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day, it would not only be pardonable, it would be desirable, that a prince, or indeed a noble, should not demean himself too freely to ordinary men, or allow them to play at equality with him. No one ever understood the real equality of men better than Shakespeare, and none of his characters practise it better than Henry V, as we see him talking to the common soldiers, making love to Catharine, laughing at his own plain features, desiring that poor creature small beer. But no one more entered into the then at least equally real inequality of men ; accepted it, used it, valued, and praised it. Henry V gives us, in its very first act, one of Shakespeare's many panegyrics of order and obedience, of the divinity and hierarchy of human functions. And no one who has read Henry VI, Troilus and Cressida, or Coriolanus, to say nothing of other plays, will have much doubt that Shakespeare was as clear as St. Paul, not only about the animal and spiritual equality of men, but also about their social and political inequality. St. Paul says that in Christ 'there is neither bond nor free'. The souls of men, that is, men as they are in themselves, independent of temporal accidents, are of equal value in the sight of God and of men who try to judge with the judgement of God. But that is not, in St. Paul's view, any necessary condemnation of social inequality. Throughout his epistles he accepts the institution of slavery as one of the social and political facts of his time with which he did not directly concern himself. His business was not at all to revolutionize the Roman Empire or to destroy slavery ; it was to teach Christians how to use both for the glory of God. Still less was it Shakespeare's business to deal in political revolution. The tremendous speeches of Lear would be enough, even if they stood alone, to prove that he was at least as conscious as St. Paul of the essential unreality of the distinctions which separate a king from a beggar; and apparently much more conscious of the practical injustices which result from inequality. Assuredly he was no blind Conservative, indifferent to the wrongs and sufferings of the poor. But, on the whole, his prescription appears to be much like St. Paul's. It is not a change of social and political institutions which interests him ; it is rather an awakening of the imagination, a quickening of the heart. Of course it is always to be remembered that he is a dramatist and that the path leading through his creations to himself is one of very slippery walking. And certainly the circumstances in which he wrote his plays scarcely allowed of political speculations of a radical kind, even if he had felt any inclination for them. But that he felt such inclination few of his readers will, I think, be disposed to believe. His handling of human nature never seems to suggest any belief either in the ancient view, revived by modern Socialists, that Church and State can make men good by suitable institutions, commands, and prohibitions ; nor yet in that other view, dating from Rousseau and beloved of Shelley, that all men would be good if Church and State would but let them alone. The middling wisdom of a practical man like Shakespeare, with his eyes open to a living world, was not likely to believe the State to be all-powerful either for good or evil. Least of all would such a poet as he, loving the freedom of the human spirit as all poets must, care about any such machine-made virtues as external compulsion might produce. What he paints with most affection apparently is the moral and emotional beauty of women, the honesty, justice, and good sense of men. No doubt Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth interested his mind and aroused his powers at least as much as Helena, Miranda, or Desdemona; and Hamlet and Lear much more than Horatio, the Bastard, or Henry V. But his sympathies are another thing. They are concentrated on the divine tenderness of women, and the sense and manliness of men.
That is where he seems to find the salvation of the world ; certainly not in any political or social machinery.
human life needs a framework of some sort, and yet, in his view, as it seems, it matters little of what sort, he is content, like St. Paul, to accept for it the framework which he finds established, and to throw again and again any indirect influence which he may possess on the side of law and order, rank and hierarchy, and even, when occasion serves, to ridicule the pretensions of the proletariat and the crude suggestions for a new world which its ignorance and envy put forward. It was not his business to preach, as it was St. Paul's. But if it had been, and he had preached on these subjects, one can imagine his paralleling St. Paul's not circumcision nor uncircumcision but a new creature' with some Tennysonian 'not monarchy nor aristocracy nor democracy, but kind hearts and cool heads ’. It is not the institutions which want changing but the character both of the rulers and the ruled..
All this is a long digression from the character of Henry V from which it began. But no play and no character exhibit better than Henry V this double attitude of Shakespeare's. It is his most monarchical play and Henry the most royal, masterful, and victorious of his kings. Yet no king is such a plain man, so entirely at home with plain men, indeed with all sorts of men and on all sorts of occasions. Whether he is leading an army or robbing on the highway, insulting a judge or crowning him with honour, doing brave deeds or playing practical jokes, saying wise words or witty, we always feel the man to be more than either the king, the madcap, or the soldier. Each of the parts he plays is played with the gusto of assured success; but each is only one out of the many, only the fragment of a whole. It is not without warrant that he once said of himself, 'I am now of all humours that have showed themselves humours since the old days of goodman Adam to the pupil age of this present twelve o'clock at midnight'. Of some indeed that are not common either on the battle-field, in the council chamber, or in the tavern. For instance, he is, except his son, by far the most religious of Shakespeare's kings. No one in all the plays refers his conduct and his fate so constantly, and apparently so sincerely, to God. It is he who makes the great answer in the moment of danger : ‘We are in God's hand, brother, not in theirs. It is into his lips that Shakespeare puts the great saying, so much greater than its occasion, there is some soul of goodness in things evil'. It is he who, when talking among the soldiers as one of them, makes one of the few definitely orthodox and theological speeches in Shakespeare :
'Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience; and, dying so, death is to him advantage ; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained : and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, He let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare.'
And, finally, it is he who, after his amazing victory, repeatedly and, so far as can be judged, with sincere piety, refuses the glory of it :
O God, thy arm was here ;
Ascribe we all ! This simple and apparently genuine religious language may be part of the directness and simplicity of his mind. His character is subtly conceived in that it embraces such a variety in its unity. But his mind is the mind of a hero, not at all of a poet or a philosopher or an intellectual genius. Poor Richard II has more of that in him. But perhaps Shakespeare, like many men of original genius, having so much of that in himself, did not find it the thing he cared most about in other men, and preferred that his hero should be a man of plain thoughts and plain speech. Not that
Henry is a fool ; far from it. We have seen him defeat Falstaff, and he does it more than once ; saying of him and to him things as good as his own. There is intellectual as well as moral victory in 'even such kin as the parish heifers are to the town bull’. And it is superior brains more than superior rank which tells Poins : 'thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks : never a man's thought in the world keeps the roadway better than thine'. And, perhaps there is something of an even higher order in those other words to Poins : 'Well, thus we play the fools with the time : and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds and mock us.' But in the main he is compounded of plain man, honest man, and hero, with but little of curious thought or imagination in him. The hero needs no insisting on. No one in all Shakespeare's world strikes the authentic note of soldier and hero as he strikes it, from the defiance of the Dauphin and his tennis balls, through the appeal to the good yeomen Whose limbs were made in England':
let us swear That you are worth your breeding : which I doubt not ; For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes ;to the glorious
What's he that wishes so ?
I am the most offending soul alive. There can be few words in all English literature that came so often as these into the memories of Englishmen going after forlorn hopes on dark nights in France or Flanders or