Page images
PDF
EPUB

the senses; in the mythology of the ancients, as it glows Tesplendent in the pages of Ovid, they found the Credo and the Gloria in Excelsis of the new life. Could they have lighted first on Homer and Pindar and the Attic Three, things might have been different; but it was Ovid, the brilliant, the sensuous, least spiritual of the ancients, who became the poet's poet, the painter's poet, the dominant influence in the art of the Renaissance. It is the mythology of Ovid that crowds the pages of Boccaccio and Chaucer; it is the divinities of Ovid that elbow the virgins and saints in every picture-gallery of Europe; it was to Ovid that Shakespeare, called of some the ‘child of the Renaissance,' turned for the classical allusions which the taste of the sixteenth century demanded in its literature.

It has been the aim of the present study to collect and examine systematically the very numerous allusions to classical mythology in the authentic works of Shakespeare, with the purpose of determining the sources from which he drew his acquaintance with the matter, the conception which he entertained of it, and the extent to which it became a vital element in his art. It is the purpose of this introduction to summarize the more important results of the study, and to frame certain generalizations on the basis of the facts detailed in the pages which follow.

In considering the problem of sources, it is necessary to distinguish first of all between the definite, detailed allusions, such as imply a more or less accurate acquaintance with the myth alluded to, and the vaguer, more general allusions, such as might be made by any fairly intelligent man, though he had never read a line of the classics. For example, a mere mention of the labors of Hercules indicates no real acquaintance with classic myth; but an allusion to the death of Hercules with mention of the poisoned shirt of Nessus and the fate of the page Lichas, lodged by his master on the horns of the moon," is possible only to one who has read

* Ant. 4. 12. 43-5.

[blocks in formation]

a detailed account of the fable, such as that given by Ovid or Seneca. Though the number of these definite allusions in Shakespeare is smaller than that of the vague ones, they are yet sufficiently numerous to admit of satisfactory conclusions. Of these allusions for which a definite source can be assigned, it will be found that an overwhelming majority are directly due to Ovid, while the remainder, with few exceptions, are from Vergil. The vaguer allusions, though admitting of no confident attribution, are nearly all of such a character that they might have been drawn from Ovid or Vergil. In other words, a man familiar with these two authors, and with no others, would be able to make all the mythological allusions contained in the undisputed works of Shakespeare, barring some few exceptions to be considered later. Throughout, the influence of Ovid is at least four times as great as that of Vergil; the whole character of Shakespeare's mythology is essentially Ovidian.

Of the particular poems of Ovid, it is but natural that the Metamorphoses should furnish Shakespeare with the bulk of his mythology. With nearly all of the important episodes of the poem, with each of the fifteen books, save perhaps the twelfth and fifteenth, his familiarity is clearly demonstrable. The highly dramatic quality of the Heroides must surely have made them congenial reading, and allusions to the myth of Ariadne, to Leda, and to the dream of Hecuba that she had brought forth a firebrand, indicate that the work was not unfamiliar. In the Taming of the Shrew there is even a direct Latin quotation from the first epistle;- but the uncertain extent of Shakespeare's authorship in this play makes the bit of evidence less conclusive. From the Fasti Shakespeare certainly drew much of his Rape of Lucrece, and to the same work is probably to be referred an allusion to Arion on the dolphin's back in Twelfth Night. From the Amores is taken the Latin motto

Shr. 3. I. 28-9. Cf. Her. 1. 33-4.

'I had reached this conclusion independently before reading the convincing examination of the sources of the poem by Wilhelm Ewig in Angl. 22.

prefixed to Venus and Adonis; while the Ars Amatoria may explain Shakespeare's acquaintance with the intrigue of Mars and Venus, and Juliet's statement: 'At lovers' perjuries, they say, Jove laughs. The only positive evidence of indebtedness to the Tristia is found in a mention of Medea and Absyrtus in the doubtfully authentic II Henry VI.

