The Psychology of Shakespeare/Chapter 7

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"And melancholy marked him for her own."

"The melancholy Jaques" is another phase of the Hamlet character, contemplated under totally different circumstances. There is the same contemplative cast of thought on the frailties of man exercising itself in obedience to a depressed state of emotion. In Jaques this has not been the result of sudden revulsion of feeling, of some one great grief, which has, as it were, overspread the heavens with a pall. It is of more gradual and wholesome growth, the result of matured intellect and exhausted desire. Jaques is an "old man," or at least old enough to be called so by the rustic lass in her anger of disappointment; and he himself indirectly attributes his melancholy to his wide knowledge of the world.

"It is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects; and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humourous sadness.""Yes, I have gained my experience."

It is thus he hath gained knowledge, if not wisdom; unless wisdom be not truly described in that line of the poet, which says that it enables us

"To see all other's faults and feel our own."

He does indeed suffer from more than intellectual depreciation of man's sensuality. He has wallowed in it himself, and if he suffers not the acute sting of remorse, he endures the dull ache of exhaustion. To use a term now almost naturalized among us, he is thoroughly blasé with licentious freedom. He has squandered his means and exhausted his powers of enjoyment; having been forgetful that moderation is the true epicureanism of enjoyment, he will now rail upon the pleasures of the world in the false stoicism of disgust. Falstaff says that old men "measure the heat of our livers by the bitterness of their own galls;" but in Jaques it is the heat of his own liver which has embittered the gall of his opinion. He says

“Invest me in my motley; give me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,

If they will patiently receive my medicine. Duke S. Fye on thee I can tell what thou wouldst do. Jaq. What, for a counter, would I do, but good Duke S. Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin : For thou thyself hast been a libertine, As sensual as the brutish sting itself; And all the embossed sores, and headed evils,

That thou with licence of free foot hast caught, Wouldst thou disgorge into the general world.” The contrast of this philosophy with the nobler one of the banished Duke, which leads him to discover the sweet uses of

adversity, and to find good in everything, is all in favour of the latter ; for the loving humanity of the Duke, as con templative in its way as the cynicism of the other, is felt to be that of goodness, and nobleness, and truth ; while that of Jaques is made to throw, not only on his thoughts, but on himself, that tinge of ridicule which belongs to perverse exaggeration. His general cynicism, however, is combined with tenderness of heart; he grieves even at the physical pain endured by brutes; and the moral evil of the world, which he sees through and through, pains and distresses him. The selfishness which makes worldlings bequeath wealth to the rich, and which makes “misery part the flux of company,” and the prosperous to look with contempt upon the wretched, is to him not a source of hatred, but of sorrow.

“Most invectively he pierceth thro' The body of the country, city, court,”— but his invectives are half erased with tears. Jaques melancholy is no affectation, though he “loves it better than laughing,” “and can suck it out of a song, as a weazel sucks eggs.” Although his intimate knowledge of mankind, and his sententious power of expression, and his perverse ingenuity in representing things awry, make his company an intellectual feast, so that the Duke says, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits, For then he's full of matter,”

he feels no vain pleasure in the display, and avoids the dispu tation and collision of wit which the Duke so much enjoys. “Jaq. I have been out all this day to avoid him. He is too disputable for my company; I think of as many matters as he, but I give heaven thanks, and make no boast of them.”

He is as far from being unsocial as he is from being really

misanthropic. He delights in the gay Amiens and his songs, though he does suck melancholy from them. He fancies Orlando, sees no fault in him, except “to be in love,” and invites his companionship “to rail against our mistress the world and all our misery.” He almost solicits friendship with Rosalind; but to Touchstone he cleaves as to a grotesque image of his own thoughts. There is no trace in him of that terrible selfishness which distinguishes melancholy when it has become disease.

