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  • 7/27/2019 Barnet - Coleridge on Shakespeare's Villains


    George Washington University

    Coleridge on Shakespeare's VillainsAuthor(s): Sylvan BarnetReviewed work(s):Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Winter, 1956), pp. 9-20Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington UniversityStable URL: .Accessed: 07/11/2012 11:01

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  • 7/27/2019 Barnet - Coleridge on Shakespeare's Villains


    Coleridgeon Shakespeare'sVillainsSYLVAN BARNET

    HE Romantic writers have been accused,not merely by theirenemies-the Babbittsand Mores-but even by their friendsand by themselvesof confounding good with evil, of writingso well of the devil becausethey were on the devil'sside, andof leaving the wars of truth so they might uninterruptedlypracticetheir "slender yric gift". But this thesis, of course,isfactitious, and if their ethical standardsdid not always please their fellows ortheir critics,they were none the less concernedwith morality f not with morals.English Romanticcriticismof Shakespearenevertires of remindingus thathe keeps to the high road of morality, and Coleridge,"adverting o the opinionof a Greek writer . . . that none but a good man could be a great poet, . . .concurred, . . and thought, moreover,that moral excellencewas necessarytothe perfectionof the understandingand the taste" (MC, p. 225).1 For Coleridge,then, Shakespeare'smoral nature was never suspect,and the mere fact that theplays delighted successiveaudiences proved, in his view, that they and theirauthor were rich in goodness (but not, he elsewhere indicates, in goodyness[MC, p. 427]), for it is impossible"to keep up any pleasurable nterest in a talein which there is no goodnessof heart" (MC, p. 55). Thus, Coleridge'saestheticsare intimatelyrelatedto his moral values,and we shouldnot be surprised o findthat he is uneasy when in the presenceof severalof the plays which WillardFarnham has recently characterized as representing Shakespeare's"TragicFrontier".Some of the difficulties hat criticsencounterin these dramas,wherethe heroesare so deeply taintedthat they cannot merelybe said to have a tragic"flaw"or to "missthe mark",may owe their origin to the aesthetic nferiorityofthe works themselves,but we can clearlysee that moralityratherthan aesthetics(however intimatelythe two may be related) is the cause of the embarrassmentColeridge exhibits in his remarkson Coriolanusand Timon of Athens. Of thelatter, "his admiration of some parts . . . was unbounded; but he maintainedthat it was, on the whole, a painful and disagreeableproduction,because it gaveonly a disadvantageouspictureof human nature,very inconsistentwith what,he firmly believed,was our greatpoet's real view of the characters f his fellow-creatures. . . Coleridge could not help suspectingthat the subjectmight havebeen taken up under some temporary eeling of vexation and disappointment"(SC, I, 85). Surprisingly,however,Shakespeare's ero-villainswereless of a prob-lem to Coleridge than were the out-and-outvillains. And this was so, not onlybecause the non-heroicvillains act with unmitigated villainy, but also becausethe good characters,whose opinions we must, in general,honor and make our

    1 The abbreviations MC, SC, and BL respectively refer to Coleridge's Miscellaneous Crificism,ed. T. M+.Raysor (London, I935); Coleridge's Shakespearean Criticism, ed. T. M. Raysor (Cam-bridge, Mass., 1936); Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Shawcross (Oxford, i907).

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    10 SHAKESPEAREQUARTERLYown, clearlyindicatetheir disapproval.Moreover,the villain of the Elizabethanstage did not have the reluctanceof his moderncounterpart o revealhis inmostthoughts. Today's theatre-goer,nourished on the predominantly naturalisticdramaof the last fifty years,has difficultyn accepting he unabashedconfessionsof a black heart.And just so, Coleridge,who, like all his contemporaries, ad arelatively slight knowledge of Elizabethan stage conventions, found himselfcontinually disquieted by Shakespeare'svillains. Furthermore,his interest inwhat was laterto be calledpsychologycausedhim to seek in the dramarealisticportrayalsof the workingsof the humanmind.