Sharply contrasted with the frequency and variety of Shakespeare's references to Ovid is the comparative paucity and narrow scope of his Vergilian allusion. Perhaps the restraint and delicacy of Vergil's art are less in harmony with the temper of the Elizabethan age; perhaps his story lends itself less readily to casual allusion. Only three episodes of the Æneid seem to have made a deep impression on Shakespeare—the account of the fall of Troy with the stratagem of Sinon and the death of Priam, the grief of the forsaken Dido, and the infernal machinery of Vergil's Hades-episodes all of them which savor more or less of the sensational, and thus approach the prevailing taste of Shakespeare's day. Shakespeare is not content, however, with merely selecting sensational episodes; he sets to work deliberately to heighten the sensationalism. The truth of this statement is at once apparent if one compares the account of Priam's death in the player's speech in Hamlet with the lines of the second book of the Æneid on which it is founded; but since Shakespeare's authorship of these lines has been disputed, it may be proved by an equally characteristic example from the Merchant of Venice,

Lorenzo says:

The moon shines bright

In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks, and waft her love

To come again to Carthage. * Rom. 2. 2. 92-3. Cf. Art. 1. 633, but see s. V. Jupiter. As bear. ing on Shakespeare's acquaintance with the poem, compare Lucentio's words in Shr. 4. 2. 8: 'I read that I profess, the Art to Love.'

•Cf. infra s. v. Priam. • Merch. 5. I. 9-12.

[blocks in formation]

Vergil's Dido is left disconsolate at Carthage; but for this particular scene the Æneid may be searched in vain. So essentially-un-Vergitian is it, that - Matthew Arnold-quotes the lines in his Essay on Celtie Literature as an example of what he is pleased to call natural magic,' and which he attributes to the Celtic-influenee on English literature: - One need not, however, go to the tetts for this particular

passage: it is closely imitated from the tenth epistle of Ovid's Heroides, where Ariadne, discovering the fight of Theseus, goes down by moonlight to the wild rocky shore of her island, and after calling in vain for her love, binds her white veil to a long wand, and waves it above her head, that ‘though he hear not, he may at least perceive her with his eyes.' Chaucer has adapted these lines in his legend of Ariadne, and it is of course possible that Shakespeare read them there; but wherever read, they appealed to him as Ovid always appealed. The instance is a striking illustration of the essentially Ovidian character of Shakespeare's mythology:

Of Latin influence other than that of Ovid and Vergil there is very little trace. It might have been expected that the dramas of Seneca, dealing, many of them, with mythological subjects, and teeming with mythological allusion, would be found responsible for some of Shakespeare's references; for they were popular in the Elizabethan era, and available in English translation. But of such influence I have discovered but two possible instances, neither of which is conclusive. Now and then, too, one is tempted to discover a trace of Horace or Martial; but the instances are very rare and far from convincing.

But what part do the Greek poets play? Shakespeare has left no sonnet to tell us how he felt on first looking into Chapman's Homer; but that he did look into it is proved by the fact that several incidents in Troilus and Cressida are founded on the Iliad, and that in three or four instances

*Legend of Good Women 1185 ff.

*Cf. infra, s. v. Hercules. See also Cunliffe, The Influence of Seneca on Elisabethan Tragedy, London, 1893.

[ocr errors]

a mythological allusion must be referred to the same source. That he found in it no undiscovered sea of thought, that its influence on his conception of classical mythology was all but nothing, the exceeding paucity of such allusions abund

antly indicates. Of any other Greek influence there is not Whe slightest hint. i Mr. John Churton Collins, in a series

of articles in the Fortnightly for 1903, has tried to show that Shakespeare was familiar with the Greek dramatists in Latin translation. At the time of going to press, the last article of his series has not yet appeared; but in the articles already published I find no evidence sufficient to

overthrow my own belief that he was totally unacquainted with them. It is at any rate certain that he no where alludes

to any of the characters or episodes of the Greek drama; that they exerted no influence whatever on his conception of mythology. The all but total disregard of the genealogies and family relationships of the divinities, which appear so prominently in Spenser and Milton, shows that Shakespeare could not have been familiar with Hesiod.

I do not propose to enter the lists of those who since the days of Farmer have disputed back and forth whether or not Shakespeare was able to read Ovid and Vergil in the original Latin. A number of verbal correspondences between Shakespeare and Golding's Ovid have been noticed by the critics, and my own studies have added materially to the list. That he was familiar with this excellent version of the Metamorphoses is beyond question: but that he also read the poem in the original is in the highest degree prob

*Cf. infra s. v. Mars.

* Further on I shall notice instances of such allusion in it., which I do not regard as Shakespeare's.

• An admirable summary of the arguments is given by Vr. J. Churton Collins in the articles referred to above. See also the articles by Professor Baynes called What Shakespeare Learned at School, Fraser's Magazine, New Series, Vol. 21.

• Instances of such correspondence more or less convincing are noticed frequently in the pages which follow. See for examples s. v. Actæon, Adonis, Argonauts, Cimmerian, Diana (Hecate), Hiems, Jupiter, Phaeton, Proteus.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »