things are immortal: The plays of Shakespeare, the
marbles of the Greeks, and the music of Wagner.


SHAKESPEARE was the greatest of philosophers. He knew the
conditions of success -- of happiness -- the relations that men
sustain to each other, and the duties of all. He knew the tides and
currents of the heart -- the cliffs and caverns of the brain. He
knew the weakness of the will, the sophistry of desire -- and

"That pleasure and revenae have ear more deaf than adders. to
the voice of any true decision."

He knew that the soul lives in an invisible world -- that
flesh is but a mask, and that

"There is no art to find the mind's construction in the face."

He knew that courage should be the servant of Judgment, and

"When valor prays on reason it eats the sword It fight with."

He knew that man is never master of the event, that he is to
some extent the sport or prey of the blind forces of the world, and

"In the reproof of chance lies the true proof of men."

Feeling that the past is unchangeable, and that that which
must happen is as much beyond control as though it had happened, he
says: "Let determined things to destiny Hold unbewailed their way."

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Shakespeare was great enough to know that every human being
prefers happiness to misery, and that crimes are but mistakes.
Looking in pity upon the human race, upon the pain and poverty, the
crimes and cruelties, the limping travelers on the thorny paths, he
was great and good enough to say: "There is no darkness but

In all the philosophies there is no greater line. This great
truth fills the heart with pity.

He knew that place and power do not give happiness -- that the
crowned are subject as the lowest to fate and chance.

"For within the hollow crown,
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit, --
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable; and, humour'd thus,
Comes at last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and -- farewell king!"

So, too, he knew that gold could not bring joy -- that death
and misfortune come alike to rich and poor, because:

"If thou art rich thou art poor;
For like an ass whose back with ingots bows
Thou bearest thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee."

In some of his philosophy there was a kind of scorn -- a
hidden meaning that could not in his day and time have safely been
expressed. You will remember that Laertes was about to kill the
king, and this king was the murderer of his own brother, and sat
upon the throne by reason of his crime -- and in the mouth of such
a king Shakespeare puts these words:

"There's such divinity doth hedge a king."

So, in Macbeth:

"How he solicits Heaven himself best knows; but
strangely visited people
All swollen and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despairs of surgery, he cures;
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
Put on with holy prayers; and 'tis spoken
To the succeeding royalty -- he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
That speak him full of grace."

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Shakespeare was the master of the human heart, knew all the
hopes, fears, ambitions and passions that sway the mind of man; and
thus knowing, he declared that

"Love is not love that alters
When it alteration finds."

This is the subliniest declaration in the literature of the

Shakespeare seems to give the generalization -- the result --
without the process of thought. He seems always to be at the
conclusion -- standing where all truths meet.

In one of the Sonnets is this fragment of a line that contains
the highest possible truth:

"Conscience is born of love."

If man were incapable of suffering, the words right and wrong
never could have been spoken. If man were destitute of imagination,
the flower of pity never could have blossomed in his heart.

We suffer -- we cause others to suffer -- those that we love
-- and of this fact conscience is born.

Love is the many-colored flame that makes the fireside of the
heart. It is the mingled spring and autumn -- the perfect climate
of the soul.


In the realm of comparison Shakespeare seems to have exhausted
the relations, parallels and similitudes of things, He only could
have said:

"Tedious as a twice-told tale
Vaxing the ears of a drowsy man."

"Duller than a great thaw.
Dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage."

In the words of Ulysses, spoken to Achilles, we find the most
wonderful collection of pictures and comparisons ever compressed
within the same number of lines:

"Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, --
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes --
Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devoured
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done; presverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honor bright; to have done is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery. Take the instant way;
For honor travels in a straight and narrow
Where one but goes abreast; keep then the path;

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For emulation hath a thousand sons
That one by one pursue; if you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,
Like to an entered tide, they all rush by
And leave you hindmost:
Or, like a gallant horse fallen in first rank,
Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,
O'errum and trampled on: then what they do in present,
Tho' less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours;
For time is like a fashionable host
That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand,
And with his arms outstretched as he would fly,
Grasps in the comer: Welcome ever smiles,
And Farewell goes out sighing."

So the words of Cleopatra, when Charmain speaks

"Peace, peace:
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast
That sucks the nurse asleep?"


Nothing is more difficult than a definition -- a
crystallization of thought so perfect that it emits light.
Shakespeare says of suicide:

"It is great to do that thing
That ends all other deeds,
Which shackles accident, and bolts up change."

He defines drama to be:

"Turning the accomplishments of many years
Into an hour glass."
Of death:

"This sensible warm motion to became a kneaded clod.
To lie in cold obstruction and rut."

Of memory:

"The warder of the brain."

Of the body:

"This muddy vesture of decay."

And he declares that

"Our little life is rounded with a sleep."

He speaks of Echo as:

"The babbling gossip of the air" --

Romeo, addressing the poison that he is about to take, says:

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"Come bitter conduct, come unsavory guide,
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick, weary bark."

He describes the world as

"This bank of shoal and time."

He says of rumor --

"That it doubles, like the voice and echo."

