was past twelve o'clock when I awoke, and the sun was streaming
in through the curtains of my room in long slanting beams of
dusty gold. I told my servant that I would be at home to no one;
and after I had had a cup of chocolate and a petit-pain, I took
down from the book-shelf my copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets, and
began to go carefully through them. Every poem seemed to me to
corroborate Cyril Graham's theory. I felt as if I had my hand
upon Shakespeare's heart, and was counting each separate throb
and pulse of passion. I thought of the wonderful boy-actor, and
saw his face in every line.
Two sonnets, I remember, struck
me particularly: they were the 53rd and the 67th. In the first
of these, Shakespeare, complimenting Willie Hughes on the versatility
of his acting, on his wide range of parts, a range extending
from Rosalind to Juliet, and from Beatrice to Ophelia, says to
What is your substance, whereof
are you made,lines that would be unintelligible
if they were not addressed to an actor, for the word 'shadow'
had in Shakespeare's day a technical meaning connected with the
stage. 'The best in this kind are but shadows,' says Theseus
of the actors in the Midsummer Night's Dream, and there are many
similar allusions in the literature of the day. These sonnets
evidently belonged to the series in which Shakespeare discusses
the nature of the actor's art, and of the strange and rare temperament
that is essential to the perfect stage-player. 'How is it,' says
Shakespeare to Willie Hughes, 'that you have so many personalities?'
and then he goes on to point out that his beauty is such that
it seems to realise every form and phase of fancy, to embody
each dream of the creative imagination an idea
that is still further expanded in the sonnet that immediately
follows, where, beginning with the fine thought,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend
O, how much more doth beauty
beauteous seemShakespeare invites us to notice
how the truth of acting, the truth of visible presentation on
the stage, adds to the wonder of poetry, giving life to its loveliness,
and actual reality to its ideal form. And yet, in the 67th Sonnet,
Shakespeare calls upon Willie Hughes to abandon the stage with
its artificiality, its false mimic life of painted face and unreal
costume, its immoral influences and suggestions, its remoteness
from the true world of noble action and sincere utterance.
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
Ah, wherefore with infection
should he liveIt may seem strange that so great
a dramatist as Shakespeare, who realised his own perfection as
an artist and his humanity as a man on the ideal plane of stage-writing
and stage-playing, should have written in these terms about the
theatre; but we must remember that in Sonnets CX and CXI Shakespeare
shows us that he too was wearied of the world of puppets, and
full of shame at having made himself 'a motley to the view.'
The IIIth Sonnet is especially bitter:--
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
O, for my sake do you with
Fortune chide,and there are many signs elsewhere
of the same feeling, signs familiar to all real students of Shakespeare.
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd
One point puzzled me immensely
as I read the Sonnets, and it was days before I struck on the
true interpretation, which indeed Cyril Graham himself seems
to have missed. I could not understand how it was that Shakespeare
set so high a value on his young friend marrying. He himself
had married young, and the result had been unhappiness, and it
was not likely that he would have asked Willie Hughes to commit
the same error. The boy-player of Rosalind had nothing to gain
from marriage, or from the passions of real life. The early sonnets,
with their strange entreaties to have children, seemed to me
a jarring note. The explanation of the mystery came on me quite
suddenly, and I found it in the curious dedication. It will be
remembered that the dedication runs as follows:--TO THE ONLIE BEGETTER
THESE INSUING SONNETS
MR. W. H. ALL HAPPINESSE
AND THAT ETERNITIE
OUR EVER-LIVING POET
Some scholars have supposed that
the word 'begetter' in this dedication means simply the procurer
of the Sonnets for Thomas Thorpe the publisher; but this view
is now generally abandoned, and the highest authorities are quite
agreed that it is to be taken in the sense of inspirer, the metaphor
being drawn from the analogy of physical life. Now I saw that
the same metaphor was used by Shakespeare himself all through
the poems, and this set me on the right track. Finally I made
my great discovery. The marriage that Shakespeare proposes for
Willie Hughes is the marriage with his Muse, an expression which
is definitely put forward in the 82nd Sonnet, where, in the bitterness
of his heart at the defection of the boy-actor for whom he had
written his greatest parts, and whose beauty had indeed suggested