    But why did villainspose a specialproblem?The answer,perhaps, s partlyto be found in T. E. Hulme's definition of a Romantic as one who does notbelievein the fall of man. In a sense Hulme's statement s just, though Coleridge,when in a theologicalmood, quite literallydid believethat man had fallen andwas in a condition of sin.2 Romanticismis fundamentallyoptimistic,and itsview of man and the universe as essentiallygood leaves little room for thepowers of darkness.Moreover,most philosophic systems tend to exclude thepossibilityof tragedy, if for no other reasonthan that they explain too much,whereas the genuinely tragicpoet'sawarenessand sensitivityexceedhis knowl-edge. The "closed" ystemwhich the philosopherstrivesto createalmostalwaysincludes an explanationof the causeof evil, and once evil has been explained,it rarely can hold its place in tragedy.Romanticism,with its organic view ofnature, with its conceptof a continuallyevolving world, and, most important,with its principleof reconciliationof opposites,is incompatiblewith the tragicview.3Now, Coleridge,the most philosophicof all the English Romantics,wasdeeply attached to these views, and they inform much of his criticism.Hisanalysisof RichardII, for example,with its emphasison the first sceneas con-taining "thegerm of all the afterevents"(SC, I, I53; see alsoI, 68; I, I44; I, I48-149), is based on his view of organicdevelopment,while his descriptionof theend of Romeo and Juliet is indebtedto his conceptof the reconciliationof oppo-sites. "A beautiful close-poetic justice indeed! All are punished! The springand winter meet, and winter assumesthe characterof spring, springthe sadnessof winter"(SC, I, 12).

    That the principleof reconciliationof opposites,if too tenaciouslyheld, isfatal to tragedycan clearlybe seen in the writingsof Goethe.For him, oppositesmeet, good and evil are ultimatelyreconciled,partlybecauseevil is necessary orthe existenceof good, and tragedyceases o exist.Faust is not a tragedy(thoughGoethe called it one) simply because the ending is unconditionallyhappy, andwe are not permittedto have a consciousnessof the waste that Bradleyfindsessentialto tragedybecausewe aretold to rejoice n nature'smethodof develop-ing man through a devious course.' Coleridge, fortunately,never allowed his

    2 See Arthur 0. Lovejoy,"Coleridgeand Kant'sTwo Worlds,"ELH, VII (1940), 341-362.3For a concise bibliographyof definitions of Romanticism,see Ernest Bernbaum, Guide

    through the Romantic Movement (2nd ed., New York, 1949), pp. 315-3i7. A recent excellentaccount is Morse Peckham's "Toward a Theory of Romanticism," PMLA, LXVI (195i), 5-23.

    4 Goethe'spositionis summed up simply and accuratelyby the late Karl ViEtor:"Goethewasfond of gentle endings. . . . An irreconcilablyragiccase did not interesthim, and in general ...the irreconcilable eemed to him 'quite absurd'" (Goethe the Poet [Cambridge,Mass., 1949], p.3i6). See also Erich Heller's essay, "Goetheand the Avoidanceof Tragedy", in his The Disin-herited Mind (Cambridge, 1952).

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    COLERIDGEON SHAKESPEARE'SVILLAINS IIphilosophicalopinions to intrude quite so obviouslyinto his dramaticcriticism,but one cannot help noticing the relative lack of attention to the ends of thetragedieshe discusses,a lack which cannotmerelybe explainedby insisting thatthe Romantics were interestedin characterand not in plot. The plain truthseems to be that Coleridgewas not at ease in discussingtragedy,however per-ceptive he may have been as a student of poetry. His comments, for example,on the Player'sSpeech in Hamlet, or on the opening act of that play, show anacute mind ranging over material which it finds congenial, in contrast to hisfew half-heartedendeavors to study the tragic outcomes of the plays whoseopening scenes he found so fascinating.Nor can this lack of attention to thecatastrophesbe explained away by invoking Coleridge'sdilatorytemperament,for the problemis not that he nevergot to the ends of the plays,but ratherthatfor the most part he preferredto talk-on the platform and off-about theirbeginnings.

    Coleridge'sattitude toward evil, and specificallytoward Shakespeare'svil-lains, entails further complications.He was a philosopher,and his aestheticswere closely bound up with his metaphysicsas well as his ethics. His view ofartisticcreation,briefly, s this: the poet portrays he universal deal through theparticular."Shakespeare'sharacters, rom Othello and Macbethdown to Dog-berry and the Gravedigger,may be termed ideal realities. They are not thethings themselves,so much as abstractsof the things, which a greatmind takesinto itself, and there naturalises hem to its own conception.Take Dogberry:are no important truths there conveyed, no admirablelessons taught, and novaluable allusions made to reigning follies, which the poet saw must for everreign? He is not the creatureof the day, to disappearwith the day, but the rep-resentativeand abstractof truthwhich must ever be true,and of humourwhichmust everbe humourous" SC, II, i62). Coleridge s heresettingfortha doctrineof Ideas which is obviously Platonic in origin. And though he alludes to an"idea"of folly, his philosophicprinciples,especiallyhis adherence o the doctrineof reconciliation,will not allow him to believein an "idea"of villainy,any morethan Plato, in the Parmenides,would allow that there couldbe an "idea"of dirt.