It would take days to call attention to the perfect
definitions, comparisons and generalizations of Shakespeare. He
gave us the deeper meanings of our words -- taught us the art of
speech. He was the lord of language -- master of expression and

He put the greatest thoughts into the shortest words -- made
the poor rich and the common royal.

Production enriched his brain. Nothing exhausted him. The
moment his attention was called to any subject -- comparisons,
definitions, metaphors and generalizations filled his mind and
begged for utterance. His thoughts like bees robbed every blossom
in the world, and then with "merry march" brought the rich booty
home "to the tent royal of their emperor."

Shakespeare was the confidant of Nature. To him she opened her
"infinite book of secrecy," and in his brain were "the hatch and
brood of time."

There is in Shakespeare the mingling of laughter and tears,
humor and pathos. Humor is the rose, wit the thorn. Wit is a
crystallization, humor an efflorescence. Wit comes from the brain,
humor from the heart. Wit is the lightning of the soul.

In Shakespeare's nature was the climate of humor. He saw and
felt the sunny side even of the saddest things. You have seen
sunshine and rain at once. So Shakespeare's tears fell oft upon his
smiles. In moments of peril -- on the very darkness of death --
there comes a touch of humor that falls like a fleck of sunshine.

Gonzalo, when the ship is about to sink, having seen the
boatswain, exclaims:

"I have great comfort from this fellow;

Methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him;

His complexion is perfect gallows."

Shakespeare is filled with the strange contrasts of grief and
laughter. While poor Hero is supposed to be dead -- wrapped in the
shroud of dishonor -- Dogberry and Verges unconsciously put again
the wedding wreath upon her pure brow.

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The soliloquy of Launcelot -- great as Hamlet's -- offsets the
bitter and burning words of Shylock.

There is only time to speak of Maria in "Twelfth Night," of
Autolycus in the "Winter's Tale," of the parallel drawn by Fluellen
between Alexander of Macedon and Harry of Monmouth, or of the
marvelous humor of Falstaff, who never had the faintest thought of
right or wrong -- or of Mercutio, that embodiment of wit and humor
-- or of the grave-diggers who lamented that "great folk should
have countenance in this world to drown and hang themselves, more
than their even Christian." and who reached the generalization that
"the gallows does well because it does well to those who do ill."

There is also an example of grim humor -- an example without
a parallel in literature, so far as I know. Hamlet having killed
Polonius is asked:

"Where's Polonius?"

"At supper,"

"At supper! where?"

"Not where he eats, but where he is eaten."

Above all others, Shakespeare appreciated the pathos of

Nothing is more pathetic than the last scene in "Lear." No one
has ever bent above his dead who did not feel the words uttered by
the mad king, -- words born of a despair deeper than tears:

"Oh, that a horse, a dog, a rat hath life
And thou no breath!"

So Iago, after he has been wounded, says:

"I bleed, sir; but not killed."

And Othello answers from the wreck and shattered remnant of
his life:

"I would have thee live;
For in my sense it is happiness to die."

When Troilus finds Cressida has been false, he cries:

"Let it not be believed for womanhood;
Think! we had mothers."

Ophelia, in her madness, "the sweet bells jangled out o'
tune," says softly:

"I would give you some violets;
But they withered all when my father died."

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When Macbeth has reaped the harvest, the seeds of which were
sown by his murderous hand, he exclaims, -- and what could be more

"I 'gin to be aweary of the sun."

Richard the Second feels how small a thing it is to be, or to
have been, a king, or to receive honors before or after power is
lost; and so, of those who stood uncovered before him, he asks this
piteous question:

"I live with bread, like you; feel want,
Taste grief, need friends; subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?"

Think of the salutation of Antony to the dead Caesar:

"Pardon me, thou piece of bleeding earth."

When Pisanio inform,s Imogen that he had been ordered by
Posthumus to murder her, she bares her neck and cries:

"The lamb entreats the butcher:
Where is the knife? Thou art too slow
To do thy master's bidding when I desire it."

Antony, as the last drops are falling from his self-inflicted
wound, utters with his dying breath to Cleopatra, this:

"I hear importune death awhile, until
Of many thousand kisses the poor last
I lay upon thy lips."

To me, the last words of Hamlet are full of pathos:

"I die, Heratio.
The potent poison quite o'er crows my spirit * * *"

The rest is silence.

Some have insisted that Shakespeare must have been a
physician, for the reason that he shows such knowledge of Medicine
-- of the symptoms of disease and death -- was so familiar with the
brain, and with insanity in all its forms.

I do not think he was a physician. He knew too much -- his
generalizations were too splendid. He had none of the prejudices of
that profession in his time. We might as well say that he was a
musician, a composer, because we find in "The Two, Gentlemen of
Verona" nearly every musical term known in Shakespeare's time.

Others maintain that he was a lawyer, perfectly acquainted
with the forms, with the expressions familiar to that profession --
yet there is nothing to show that he was a lawyer, or that he knew
more about law than any intelligent man should know.

He was not a lawyer. His sense of justice was never dulled by
reading English law.