them, he opens his complaint by saying
I grant thou wert not married
to my Muse.The children he begs him to beget
are no children of flesh and blood, but more immortal children
of undying fame. The whole cycle of the early sonnets is simply
Shakespeare's invitation to Willie Hughes to go upon the stage
and become a player. How barren and profitless a thing, he says,
is this beauty of yours if it be not used:
When forty winters shall besiege
thy browYou must create something in
art: my verse 'is thine, and born of thee'; only listen to me,
and I will 'bring forth eternal numbers to outlive long date,'
and you shall people with forms of your own image the imaginary
world of the stage. These children that you beget, he continues,
will not wither away, as mortal children do, but you shall live
in them and in my plays: do but
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
Make thee another self, for
love of me,I collected all the passages
that seemed to me to corroborate this view, and they produced
a strong impression on me, and showed me how complete Cyril Graham's
theory really was. I also saw that it was quite easy to separate
those lines in which he speaks of the Sonnets themselves from
those in which he speaks of his great dramatic work. This was
a point that had been entirely overlooked by all critics up to
Cyril Graham's day. And yet it was one of the most important
points in the whole series of poems. To the Sonnets Shakespeare
was more or less indifferent. He did not wish to rest his fame
on them. They were to him his 'slight Muse,' as he calls them,
and intended, as Meres tells us, for private circulation only
among a few, a very few, friends. Upon the other hand he was
extremely conscious of the high artistic value of his plays,
and shows a noble self-reliance upon his dramatic genius. When
he says to Willie Hughes:
That beauty still may live in thine or thee!
But thy eternal summer shall
not fade,the expression 'eternal lines'
clearly alludes to one of his plays that he was sending him at
the time, just as the concluding couplet points to his confidence
in the probability of his plays being always acted. In his address
to the Dramatic Muse (Sonnets C and CI), we find the same feeling.
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to
Where art thou, Muse, that
thou forget'st so longhe cries, and he then proceeds
to reproach the Mistress of Tragedy and Comedy for her 'neglect
of Truth in Beauty dyed,' and says
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Because he needs no praise,
wilt thou be dumb?It is, however, perhaps in the
55th Sonnet that Shakespeare gives to this idea its fullest expression.
To imagine that the 'powerful rhyme' of the second line refers
to the sonnet itself, is to mistake Shakespeare's meaning entirely.
It seemed to me that it was extremely likely, from the general
character of the sonnet, that a particular play was meant, and
that the play was none other but Romeo and Juliet.
Excuse not silence so, for 't lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
And to be praised of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.
Not marble, nor the gilded
monumentsIt was also extremely suggestive
to note how here as elsewhere Shakespeare promised Willie Hughes
immortality in a form that appealed to men's eyes
that is to say, in a spectacular form, in a play that is to be
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful wars shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Not Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.
For two weeks I worked hard at
the Sonnets, hardly ever going out, and refusing all invitations.
Every day I seemed to be discovering something new, and Willie
Hughes became to me a kind of spiritual presence, an ever-dominant
personality. I could almost fancy that I saw him standing in
the shadow of my room, so well had Shakespeare drawn him, with
his golden hair, his tender flower-like grace, his dreamy deep-sunken
eyes, his delicate mobile limbs, and his white lily hands. His
very name fascinated me. Willie Hughes! Willie Hughes! How musically
it sounded! Yes; who else but he could have been the master-mistress
of Shakespeare's passion [SONNET XX, 2], the lord of his love
to whom he was bound in vassalage [SONNET XXVI, 1], the delicate
minion of pleasure [SONNET CXXVI, 9], the rose of the whole world
[SONNET CIX, 14], the herald of the spring [SONNET I, 10], decked
in the proud livery of youth [SONNET II, 3], the lovely boy whom
it was sweet music to hear [SONNET VIII, 1], and whose beauty
was the very raiment of Shakespeare's heart [SONNET XXII, 6],
as it was the keystone of his dramatic power? How bitter now
seemed the whole tragedy of his desertion and his shame!
shame that he made sweet and lovely [SONNET XCV, 1], by the mere
magic of his personality, but that was none the less shame. Yet
as Shakespeare forgave him, should not we forgive him also? I
did not care to pry into the mystery of his sin.