The sensual sources of selfishness have been

dried up in him; and the intellectual ones are frozen by his in grain cynicism. He is more disposed to solitude than disputa tion, to silence than intellectual display, seeing that “’tis good to be sad and say nothing.” The most subtle of all vanities, that of mental power, is absent, and the two or three long speeches he makes are but the spontaneous expression of his contemplation. If this contemplation paints itself in sad colours, it is singularly free from personal animosity. This is finely expressed in his reply to the accusation of the Duke, that he would commit sin in chiding sin. “Jaq. Why, who cries out on pride, That can therein tax any private party 2 Doth it not flow as hugely as the sea,

Till that the very weary means do ebb 2 What woman in the city do I name, When that I say, The city-woman bears The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders ?"— The motive for this general censure of vice is, indeed, as wide apart from that of individual slander, as benevolence is from malice. The tenderest love of which the world's history bears record, denounced and unsparingly lashed all vice, but the woman taken in adultery was told to “go and sin no more.”

The Duke always appears unduly severe in his estimate of Jaques' humour. He has accused him of “sullen fits,” of being “compact of jars,” of deriving his disgust of life from used up libertinism ; and after Orlando's famishing appeal for pity and sustenance, he does him the injustice to refer the cause of his sadness to the feeling of personal misery. “Duke S. Thou seest, we are not all alone unhappy : This wide and universal theatre

Presents more woeful pageants than the scene Wherein we play in.” Jaques replies in that epitome of life in twenty-eight lines, describing the seven ages of man, the condensed wisdom of which has become “familiar as household words.”

It affords

a complete, though indirect refutation to the Duke's implied reproach, and distinctly lays the wide basis of his philosophy on human life at large. It is to be remarked that there is neither anger normalice in this description of life. It merely represents the shady side of truth. The weakness of infancy, the pains of education, the woes of love, the dangers of glory, the pedantry of mature authority, the meanness of aged frugality, and the wretchedness of decay, these are the aspects of life given in brief sentences, each of which is like a picture in outline from the pencil of Retzsch, But life has another aspect: infancy has its pleasures of sense and its beauty; boyhood, its game and its fun ; love, its joys ; war, its glory; and age, its honourable worth. Only in the last scene of all, when decay and rottenness claim the yet living ruins of mind and body, is there no redeeming compensation ; “Last scene of all

That ends the strange eventful history, Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” But how few who start in life reach this melancholy part of

the course, more painful to behold perhaps than to endure. Infancy mewling and pewking, or crowing with laughter, is welcome and abundant as flowers in spring, but the living decay of second childhood is a prodigy. The delight which Jaques takes in the quaint humour of Touchstone is partly owing to the attraction which that singular compound of wit and folly has, for one whose curiosity to know all varieties of character is as keen as that of an antiquarian or a naturalist for some strange or new thing, and partly to the satire on human life expressed in the fool's sallies. Touchstone is second only in the aristocracy of Shakespeare's fools, subordinate only to him, hight of Lear, whose younger brother he might well be, more robustin health and coarse in humour, but with the self-same faculty of turning wisdom into folly and folly into wisdom, of levelling pretension by ridicule, and exposing the naked absurdity of false honour. The philosophy of folly is more broad, uncleanly, and rabe laisian in the expression which it receives from Touchstone, than from the fool in Lear, but it is the same in effect, and

as such is delightful to Jaques.

He delights in him, and

entreats the Duke to do so likewise.

“Good my Lord,

like this fellow.” He goes out of his way to counsel him against his false marriage and its effects, when the wood so greenly put together will warp, warp. Jaques indeed displays a greedy appetite for all knowledge of human nature. He hunts after peculiarities and revels in the chase ; as Shakespeare himself must have done, to have

acquired that wonderful collection of game and vermin, which he has transmitted to us in the vast museum of his

dramas. That Jaques, with all his contempt of mankind in general, really loves man in the particular, is proved by his last speech, “Jaq. Sir, by your patience; If I heard you rightly, The Duke hath put on a religious life, And thrown into neglect the pompous court'

Jaq de B. He hath. Jaq. To him will I : out of these convertites There is much matter to he heard and learn'd.—