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Some think that he was a botanist, because he named nearly all
known plants. Others, that he was an astronomer, a naturalist,
because he gave hints and suggestions of nearly all discoveries.

Some have thought that he must have been a sailor, for the
reason that the orders given in the opening of "The Tempest" were
the best that could, under the circumstances, have been given to
save the ship.

For my part, I think there is nothing in the plays to show
that he was a lawyer doctor, botanist or scientist. He had the
observant eyes that really see, the ears that really hear, the
brain that retains all pictures, all thoughts, logic as unerring as
light, the imagination that supplies defects and builds the perfect
from a fragment. And these faculties, these aptitudes, working
together, account for what he did.

He exceeded all the sons of men in the splendor of his
imagination. To him the whole world paid tribute, and nature poured
her treasures at his feet. In him all races lived again, and even
those to be were pictured in his brain.

He was a man of imagination -- that is to say, of genius, and
having seen a leaf, and a drop of water, he could construct the
forests, the rivers, and the seas -- and in his presence all the
cataracts would fall and foam, the mists rise, the clouds form and

If Shakespeare knew one fact, he knew its kindred and its
neighbors. Looking at a coat of mail, he instantly imagined the
society, the conditions, that produced it and what it, in turn,
produced. He saw the castle, the moat, the draw-bridge, the lady in
the tower, and the knightly lover spurring across the plain. He saw
the bold baron and the rude retainer, the trampled serf, and all
the glory and the grief of feudal life.

He lived the life of all.

He was a citizen of Athens in the days of Pericles. He
listened to the eager eloquence of the great orators, and sat upon
the cliffs, and with the tragic poet heard "the multitudinous
laughter of the sea." He saw Socrates thrust the spear of question
through the shield and heart of falsehood. He was present when the
great man drank hemlock, and met the night of death, tranquil as a
star meets morning. He listened to the peripatetic philosophers,
and was unpuzzled by the sophists. He watched Phidias as he
chiseled shapeless stone to forms of love and awe.

He lived by the mysterious Nile, amid the vast and monstrous.
He knew the very thought that wrought the form and features of the
Sphinx. He heard great Memnon's morning song when marble lips were
smitten by the sun. He laid him down with the embalmed and waiting
dead, and felt within their dust the expectation of another life,
mingled with cold and suffocating doubts -- the children born of
long delay.

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He walked the ways of mighty Rome, and saw great Caesar with
his legions in the field. He stood with vast and motley throngs and
watched the triumphs given to victorious men, followed by uncrowned
kings, the captured hosts, and all the spoils of ruthless war. He
heard the shout that shook the Coliseum's roofless walls, when from
the reeling gladiator's hand the short sword fell, while from his
bosom gushed the stream of wasted life.

He lived the life of savage men. He trod the forests' silent
depths, and in the desperate game of life or death he matched his
thought against the instinct of the beast.

He knew all crimes and all regrets, all virtues and their rich
rewards. He was victim and victor, pursuer and pursued, outcast and
king. He heard the applause and curses of the world, and on his
heart had fallen all the nights and noons of failure and success.

He knew the unspoken thoughts, the dumb desires, the wants and
ways of beasts. He felt the crouching tiger's thrill, the terror of
the ambushed prey, and with the eagles he had shared the ecstasy of
flight and poise and swoop, and he had lain with sluggish serpents
on the barren rocks uncoiling slowly in the heat of noon.

He sat beneath the bo-tree's contemplative shade, wrapped in
Buddha's mighty thought, and dreamed all dreams that light, the
alchemist, has wrought from dust and dew, and stored within the
slumbrous poppy's subtle blood.

He knelt with awe and dread at every shrine -- he offered
every sacrifice, and every prayer -- felt the consolation and the
shuddering fear -- mocked and worshiped all the gods -- enjoyed all
heavens, and felt the pangs of every hell.

He lived all lives, and through his blood and brain there
crept the shadow and the chill of every death, and his soul, like
Mazeppa, was lashed naked to the wild horse of every fear and love
and hate.

The Imagination had a stage in Shakespeare's brain, whereon
were set all scenes that lie between the morn of laughter and the
night of tears, and where his players bodied forth the false and
true, the joys and griefs, the careless shallows and the tragic
deeps of universal life.

From Shakespeare's brain there poured a Niagara of gems
spanned by Fancy's seven-hued arch. He was as many-sided as clouds
are many-formed. To him giving was hoarding -- sowing was harvest
-- and waste itself the source of wealth. Within his marvelous mind
were the fruits of all thought past, the seeds of all to be. As a
drop of dew contains the image of the earth and sky, so all there
is of life was mirrored forth in Shakespeare's brain.

Shakespeare was an intellectual ocean, whose waves touched all
the shores of thought; within which were all the tides and waves of
destiny and will; over which swept all the storms of fate, ambition
and revenge; upon which fell the gloom and darkness of despair and
death and all the sunlight of content and love, and within which
was the inverted sky lit with the eternal stars -- an intellectual
ocean -- towards which all rivers ran, and from which now the isles
and continents of thought receive their dew and rain.


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Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

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