    One more point must be added to what is alreadya long preamble o a tale.The artist,accordingto Coleridge,employs one of two processes n the creativeoperation.The dramatistmay create a characteron the basis of his limitedobservation, hat is, select and combinedetailsfrom personswith whom he hascome into contact,or he may employ the superior method of constructinghischaracters rom aspectsof his infinitely variedself. This lattermethod was theone generallyemployedby Shakespeare,according o Coleridge."It was Shake-speare'sprerogativeto have the universalwhich is potentially n eachparticular,opened out to him in the homo generalis,not as an abstractionof observationfrom a varietyof men, but as the substancecapableof endlessmodifications,ofwhich his own personalexistencewas but one, and to use this one as the eye thatbeheldthe other,and as the tongue thatcouldconveythe discovery" MC, p. 44).Coleridgegoes on to clarifyhis point and to warn the dramatistagainst draw-ing from his particularexistence.What is advocated s a creativeprocesswhichoperatesnot on a thing merelyobserved,and thus only partiallyknown, but onan aspectof the proteancreatorhimself. Thus "Shakespearewas able] to paint

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    I2 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLYtruly, and accordingto the colouringof nature,a vast numberof personagesbythe simple force of meditation:he had only to imitate certainpartsof his owncharacter,or to exaggeratesuch as existed in possibility,and they were at oncetrue to nature,and fragmentsof the divine mind thatdrewthem" (SC, II, II7) .5Over and over again in Coleridge'sShakespeare riticismwe hearthat the trulygreat artist-and Shakespeares for Coleridge,of course,the greatest-contains aspirit "whichhas the same ground with nature",and that the artistwho merelyimitates externalnature produces"masksonly, not forms breathinglife" (BL,II, 258). In short, "Shakespearedescribesfeelings which no observationcouldteach.Shakespearemade himself all characters;he left out partsof himself, andsuppliedwhat might havebeen in himself"(SC, II, I7) *6

    We have now, however briefly, journeyed through the narrows and thesteeps of the relevantparts of Coleridge'saesthetictheory, and are at last in aposition to see the problemhe hasposedfor himself with regardto Shakespeare'svillains. If the finest method of creationis by meditationupon some aspects ofthe self, if the great artistportraysonly what he knows, and the surest key toknowledge is not observationbut a study of the particular n the universalself,and-most important-if "to know is to resemble,when we speakof objectsoutof ourselves, even as within ourselves to learn is, according to Plato, only torecollect" BL, IV, 259), then how can we explainShakespeare's stoundingsuc-cess in portrayingvillains? Here is the dilemmain which Coleridgefound him-self, and Coleridge'sattemptsat a solution are what will occupy our attention.Never one to permit the rulesof consistency o hamperhim, and unashamedtooffer the thought of a moment as the productof Truth long sought and at lastcaptured,Coleridgehit upon a varietyof possibleexplanations.The one premise that Coleridge never alters, nor is ever inclined in theslightest to alter,is the moral nature of Shakespeare,or he firmly believedthata poet's"heartmust be pure"(MC, p. 427; see alsoSC, II, i6; II, 34-38).Perhapsthe simplest way of solving the problem, then, was to deny that there was aproblem, and this is, in effect, what Coleridge did when he announced,in thecourse of a lecture in i8ii, that Shakespeare"becameOthello, and thereforespoke like him. Shakespearebecame,in fact,all beings but the vicious"(SC, II,204). Taken at its face value, and in conjunctionwith some of the ideas alreadypresentedhere, this statementallows for two alternatives:either Shakespeare'svillains were creatednot by meditationbut by observation,and hence areneces-sarily inferior, artistically, o his virtuous characters,or they are not really sovillainous as we supposed.In fact, their villainy might conceivablybe deniedaltogether, and that Coleridge held this view-at least for an instant-is lentsome supportby his comment that Shakespeare"neverportrayed[avarice],foravarice s a factitiouspassion"(SC, II, 204). But surelyColeridgehas overlooked,rather than ameliorated, the charactersof Timon's "trencher-friends", ndAlcibiades'mistresses,Timandraand Phrynia,who will "doanythingfor gold".If Coleridgeover-statedhis point, he was quite right in suggesting that avarice

    5 Goethe expresseda similarthought: "All the characters f Sophoclesbear somethingof thatgreat poet's lofty soul; and it is the same with the charactersof Shakespeare" ConversationsofGoethe with Eckermann London, I930], p. i66).6 This, like much of Coleridge'scriticism, s suspiciously lose to Schlegel.But we are not hereconcernedwith the sourcesof Coleridge's deas.

