Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/23

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3
THE ELIZABETHAN CHARACTER

Not only may portions fail to be understood, but also many may be understood awry. In an open discussion that followed the reading of a paper on the teaching of Shakespeare's plays, I was once attacked by an elderly lady who informed me and my hearers that she was old enough to be my mother. It soon transpired that my crime consisted of attributing to the bold, designing, unbashful Juliet a degree of delicacy and refinement that was prejudicial to the tender morality of the pupils in my care—and all this because Juliet had kissed Romeo on the first night of their acquaintance. I must, however, do my critic justice by saying that her point of view changed when I told her that kissing, under the circumstances, was a common mode of salutation. She was ill-informed, but she was liberal-minded. "I have maligned Juliet's character for thirty years," she said, "but I shall do so no longer."

Amusing as the incident has always seemed, I, nevertheless, took it seriously. If ignorance of a small detail of social usage could result in blackening the character of one of the loveliest heroines in literature, is it not fair to suppose that numerous other and similar errors could be, nay, are, made daily by critics more familiar with the text of Shakespeare than with the conditions under which those texts were written.