You to your former honour I bequeath ; [To Duke S. Your patience, and your virtue, well deserves it:— You [to Orlando] to a love, that your true faith doth merit: You [to Oliver] to your land, and love, and great allies:— You [to Silvius] to a long and well-deserved bed :— And you [to Touchstone] to wrangling; for thy loving voyage Is but for two months victual'd :-So to your pleasures;

I am for other than for dancing measures.” In this he does full justice to all, even to poor Touchstone, whose perverse match he has not been able to prevent. If he is not for dancing measures, it is because the gay cloak of ceremonious amusement would conceal that which he hungers after, the heart of man ; because it would afford a less fruitful field of observation than the words and works of

the Duke, so recently converted from the wicked enjoyment of worldly power. Jaques himself has no want of belief in human goodness, and in his own heart there is so much of it that he is quite unable to support consistently, the part of scoffer, much less that of misanthrope. “With too much knowledge for the sceptic's side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride, He hangs between ;” between his general theory of man, painted in the sombre colours of his own emotional sadness, and his love of indi

vidual men. Instigated not less by his own goodness of heart than by his profound knowledge of the strength and weak ness of men, their good and evil, their virtue and vice, mixed human nature receives from him more pity than contempt.

Jaques leaves upon my mind the impression, that he was absolutely sane. In him judgment remained master of the direction of thought, and the dilatation of feeling. It is true he cherished his melancholy, but if he had thought fit to do so, he retained the power to oppose, if not to repress it. Herein appears to exist the psychical distinction between the sane and the insane melancholist; a distinction, which it

may often be very difficult, if not impossible to establish, but the only one which can be safely propounded, and which must be constantly borne in mind, and sought for, even when it cannot be found. The still more essential difference, that in one case there is cerebral disease, and in the other there is not,

can only be proved by the symptoms of disease, which are often obscure or concealed.

But if Jaques was sane, it cannot also be said that he was

safe. The voluntary indulgence of melancholy is a perilous experiment. Health may carry a man through it, as it will carry one through the miasm of a marsh reeking with ague, or through the pestilential breath of a fever ward. But if under any change of circumstances health should fail, or the virulence of the poison be increased, the resistance would in one case, as in the other, be eventually overpowered. If Jaques had fallen on the bed of sickness, or under the dark shadow of real grief, it is probable that his fantastic melancholy would have been converted into the melancholia of disease, which, assimilating all things into itself, would first have defied, and finally have subjugated the reason, and have given him cause to exclaim with Messala:

“Oh, hateful error, melancholy’s child, Why dost thou shew to the apt thoughts of men, The things that are not.”

There are few words which have been used both by Shake speare and others in such various and different senses as melancholy. The history of words is the history of thought, and a complete account of the life and adventures of this word, from its birth in Greek physics, its development through philo sophy and poetry, to its present state of adult vigour in the prose of every-day life, would be an interesting exercitation, but neither an easy nor a brief one. Originally employed to express a medical theory of the ancients on the origin of madness, it has singularly enough been used to denote the most opposite emotional states. Choler signifies anger, a meaning upon which Shakespeare frequently quibbles; but melancholer, black choler, means the opposite of anger, namely, emotional depression. It has however only recently settled into this signification. The learned Prichard asserts that the ancient writers attached to it no idea of despondency, but only that of madness in general. Dr. Daniel Tuke, however, points out that in this opinion, Prichard has not displayed his usual accuracy. “Hippocrates, in one of his aphorisms says, “If fear or distress continue for a long time, this is a symptom of melancholy.’ And in other places he distinguished melan choly from mania, by the absence of violence ; at other times, however, he applies the word to madness in general. Modern writers before Esquirol used the word melancholy, to convey the idea of derangement on some particular point, whether accompanied by gloom or mirth. Thus Cullen included under melancholy ‘hallucinations about the prosperous' as well as ‘the dangerous condition of the body; and Dr. Good speaks of ‘a self-complacent melancholy.” Other writers appear to have used the term in a non-medical sense, with equal diversity of meaning. Thus Henry More makes melancholy synonymous with enthusiasm.

