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WILLIAM SHAKSPERE DID NOT
THE LEARNING REVEALED IN THE SHAKESPEARE
From his cradle
He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one."
Henry VIII., iv, 2.
T was formerly the universal belief, entertained even among the critical, that the writings which go by the name of William Shakespeare were the work of an untaught, unlearned man.
Addison compared Shakspere' to the agate in the ring of Pyrrhus, which had the figure of Apollo and the nine Muses pictured in the veins of the stone by the hand of Nature, without any assistance from Art.
Voltaire regarded him as a "drunken savage."
Pope speaks of him as "a man of no education."
Richard Grant White says Shakspere was regarded, even down to the time of Pope, as "this bewitching but untutored and half-savage child of nature."
He was looked upon as a rustic-bred bard who sang as the birds sing a greater Burns, who, as Milton says, "warbled his native wood-notes wild."
This view was in accordance with the declaration of Ben Jonson that he possessed “small Latin and less Greek," and the state
Wherever reference is had in these pages to the man of Stratford the name will be spelled, as he spelled it in his will, Shakspere. Wherever the reference is to the Plays, or to the real author of the Plays, the name will be spelled Shakespeare, for that was the name on the title-pages of quartos and folios.
ment of old Fuller, in his Worthies, in 1622, that "his learning was very little."
Plautus was never any scholar, as doubtless our Shakespeare, if alive, would confess himself.
Leonard Digges says:
The patterne of all wit,
Art without Art unparaleld as yet.
Next Nature onely helpt him, for locke thorow
This whole booke, thou shalt find he doth not borrow
One phrase from Greekes, nor Latines imitate,
Nor once from vulgar languages translate.
Rev. John Ward, Vicar of Stratford, writing forty-seven years after Shakspere's death, and speaking the traditions of Stratford, says:
I have heard that Mr. Shakespeare was a natural wit, without any art at all. Seventy odd years after Shakspere's death, Bentham, in his State of the English Schools and Churches, says:
William Shakespeare was born at Stratford, in Warwickshire; his learning was very little, and therefore it is more a matter for wonder that he should be a very excellent poet.1
But in the last fifty years this view is completely changed. The critical world is now substantially agreed that the man who wrote the plays was one of the most learned men of the world, not only in that learning which comes from observation and reflection, but in book-lore, ancient and modern, and in the knowledge of many languages.
I. HIS CLASSICAL LEARNING.
Grant White admits:
He had as much learning as he had occasion to use, and even more."
It was at one time believed that the writer of the plays was unable to read any of the Latin or Greek authors in the original tongues, and that he depended altogether upon translations; but such, it is now proved, was not the case.
The Comedy of Errors, which is little more than a reproduction of the Menoechmi of Plautus, first appeared at certain
1 Chap. 19.
2 White, Life and Genius of Shakespeare, p. 256.
Christmas revels given by Bacon and his fellow lawyers, at Gray's Inn, in 1594; while, says Halliwell, "the Menoechmi of Plautus was not translated into English, or rather no English translation of it was printed, before 1595."
"The greater part of the story of Timon was taken from the untranslated Greek of Lucian.":
"Shakespeare's plays," says White," "show forty per cent of Romance or Latin words, which is probably a larger proportion than is now used by our best writers; certainly larger than is heard from those who speak their mother tongue with spontaneous, idiomatic correctness."
We find in Twelfth Night these lines:
Like the Egyptian thief, at point of death,
Kill what I love.
This is an allusion to a story from Heliodorus' Ethiopics. not know of any English translation of it in the time of Shakspere.
The writer was a classical scholar. Rowe found traces in him of the Electra of Sophocles; Colman, of Ovid; Pope, of Dares Phrygius, and other Greek authors; Farmer, of Horace and Virgil; Malone, of Lucretius, Statius, Catullus, Seneca, Sophocles, and Euripides; Stevens, of Plautus; Kright, of the Antig one of Sophocles; and White, of the Alcestis of Euripides.
His very frequent use of Latin derivatives in their radical sense shows a somewhat thoughtful and observant study of that language.'
White further says:
Where, even in Plutarch's pages, are the aristocratic republican tone and the tough muscularity of mind, which characterized the Romans, so embodied as in Shakespeare's Roman plays? Where, even in Homer's song, the subtle wisdom of the crafty Ulysses, the sullen selfishness and conscious martial might of broad Achilles; the blundering courage of thick-headed Ajax; or the mingled gallantry and foppery of Paris, so vividly portrayed as in Troilus and Cressida ?
The marvelous accuracy, the real, substantial learning, of the three Roman plays of Shakespeare present the most complete evidence to our minds that they were the result of a profound study of the whole range of Roman history, in cluding the nicer details of Roman manners, not in those days to be acquired in a compendious form, but to be brought out by diligent reading alone."
In his Roman plays he appears co-existent with his wonderful characters, and to have read all the obscure pages of Roman history with a clearer eye than philosopher or historian. When he employs Latinisms in the construction of his sentences, and even in the creation of new words, he does so with singular facility and unerring correctness.1
Appleton Morgan says:
In Antony and Cleopatra, Charmian suggests a game of billiards. But this is not, as is supposed, an anachronism, for the human encyclopedia who wrote that sentence appears to have known-what very few people know nowadays-that the game of billiards is older than Cleopatra.2
Whately describes Shakespeare as possessed of "an amazing genius which could pervade all nature at a glance, and to whom nothing within the limits of the universe appears to be unknown."
A recent writer says, speaking of the resemblance between the Eumenides of Eschylus and the Hamlet of Shakespeare:
The plot is so similar that we should certainly have credited the English poet with copying it, if he could have read Greek. . . . The common elements are indeed remarkable. Orestes and Hamlet have both to avenge a beloved father who has fallen a victim to the guilty passion of an unfaithful wife; in each case the adulterer has ascended the throne; and a claim of higher than mere mortal authority demands his punishment; for the permitted return of Hamlet's father from the world beyond the grave may be set beside the command of Apollo to Orestes to become the executive of the wrath of Heaven.4
Knight sees evidence, that Shakespeare was a close student of the works of Plato.
Alexander Schmidt, in his lexicon, under the word Adonis, quotes the following lines from Shakespeare:
Thy promises are like Adonis' gardens,
That one day bloomed and fruitful were the next."
Upon which Schmidt comments:
Perhaps confounded with the garden of King Alcinous in the Odyssey."
Richard Grant White says:
No mention of any such garden in the classic writings of Greece and Rome is known to scholars.
But the writer of the plays, who, we are told, was no scholar, had penetrated more deeply into the Classic writings than his learned critics; and a recent commentator, James D. Butler, has found out the source of this allusion. He says:
1 Knight's Shak. Biography, p. 528.
2 Some Shak. Commentators, P. 35. Shak. Myth., p. 82.
4 Julia Wedgewood.
5 Knight's Shak., note 6, act v, Merchant of Venice.
1st Henry VI., i, 6.
7 vii, 117-126.