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attributed to him, is part of that general sceptical movement or wave which has landed us first in the so-called "Higher Criticism" in matters of Religion, and finally in Agnosticism itself. The Baconian and the anti-Shakespearian, whether they know it or no, are merely particular cases of critical "Agnosticism." Now, the Higher Criticism begins with the disregard of Tradition, and the assumption that in the days in which the various books of the Bible were written or accepted as canonical and as being by the persons whose names became attached to them, mankind had not the most rudimentary critical faculty and believed everything that was told them indiscriminately. The human mind does not change so much as all that, and the world has always been made up of persons credulous and persons sceptical, and perhaps still more of people as sceptical in one direction as they were credulous in another. All socalled scepticism has always been based on a kind of conceit, and is the work of persons with whom wisdom was born. Surely the world might by this time accept Kant's great proof of the futility of Pure Reason! It is, at any rate, the use of an almost à priori form of reasoning, which leads to the sceptical, or, if you like, "higher critical" views on the Bible, Shakespeare, or any other subject whatever. The position of the man who declines to believe that the Stratford Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him is precisely the same as that of Hume on Miracles. Hume says in effect, which is of course a complete begging of the question, that no amount of evidence could establish a miracle. For his statement, that it is always more probable that the evidence should be false than the miracle true, is only a sophistical variant on the above. So with
the anti-Shakespearian generally. His position is practically this, that no amount of evidence, such as it is possible for his opponent to bring forward, can convince him that Shakespeare wrote these plays. In other words, the antecedent improbability of Shakespeare being able to write them is greater, in his view, than the probability that his contemporaries were right in believing that he did. The solution of both difficulties is the same, the occurrence of the extraordinary, which in one case we call "miracle,” and in the other "genius."
I have written thus fully on this point because here lies the key of the whole controversy, and the moment that is lost, all is lost. For if, as Mr. Sidney Lee asserts, Meres' statement is to be disregarded, then I say he can take his stand on no piece of contemporary evidence whatsoever. Abandon Meres and Shakespeare's authorship (or editorship) of Titus Andronicus, and you surrender the Thermopyle of the pro-Shakespearian position. Now, upon what basis is this scepticism regarding Shakespeare's authorship founded? It is founded upon the remark of one Ravenscroft, a clumsy and irresponsible patcher of Titus Andronicus, about seventy years after Shakespeare's death. "I have been told," writes Ravenscroft, "by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally his (Shakespeare's), but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the principal characters." Anything feebler in the way of evidence cannot be conceived; for there could be no one living seventy-one years after Shakespeare's death whose evidence could be in the least degree relied on as being first hand; it could only be regarded as a piece of green-room gossip.
But Ravenscroft was not only without first-hand evidence; he is manifestly interested and unprincipled. On him Langbaine (in his Account of the English Dramatic Poets, 1691) writes: "Though he would imitate the silk-worm that spins its web from its own bowels, yet I shall make him appear like a leech, that lives on the blood of men," and he goes on to infer that Ravenscroft got up this story to exalt his own merit in having altered the piece.
But the final
condemnation of Ravenscroft and vindication of Shake-
Shakespeare, by him revived now treads the stage;
Safe from the blast of any critic's frown.
Like other poets, he'll not proudly scorn
To own that he but winnowed Shakespeare's corn. How Malone can have been so disingenuous as to suppress this bit of evidence, when accepting Ravenscroft's worthless and self-interested gossip, certainly (in Mr. Gladstone's phrase) "passes the wit of man" to comprehend. Malone and Ravenscroft stand convicted of a suppressio veri of the first magnitude. This conviction we owe to Charles Knight's admirable "Notice on the Authenticity of Titus Andronicus" in his edition of Shakespeare.
The question now arises, What possible motive could Malone have in acting so disingenuously by the evidences? The answer is that there are two possible motives for such conduct, self-interest, and prejudice. Ravenscroft's was the first, and Malone's the second.
The prejudice that has affected Malone, Fleay, Hallam,
and all those who follow them, is as creditable to their hearts as it is discreditable to their judgments. They found the play very repulsive, as it is to every refined modern reader, and they cried out in their hearts, "O this cannot be by our beloved and gentle Shakespeare, we must set about proving that it is not his." Now this is very nice and kind of them, and deserves the applause and admiration of all the well-intentioned namby-pambyism of this or any age. But the great and virile literature of this or any great language is not "namby-pamby," and Elizabethan literature least of all. No one can criticise it sanely from this point of view. For, least of all, is Shakespeare himself namby-pamby; and anything more illogical than to argue, as these gentlemen do, that the author of the terrible scene between Arthur and Hubert in King John, of the murders of Duncan, Banquo, Richard II., and Clarence, of the slaughter of young Rutland and Edward, and young Macduff, of the holocausts of victims in that and every tragedy, and perhaps worst of all the revolting gouging of Gloucester's eyes in Lear, could never have had, in the crudest days of his youth, aught to do with Titus Andronicus, is about as absurd as it is possible for anything to be.
What, then, are the elements in Titus Andronicus which to modern taste are specially revolting; for as revolting they were not regarded, apparently, by Shakespeare's own contemporaries either in England, Germany, or Holland? Revolting to us they most unquestionably are, but even Shakespeare's genius could hardly be expected, in planning his first tragedy, to anticipate refined, or over-refined, modern feeling. As a young author making his first essay in
tragedy, Shakespeare would naturally choose a theme which would find favour with an Elizabethan audience, and, as we shall see, nothing secured that, at the time he must have written Titus Andronicus, more easily than a plentiful supply of horrors, just as the sensation novel, the "penny dreadful," and the "shilling shocker" attract the multitude now. The fact that one form of literature is to be read and the other acted makes really much less difference than we are apt to imagine, especially when we consider the primitive appliances of the Elizabethan stage. Fancy Hamlet being played with nothing but the following "properties," as quoted by Mr. Appleton Morgan from the stage directions to the First Folio: "A recorder, book, two framed portraits, flowers, spades and mattocks, tombstones, skulls, handkerchief, cups, decanters"; or Julius Cæsar with "A scroll, wine in decanters, cups, tapers, a couch"! For the audiences in those days, with no artificial light, no attempt at scenery, and a stage in which the audience mingled with the actors, there can have been none of that "realistic illusion," if the phrase may be allowed, which our modern extremely realistic presentments are apt to produce. No one among these audiences can have been even momentarily under the illusion that the actor playing Gloucester had his eyes really gouged out, or that there was any real danger to Arthur's eyes from "the iron bodkins or rods "—probably cold, or with a dab of red paint on them—with which Hubert menaced him. In fact, the stage of that day was, in point of realism, only one remove above the Puppetshow; and it would be hardly more absurd to condemn as revolting the conduct of that notable murderer