“It is a strong temptation with a melancholist when he feels a storm of devotion and zeal come upon him like a mighty wind— all that excess of zeal and affection, and fluency of words is most palpably to be resolved into the power of melancholy, which is a kind of natural inebriation”—“the vapour and fumes of melancholy partake of the nature of wine.”

Milton uses the word melancholy in the sense of contem plative thought, and invokes and deifies the emotion in Il Penseroso :

“But hail thou goddess, sage and holy, Hail divinest melancholy.” Since then the term has been gradually settling down into its present meaning of emotional dejection. It is not however properly used even now to signify a morbid state, unless periphrasis for that purpose be made use of ; and care should be taken, which is not always done, to distinguish between melancholy and melancholia, the latter being the proper technical term applied to a form of mental disease. Shakespeare uses the word melancholy with many modi fications in its meaning, but with far less of laxity than that employed by other authors, and in a sense more approaching that of melancholia. In “Love's Labour Lost,” the grandi loquent Spaniard in his letters to the King uses the term in

its strictly medical sense :

“Besieged with sable-coloured melancholy, I did commend the black oppressing humour to the most wholesome physic of thy health giving air.” In the following scene the question is actually mooted, though unfortunately not determined, of the difference between sadness and melancholy. “Arm. Boy, what sign is it, when a man of great spirit grows melancholy % Moth. A great sign, sir, that he will look sad. Arm. Why, sadness is one and the self-same thing, dear imp. Moth. No, no ; O lord, sir, no.

Arm. How canst thou part sadness and melancholy, my tender juvenal Moth. By a familiar demonstration of the working, my tough senior.” King John, in that fine scene where he tempts Hubert to the murder of his nephew says, “Or if that surly spirit melancholy, Had baked thy blood, and made it heavy-thick, Which else runs trickling up and down the veins, Making that idiot, laughter, keep men's eyes, And strain their cheeks to idle merriment.”

In Twelfth Night it is supposed to perform another culinary process. Fabian says, “If I lose a scruple of this sport, let me be boiled to death with melancholy.” In Taming the Shrew, the physicians are said to recommend the pleasant comedy to Christopher Sly, on the grounds that, “Seeing too much sadness hath congeal’d your blood, And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy,

Therefore they thought it good you hear a play, And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,

Which bars a thousand harms, and lengthens life.” In Viola's touching description of the effects of concealed love, the black spirit is made to assume a new livery, in a manner which proves Shakespeare to have been conversant

with the appearances at least of chlorosis or green sickness, the febris amatoria as it has also been called, R “She never told her love,

But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,

Feed on her damask cheek : she pin'd in thought, And, with a green and yellow melancholy, She sat, like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief.”

The alliance, or rather the resemblance, existing between pride and melancholy, is noted in Troilus and Cressida. Speaking of Achilles, the enquiry is made “Is he not sick?” Ajax replies:

“Yes, lion sick of a proud heart: You may call it melan choly, if you will favour the man ; but by my head it is pride.”

But the melancholy which approaches most nearly to that of Jaques is that of Antonio, the merchant of Venice.


his noble simplicity he does not parade it like Jaques, who rather prides himself in the sable plumage of his disposition. Antonio merely calls his depression sadness, and attempts not to account for it.

“Ant. In sooth, I know not why I am so sad; It wearies me ; you say, it wearies you ; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn ; And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,

That I have much ado to know myself.” His friends endeavour to account for the emotional pheno menon in various ways, more or less unjust. His “mind is tossing on the ocean,” and “fear of misfortune makes him sad,” or he is in love. “Fie, fie " that folly at least is not to be imputed to the staid nobleness of his character. Then it must be constitution and the work of nature; he's sad

because he is not merry; “Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time ;” some will grin at anything, and others will smile at nothing; “Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.” Gratiano is still less complimentary, and attributes the sadness of his friend to the desire to gain the world's opinion for wisdom. The downright unreserved frankness of these men to Antonio is, however, an indirect testimony to the goodness of his heart, and the sweetness of his temper. “Gra. You look not well, signior Antonio; You have too much respect upon the world: They lose it, that do buy it with much care. Believe me, you are marvellously chang'd. A mt. I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;

A stage, where every man must play a part, And mine a sad one. Gra.

