Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Shakespeare Notes

Shakespeare Notes.

All's Well that Ends Well.

The First Lord is worth attending to. One could have thought that his speeches and those of the Second Lord would have been interchangeable; but he is a very definite, quick-cut character. Take, for example, the talk between the two in Act IV Scene III. The Second Lord asks him to let what he is going to tell dwell darkly with him.

First Lord: ‘When you have spoken it, 'tis dead, and I am the grave of it.’

And then his comment:

‘How mightily sometimes we make us comforts of our losses.’

And this is most excellent:

‘The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not; and our faults would despair if they were not cherished by our virtues.’

I like the temper of that extremely—and does it not reveal the man? Disillusioned and yet—amused—worldly, and yet he has feeling. But I see him as—quick, full of Life, and marvellously at his ease with his company, his surroundings, his own condition, and the whole small, solid earth. He is like a man on shipboard who is inclined to straddle just to show (but not to show off) how well his sea-legs serve him….

The Clown —“a shrewd knave and an unhappy”—comes to tell the Countess of the arrival of Bertram and his soldiers.

page 200

‘Faith, there's a dozen of 'em, with delicate fine hats and most courteous feathers, that bow and nod the head at every man.’

In that phrase there is all the charm of soldiers on prancing, jingling, dancing horses. It is a veritable little pageant. With what an air the haughty (and intolerable) Bertram wears his two-pile velvet patch—with what disdain his hand in the white laced French glove tightens upon the tight rein of his silver charger. Wonderfully sunny, with a little breeze. And the Clown, of course, sees the humour of this conceit….

Parolles is a lovable creature, a brave little cock-sparrow of a ruffian.

… ‘I am now, sir, muddied in Fortune's mood, and smell somewhat strong of her strong displeasure.’

I must say Helena is a terrifying female. Her virtue, her persistence, her pegging away after the odious Bertram (and disguised as a pilgrim—so typical!) and then telling the whole story to that good widow-woman! And that tame fish Diana. As to lying in Diana's bed and enjoying the embraces meant for Diana—well, I know nothing more sickening. It would take a respectable woman to do such a thing. The worst of it is I can so well imagine … for instance acting in precisely that way, and giving Diana a present afterwards. What a cup of tea the widow and D. must have enjoyed while it was taking place, or did D. at the last moment want to cry off the bargain? But to forgive such a woman! Yet Bertram would. There's an espèce de mothers- page 201 boyisme in him which makes him stupid enough for anything.

The Old King is a queer old card—he seems to have a mania for bestowing husbands. As if the one fiasco were not enough, Diana has no sooner explained herself than he begins:

“If thou be'st yet a fresh uncropped flower
Choose thou thy husband, and I'll pay thy dower.”

I think Shakespeare must have seen the humour of that. It just—at the very last moment of the play, puts breath into the old fool.


Coleridge on Hamlet. ‘He plays that subtle trick of pretending to act only when he is very near being what he acts.’

… So do we all begin by acting and the nearer we are to what we would be the more perfect our disguise. Finally there comes the moment when we are no longer acting; it may even catch us by surprise. We may look in amazement at our no longer borrowed plumage. The two have merged; that which we put on has joined that which was; acting has become action. The soul has accepted this livery for its own after a time of trying on and approving.

To act … to see ourselves in the part—to make a larger gesture than would be ours in life—to declaim, to pronounce, to even exaggerate, to persuade ourselves (?) or others (?) To put ourselves in heart? To do more than is necessary in order that we may accomplish ce qu'il faut.

page 202

And then Hamlet is lonely. The solitary person always acts.

But I could write a thousand pages about Hamlets.

Mad Scene. If one looks at it with a cold eye is really very poor. It depends entirely for its effect upon wispy Ophelia. The cardboard King and Queen are of course only lookers-on. They don't care a halfpenny. I think the Queen is privately rather surprised at a verse or two of her songs…. And who can believe that a solitary violet withered when that silly fussy old pomposity died? And who can believe that Ophelia really loved him, and wasn't thankful to think how peaceful breakfast would be without his preaching?

The Queen's speech after Ophelia's death is exasperating to one's sense of poetic truth. If no one saw it happen—if she wasn't found until she was drowned, how does the Queen know how it happened? Dear Shakespeare has been to the Royal Academy … for his picture.

Miranda and Juliet.

To say that Juliet and Miranda might very well be one seems to me to show a lamentable want of perception. Innocent, early-morning-of-the-world Miranda, that fair island still half dreaming in a golden haze—lapped about with little joyful hurrying waves of love…. And small, frail Juliet, leaning upon the dark—a flower that is turned to the moon and closes, reluctant, at chill dawn. It is not even her Spring. It is her time for dreaming: too soon for love. page 203 There is a Spring that comes before the real Spring and so there is a love—a false Love. It is incarnate in Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet.

When the old nurse cackles of leaning against the dove-house wall it's just as though a beam of sunlight struck through the curtains and discovered her sitting there in the warmth with a tiny staggerer. One positively feels the warmth of the sunny wall….

Twelfth Night.

Malvolio's “or … play with some rich jewel.” There speaks the envious servant-heart that covets his master's possessions. I see him stroking the cloth with a sigh as he puts away his master's coat—holding up to the light or to his fingers the jewel before he snaps it into its ivory case. I see the servant copying the master's expression as he looks in the master's mirror.

And that … “having risen from a day bed where I have left Olivia sleeping.” Oh, doesn't that reveal the thoughts of all those strange creatures who attend upon the lives of others!

Anthony and Cleopatra.

Act I. Scene I.

“The triple pillars of the world …”

“The wide arch of the ranged empire …”

“To-night we'll wander through the streets and note

The qualities of people.” (That is so true a pleasure of lovers.)

page 204

Act I. Scene 2.

“A Roman thought hath struck him …”
“Ah, then we bring forth weeds
When our quick minds lie still …”

Enobarbus constantly amazes me, e.g. his first speeches with Anthony about Cleopatra's celerity in dying.

“Your old smock brings forth a new petticoat.”

Act I. Scene 3. Like Scene 2. (I) “Saw you my lord?” (2) “Where is he?” The married woman. There's jealousy! And then her fury that he's not more upset at Fulvia's death!

‘Now I know how you'll behave when I die!’

These are beautiful lines of Anthony's:

“Our separation so abides and flies
That thou, residing here, goes yet with me,
And I, hence fleeing, here remain with thee.”

Act I. Scene 4.

“Like to a vagabond flag upon the stream
Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide
To rot itself with motion.”

Marvellous words! I can apply them. There is a short story. And then it seems that the weed gets caught up and it sinks; it is gone out to sea and lost. But comes a day, a like tide, a like occasion, and it reappears more sickeningly rotten still! Shall he? Will he? Are there any letters? No letters? The post? Does he miss me? No. Then sweep it all out to sea. Clear the water for ever! Let me write this one day.

“His cheek so much as lanked not.” (Economy of utterance.)

page 205

Act III. The short scene between Anthony and the Soothsayer is very remarkable. It explains the tone of Caesar's remarks to Anthony…. And Anthony's concluding speech shows his uneasiness at the truth of it. He'll go to Egypt. He'll go where his weakness is praised for strength. There's a hankering after Egypt between the lines.

Scene 5. “Tawny-finned fishes … their shiny jaws….” and the adjectives seem part of the nouns when Shakespeare uses them. They grace them so beautifully, attend and adorn so modestly, and yet with such skill. It so often happens with lesser writers that we are more conscious of the servants than we are of the masters, and quite forget that their office is to serve, to enlarge, to amplify the power of the master.

“Ram thou thy fruitful tidings in my ears
That long time have been barren.”

Good lines! And another example of the choice of the place of words. I suppose it was instinctive. But ‘fruitful’ seems to be just where it ought to be, to be resolved (musically speaking) by the word ‘barren’ One reads ‘fruitful’ expecting ‘barren’ almost from the “sound-sense.”

“‘But yet’ is as a jailor to bring forth
Some monstrous malefactor.”

There's matter indeed! Does not that give the pause that always follows those hateful words. ‘But yet’—and one waits. And both look towards the slowly opening door. What is coming out? And sometimes there's a sigh of relief after. Well, it was nothing so very awful. The gaol- page 206 mouse, so to speak, comes mousing through and cleans his face with his paw.

“I am pale, Charmian.”

Reminds me of Mary Shelley. “Byron had never seen any one so pale as I.”

“Since I myself
Have given myself the cause.”

What does that mean exactly? That she sent Anthony away? or let Anthony go?

“In praising Anthony I have dispraised Caesar …
I am paid for it now.”

A creature like Cleopatra always expects to be paid for things.