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end." He simply took the facts that were to hand—a king weak, capricious, and headstrong; a king subtle and strong, but tainted with self-seeking; a king wise and strong, and pure in motive. To each comes the inevitable consequence of his character. To the first, ruin; to the second, unceasing discord; to the third, the crown of the victor. So in Shakspeare we recognise it, not as a thing to be taught or dwelt on, but as the fundamental fact of Nature which lies at the bottom of every story-as an axiom, not as a text-that unrighteousness brings its own inevitable doom; that final triumph falls only to him who has a lofty aim, and who possesses at once the eye prompt to see the means to attain it, and the hand swift to seize those means.
At the same time, we must carefully guard against the idea that Shakspeare deals too freely in ❝ poetical justice" --that he metes out worldly success and failure in proportion to the virtues or vices of his characters. The spirits of Cordelia and Desdemona would rise up against us if we propounded any such theory. But in no play is full and final triumph awarded save to those who know the right and do it. There are those who suffer for no fault at all, on whose shoulders falls the burden of the crime, the weakness, the indecision of others. If it were not so, there could hardly be true tragedy. These are they who, by force of their position, cannot control events; who suffer because those who have the opportunity of controlling events fail in their task, whether from failure of judgment, like Brutus and Lear; or from lack of decision, like Hamlet; or from want of moral stamen, like Macbeth. Again, there are those who are saved from the results of their own folly by the noble
wisdom of others, as Bassanio is saved by Portia. But, whether in the more imaginative plays, where there is freer scope for working out moral ideas, or in the plays where the poet is in some degree fettered by events, as in all the historical dramas, the fundamental fact is represented that sin brings its inevitable doom, and folly or weakness also; a doom that falls alike on the criminal and on those who, in all innocence or unconsciousness, have become participators in his guilt-that only to those who are at once wise and righteous and strong can triumph come in its fulness. The fact is not so much on the surface in the historical plays, but it comes out no less clearly under careful analysis.
From the moral point of view, then, a more complete lesson may be learnt if we take these four plays together than if we take any one of them singly. The law that sin is followed by punishment is more clearly illustrated, because the contrast is more complete. But it was hardly with the intention of illustrating this fact that Shakspeare wrote; there is no reason to suppose that the four plays form the parts of one connected design. Richard II. preceded the others by some three years; in the interval the poet's mind had been growing; the Henry IV. of the later ones is by no means a simple continuation of the Bolingbroke of the first. Thus it is that, although a certain unity does permeate all the four plays, there is a more complete unity in the three later ones; and that unity depends not on the fundamental conception of retribution, but on the development of "Madcap Hal" into "the Star of England," Harry the Fifth. Shakspeare wanted to work out his conception of Henry, not to expand a tag into a trilogy.
And just as Shakspeare did not set before himself some moral truth, the inculcation of which should be the purpose of his drama, so we may be equally confident that he did not write with any partisan political aim. The most cursory comparison of the great historical dramas ought to show that any such theory is incredible. It is easy to take an isolated play, and discover a political purpose in it. King John or Richard III. may readily suggest that he wished to teach his world that monarchy is tyranny; Richard II. might conceivably have been intended as an object-lesson in the rights of Parliaments; the two parts of Henry IV. as an illustration of the slender basis of right on which a claim to the throne may rest; and we may take these plays together and announce, on the strength of them, that Shakspeare was a Republican propagandist, who found play-writing the most effective means of spreading his doctrines. But then the whole theory collapses the moment we come to Henry V. An ardent Republican would hardly have chosen a king as the type and model of every manly quality, the one hero in all his plays who is nearly flawless in character and consistently triumphant in action. The simple fact is, that Shakspeare took his records as he found them, selected his incidents for their dramatic suitability, and merely heightened the effects of occasional details in accordance with purely artistic or professional considerations. The natural result is, that politicians of every school appeal with equal confidence to Shakspeare as an authority for their views, exactly as they appeal to history or to statistics. It awakens a feeling of impatience to find commentators gravely suggesting that the scene in our play, where captains
of the four different nationalities - Gower, Fluellen, Jamy, and Macmorris—appear together, was introduced in the interest of those politicians of the day who were anxious to unite the four said nationalities in closer bonds. It might be urged, with at least equal plausibility, that the scene was introduced to show that Irishmen and Welshmen could never agree; or that the earlier scene, where the danger from Scotland in the event of a French war is discussed, was written to stir up popular feeling against the Scots. Commentators of this type would succeed in finding a plausible answer, according with their own views, if asked, “What were Shakspeare's views, as expressed in his plays, on Home Rule, Colonial Federation, and Land Nationalisation?" To all such questions there is, in fact, only one answer. Whatever Shakspeare thought about current political questions he kept to himself.
In short, Shakspeare was a dramatist, not a preacher or a politician. His purpose was to depict humanity in an interesting way, and consequently-he being a person of healthy mind—in a true way. Now humanity cannot be depicted without illustrating moral truths; therefore we can draw morals from the plays. But some of the best material for depicting humanity is to be found in history, and history cannot be related without illustrating political truths; therefore from the historical plays we can draw political morals. But it is not Shakspeare who draws the morals, political or other.
In the two parts of Henry IV. the prince is hardly, as a matter of fact, the most prominent character; there is no one figure to which all the rest are subordinated. Hotspur, Falstaff, and the king are all commanding and
elaborate figures, all drawn, no doubt, if we take the scheme of the three plays together, with a view of contrasting with and heightening the effect of the heroic monarch, Henry V. But in the separate plays they are but little subordinated to him; whereas in this third play there is no figure at all comparable in importance to that of Henry. So much is this the case that if the play is taken by itself, the king's personality appears to dominate the rest, in spite of the large number of characters, to an extent which is artistically somewhat injurious. Even the humorous episodes, consummate as they are, do not obliterate the feeling that we have more of a portrait than a drama. And hence the play itself can hardly be fully appreciated when read alone. The king's own character is not fully understood, for want of the appropriate contrasts; the picture is not completed when we have only such characters as the Dauphin or Pistol to set against him. But these inadequate contrasts become sufficient for their purpose when the series is viewed as a whole; by Hotspur and Henry IV., Falstaff and Prince Hal, we are prepared to appreciate and recognise to the full the splendour of king Henry V.
The world in which Falstaff moves is the world of comedy, of wit and humour and irresponsibility. The world in which monarchs move is a world of high ambitions, strong passions, stern responsibilities. Harry is the one character who can play his part to perfection in both worlds, the key-note of his composition being his complete self-mastery. At his wildest we know that he can throw off his wildness in a moment, if he sees something better worth the doing than a trick on Falstaff.