Let me play the Fool : Why should a man, whose blood is warm within, Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster 7 Sleep when he wakes 7 and creep into the jaundice By being peevish There are a sort of men, whose visages Do cream and mantle, like a standing pond ; And do a wilful stillness entertain,

With purpose to be dress'd in an opinion Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit ; As who should say, I am Sir Oracle, Amd, when I ope my lips, let no dog bark. +

But fish not with this melancholy bait, For this fool-gudgeon, this opinion.” A most unjust imputation, for there are few characters in

the dramas less self-seeking than that of this princely merchant. The more probable cause of his unexplained melancholy would seem to be that of ennui, arising from unruffled prosperity. Man is not only born to trouble, but a certain amount of it is

good for his mental health. Without some motion of the ele ments, the waters of life stagnate. Antonio's melancholy has its origin in his prosperity, his unselfish disposition, and sweet temper. To have spat upon old Shylock's gaberdine was as little indication of the contrary, as to have kicked a vicious cur, when he was worrying helpless children. He delivered R” those who made plaint to him from the Jew's forfeitures, and he despised and spat upon the wretched usurer. When real trouble comes upon him, his melancholy disappears. He will gladly release himself from the penalties of the bond. The apparent submission to his fate, because he is “a tainted wether

of the flock,” and will by death avoid “the hollow eye and rumpled brow, and age of poverty,” all this is spoken in the magnanimous desire to relieve the wretchedness of his friends;

but when the wealth, of which he was formerly so careless, is regained, there is no expression of melancholy in its re ception.

“Sweet lady, ye have given me life and living.” Monotonous prosperity is the cause of his morbid sadness; a strong dose of adversity its cure. The more wholesome condition is that of the middle state prayed for by the wise Agur, “give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me.”

The melancholy of the Queen in King Richard the Second bears a strong resemblance to that of Antonio. A new element, however, is added, in the vague apprehension of coming evil. The sadness of the Queen, like that of Antonio, is partly constitutional, and arises in the midst of prosperity; but unlike it, it does not rest in the present; but throws its dark shadow into the future. This union of sadness and fear is constantly met with among the insane ; very frequently, indeed, groundless fear is the sole apparent cause of melancholia, or rather its prominent feature. In the following passage, the Queen's explanation of the origin of sadness from fear, and Bushy's rejoinder upon the origin of fear from sadness, is a wonderful example of psycho logical acumen. It is remarkable that in Richard's Queen, as in Antonio, the real stroke of adversity is described as

adverse to the melancholy which had free sway in prosperous times, for when the King is led in humiliation through London, the Queen's spirit is roused, and she encourages her depressed Consort to lion-like resistance. “Bushy. Madam, your majesty is too much sad : You promis'd, when you parted with the King,

To lay aside life-harming heaviness, And entertain a cheerful disposition.

Queen. To please the King, I did ; to please myself, I cannot do it; yet I know no cause

Why I should welcome such a guest as grief, Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest As my sweet Richard : yet, again, methinks, Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune's womb, Is coming towards me; and my inward soul

With nothing trembles: at something it grieves More than with parting from my lord the King.

Bushy. Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, Which shew like grief itself, but are not so :

For sorrow's eye, glazed with blinding tears, Divides one thing entire to many objects, Like perspectives, which rightly gaz'd upon Distinguish proper form, but eyed awry, Shew nothing but confusion,--So your majesty, Looking awry upon your lord's departure, Finds shapes of griefs more than himself to wail ; Which, look'd on as it is, is nought but shadows

Of what it is not. Then, thrice-gracious queen, More than your lord's departure weep not ; more's not seen ; Or if it be, ’t is with false sorrow's eye, Which, for things true, weeps things imaginary. Queen. It may be so ; but yet my inward soul Persuades me it is otherwise :

Howe'er it be,

I cannot but be sad ; so heavy sad, As—though, in thinking, on no thought I think—

Makes me with heavy nothing faint and shrink.” In the above quotation, I have ventured with diffidence to alter the lines in italics from the original, in which, by some accident of writing or printing, the sense appears to have been perverted to the very contrary of that which it seems to me evident that it was intended to convey. In the original, the perspective or telescope when rightly gazed upon, is said to shew confusion, and when eyed awry, to distinguish form aright; a statement opposed both to the context and to the fact. The text in both Collier's and Knight's editions stands thus: “Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon, Shew nothing but confusion,-eyed awry,

Distinguish form : so your sweet majesty,” &c. In the endeavour to restore that which appears to me the true meaning, I have omitted one word and inserted another,

which are needful to maintain the rythm, but are not essen tial to the sense.

The old authors commonly used the word ‘perspective' for telescope, and by Bishop South, the word is not only used in this sense, but is employed in a simile closely parallel to the above; disturbed position being substituted for disturbed refraction.

“It being as impossible to keep the judging faculty steady in such a case, as it would be to view a thing distinctly and perfectly, through a perspective glass held by a shaking paralytic hand.” Vol. iii., sermon 2. Thus, in different characters, Shakespeare has refered to melancholy, as the cause, or the consequence, or the accom

paniment of various and very different emotions. The villain-melancholy described by John, the love-melancholy by Viola, the melancholy of pride in Achilles, of prosperity in Antonio, of constitution and timidity in the Queen of Richard II, of contemplation in Jaques, have their several anatomies opened to view with more skill, if less labour, than that employed by the quaint and learned diligence of old Burton, the professed dissector of the passion. In Cymbeline, this diversity of melancholy’s habitation is positively though poetically expressed : “Oh, melancholy! Whoever yet could find thy bottom 7 find The ooze, to show what coast thy sluggish carack Might easiliest harbour in " There is but one step from melancholy to music. There is but one step from delicacy of pleasure to that of pain, and from that of pain to pleasure. Highly strung sen sibility is the common term, or rather, the common condition of both. Internal or external circumstance, the events or humours of life, determine to which side the balance shall

temporarily or permanently incline. According to existing state or bias, the same thing may cause or allay emotional depression.

This is most remarkable in the influence ex

ercised by music upon persons of melancholic tendency. Melancholia may be said to be the minor key of the soul, and, in finely strung organisms, the internal vibration re sponds to the external concord of sweet sounds. It is only the uncontemplative man of action, like Harry Hotspur, who would

“rather be a kitten, and cry mew, Than one of those same metre ballad-mongers.”

Jaques, on the contrary, “can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weazel sucks eggs,” and finds as much enjoyment in the process. His delight in music may be correlated with many passages in the other dramas to the same effect.

The most obvious and beautiful of these perhaps are to be found in the Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night. In the former, not only is the sentiment expressed, but the reason for it is given. “Jessica. I am never merry when I hear sweet music, Lorenzo. The reason is, your spirits are attentive.” This reason is illustrated by the effect which a trumpet sound produces upon a herd of wild colts, and the conclusion is indicated that the melancholy moved by music is that of sensibility, and is opposed to the darker melancholy which is referred to by King John as that fit for a base action.

"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted:"

In Twelfth Night, the Duke uses music with another psychological purpose:

"If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die."

The same idea is expressed by Cleopatra,

"Give me some music, music moody food
Of us that trade in love."

It is invoked by Queen Catherine to dispel sadness:

"Take thy lute, wench; my soul grows sad with troubles:
Sing and disperse them if thou canst."

In some sad moods, however, it cannot be endured, as when in deep misery Richard II. exclaims,

"This music mads me, let it sound no more;
For though it have help'd mad men to their wits,
In me it seems, it will make wise men mad."

But enough of this: it would be wearisome to quote all Shakespeare's references to this most refined of sensual pleasures, of which it cannot be doubted that he was passionately fond. Collins' Ode, in which music is made to express in turn the voice of all the passions, does not indicate so sensitive an ear, and so true an appreciation of its influence on the mind, as that which pervades the dramas of Shakespeare.