His abandonment of Shakespeare's
theatre was a different matter, and I investigated it at great
length. Finally I came to the conclusion that Cyril Graham had
been wrong in regarding the rival dramatist of the 80th Sonnet
as Chapman. It was obviously Marlowe who was alluded to. At the
time the Sonnets were written, such an expression as 'the proud
full sail of his great verse' could not have been used of Chapman's
work, however applicable it might have been to the style of his
later Jacobean plays. No: Marlowe was clearly the rival dramatist
of whom Shakespeare spoke in such laudatory terms; and that
familiar ghostwas the Mephistopheles of his
Doctor Faustus. No doubt, Marlowe was fascinated by the beauty
and grace of the boy-actor, and lured him away from the Blackfriars
Theatre, that he might play the Gaveston of his Edward II. That
Shakespeare had the legal right to retain Willie Hughes in his
own company is evident from Sonnet LXXXVII, where he says:--
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
Farewell! thou art too dear
for my possessing,But him whom he could not hold
by love, he would not hold by force. Willie Hughes became a member
of Lord Pembroke's company, and, perhaps in the open yard of
the Red Bull Tavern, played the part of King Edward's delicate
minion. On Marlowe's death, he seems to have returned to Shakespeare,
who, whatever his fellow-partners may have thought of the matter,
was not slow to forgive the wilfulness and treachery of the young
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gayest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
How well, too, had Shakespeare
drawn the temperament of the stage-player! Willie Hughes was
one of those
That do not do the thing they
most do show,He could act love, but could
not feel it, could mimic passion without realising it.
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone.
In many's looks the false
heart's historybut with Willie Hughes it was
not so. 'Heaven,' says Shakespeare, in a sonnet of mad idolatry
Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange,
in thy creation did decreeIn his 'inconstant mind' and
his 'false heart,' it was easy to recognise the insincerity and
treachery that somehow seem inseparable from the artistic nature,
as in his love of praise that desire for immediate recognition
that characterises all actors. And yet, more fortunate in this
than other actors, Willie Hughes was to know something of immortality.
Inseparably connected with Shakespeare's plays, he was to live
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate'er thy thoughts or thy heart's workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.
Your name from hence immortal
life shall have,There were endless allusions,
also, to Willie Hughes's power over his audience
the 'gazers,' as Shakespeare calls them; but perhaps the most
perfect description of his wonderful mastery over dramatic art
was in A Lover's Complaint, where Shakespeare says of him:
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
In him a plenitude of subtle
matter,Once I thought that I had really
found Willie Hughes in Elizabethan literature. In a wonderfully
graphic account of the last days of the great Earl of Essex,
his chaplain, Thomas Knell, tells us that the night before the
Earl died, 'he called William Hewes, which was his musician,
to play upon the virginals and to sing. "Play," said
he, "my song, Will Hewes, and I will sing it to myself."
So he did it most joyfully, not as the howling swan, which, still
looking down, waileth her end, but as a sweet lark, lifting up
his hands and casting up his eyes to his God, with this mounted
the crystal skies, and reached with his unwearied tongue the
top of highest heavens.' Surely the boy who played on the virginals
to the dying father of Sidney's Stella was none other but the
Will Hews to whom Shakespeare dedicated the Sonnets, and who
he tells us was himself sweet 'music to hear.' Yet Lord Essex
died in 1576, when Shakespeare himself was but twelve years of
age. It was impossible that his musician could have been the
Mr. W. H. of the Sonnets. Perhaps Shakespeare's young friend
was the son of the player upon the virginals? It was at least
something to have discovered that Will Hews was an Elizabethan
name. Indeed the name Hews seemed to have been closely connected
with music and the stage. The first English actress was the lovely
Margaret Hews, whom Prince Rupert so madly loved. What more probable
than that between her and Lord Essex's musician had come the
boy-actor of Shakespeare's plays? But the proofs, the links
where were they? Alas! I could not find them. It seemed to me
that I was always on the brink of absolute verification, but
that I could never really attain to it.
Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives,
Of burning blushes, or of weeping water,
Or swooning paleness; and he takes and leaves,
In either's aptness, as it best deceives,
To blush at speeches rank, to weep at woes,
Or to turn white and swoon at tragic shows.
* * * * * *
So on the tip of his subduing tongue,
All kind of arguments and questions deep,
All replication prompt and reason strong,
For his advantage still did wake and sleep,
To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep.
He had the dialect and the different skill,
Catching all passions in his craft of will.
From Willie Hughes's life I soon
passed to thoughts of his death. I used to wonder what had been
Perhaps he had been one of those
English actors who in 1604 went across sea to Germany and played
before the great Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick, himself a dramatist
of no mean order, and at the Court of that strange Elector of
Brandenburg, who was so enamoured of beauty that he was said
to have bought for his weight in amber the young son of a travelling
Greek merchant, and to have given pageants in honour of his slave
all through that dreadful famine year of 1606-7, when the people
died of hunger in the very streets of the town, and for the space
of seven months there was no rain. We know at any rate that Romeo
and Juliet was brought out at Dresden in 1613, along with Hamlet
and King Lear, and it was surely to none other than Willie Hughes
that in 1615 the death-mask of Shakespeare was brought by the
hand of one of the suite of the English ambassador, pale token
of the passing away of the great poet who had so dearly loved
him. Indeed there would have been something peculiarly fitting
in the idea that the boy-actor, whose beauty had been so vital
an element in the realism and romance of Shakespeare's art, should
have been the first to have brought to Germany the seed of the
new culture, and was in his way the precursor of that Aufklarung
or Illumination of the eighteenth century, that splendid movement
which, though begun by Lessing and Herder, and brought to its
full and perfect issue by Goethe, was in no small part helped
on by another actor Friedrich Schroeder
who awoke the popular consciousness, and by means of the feigned
passions and mimetic methods of the stage showed the intimate,
the vital, connection between life and literature. If this was
so and there was certainly no evidence against
it it was not improbable that Willie Hughes was
one of those English comedians (mimae quidam ex Britannia, as
the old chronicle calls them), who were slain at Nuremberg in
a sudden uprising of the people, and were secretly buried in
a little vineyard outside the city by some young men 'who had
found pleasure in their performances, and of whom some had sought
to be instructed in the mysteries of the new art.' Certainly
no more fitting place could there be for him to whom Shakespeare
said, 'thou art all my art,' than this little vineyard outside
the city walls. For was it not from the sorrows of Dionysos that
Tragedy sprang? Was not the light laughter of Comedy, with its
careless merriment and quick replies, first heard on the lips
of the Sicilian vine-dressers? Nay, did not the purple and red
stain of the wine-froth on face and limbs give the first suggestion
of the charm and fascination of disguise the
desire for self-concealment, the sense of the value of objectivity
thus showing itself in the rude beginnings of the art? At any
rate, wherever he lay whether in the little vineyard
at the gate of the Gothic town, or in some dim London churchyard
amidst the roar and bustle of our great city
no gorgeous monument marked his resting-place. His true tomb,
as Shakespeare saw, was the poet's verse, his true monument the
permanence of the drama. So had it been with others whose beauty
had given a new creative impulse to their age. The ivory body
of the Bithynian slave rots in the green ooze of the Nile, and
on the yellow hills of the Cerameicus is strewn the dust of the
young Athenian; but Antinous lives in sculpture, and Charmides
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