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    COLERIDGE ON SHAKESPEARE'S VILLAINS 13is not easily found in Shakespeare's haracters.Avarice,however, is but one ofthe seven deadly sins, and though Coleridgecould forget its infrequentappear-ance in Shakespeare'splays,could he close one eye and squint the other in sucha way as to change black into white? But how much black is there in Shake-speare?That Shakespeare s against sin has been clearto almost all critics,andeven Dr. Johnson,who hesitated for a moment, ultimatelyagreed that Shake-spearekeeps, in Coleridge'sfamous phrase,"at all times the high road of life"(SC, II, 266). Coleridgewas aware that although the life-web of Shakespeare'scharacterss of a mingled yarn,good and ill together,nevertheless,n the dramas"viceneverwalked,as it were,in twilight" (SC, II, 268).We may agree that Shakespeareportrayedcharacterswho can be fairlytermed "villains",and we may further agree that Coleridge,except perhaps inrare moments of forgetfulness,or of temporaryblindnesswhen he was "talkingfor victory",would find himself in accordwith us, so long as our opinion wasthus broadlystated.And if we were to utilize Alfred Harbage'sfour categories,"people who are indubitablygood", "peoplegood in the main but not proofagainst temptationor free from flaw","peoplebad in the main but with com-pensating moral qualities or an extenuatingbackground",and "peopleindubi-tablybad",7we would find that Coleridgewould not generallytake exceptiontoour distribution,and he would surelynot be reluctant o separate he good fromthe bad, the morally acceptable rom the morallyreprehensible,f the four cate-gories were reducedto two. When, however,we seek to categorizesome figuresas "indubitablybad"as opposedto otherswho can be seen against"anextenuat-ing background",we are on thin ice, chieflybecauseShakespearehimself doesnot always make such distinctions.Characters n a drama are usually drawnratherbroadly,and Shakespeare's, oweversubtlecomparedwith those of mostdramatists,are less complex than, say, the figures in a Proustnovel. But to howmany of them can the melodramatic ag "arrantvillain"be applied? And arethere arrantvillains in life? Did Shakespeare hink so? Did Coleridge?I have already suggested that Coleridge,for all his theological talk aboutsin, was reluctant to see evil as such in the universe.Shakespeare,at least fordramaticpurposes,was not so hesitant.Meredith'sbeliefthat

    In tragic ife,Godwot,No villainneedbe!Passions pintheplot;We arebetrayed ywhat s falsewithinmay be correct,but the writer of tragedy is not always willing to heap all ofthe blame upon the victim's head. For the dramatistthere is generally some-thing outside,too, that bringsaboutthe kind of destructionwhich we call tragic.Was Cordelia destroyedby what was false within? Was Othello wholly re-sponsible for his fate? What is the function of an Edmund, a Goneril,a Regan,or an Iago? Now, we cannot generalize broadlyabout evil in Shakespeariantragedy, but this at leastwe can say:evil is not merelyan element in a Learwhois justlypunishedfor his willfulness or in a Cordeliawho has "some ittle faultyadmixture of pride and sullenness"(SC, I, 6o), which must be redeemed bydeath. Evil is greater than this, and is frequently personifiedin tragedy by a

    7 As They LikedIt (New York, I947), pp. I65-i66.

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    14 SHAKESPEAREQUARTERLYcharacterwho merits the name of villain. There may be no real man who isso blackas a villain in tragedy,but that objectionis not relevanthere. A dramaconsistsof an artist'sperceptionsand insights,and these are of necessitycom-municated through numerousconventions.As Coleridgehimself puts it, art isan "abridgmentof nature"(BL, II, 262). But the conventionalaspectof dramamay easily be overemphasized.Shakespeare'scharacters-his villains no lessthan his heroes-often cannot be neatly pigeon-holed.They serve their properdramaticfunction, are duly villainouswhen the plot demandsthat they be so,and yet somehow acquire larger dimensions.There is at least some truth inColeridge'sobservationthat "Shakespeare'sharactersare like those in life, tobe inferredby the reader,not told to him.... If you take what . .. [a charac-ter's] friends say, you may be deceived-still more so, if his enemies; and thecharacterhimself sees himself thro'the medium of his character,not exactly asit is. But the clown or the fool will suggesta shrewdhint; and take all together,and the impression s right, and all [the spectators]have it" (SC, I, 227; see alsoI, 232). This view, however, fails to recognize sufficientlysome of the basicElizabethanconventionswhich Shakespeare mployed.The Elizabethanvillain,when he revealshis horrible ntentionsto the audience,is rarelyseeing "himselfthro'the medium of his character".On the contrary,he seeshimself as the goodpeopleof the play see him or will ultimatelysee him, and as the dramatistwantsthe audience to see him. His soliloquies are, for the most part, to be taken atface value, their content alone is to be accepted,and the audience need notdraw further conclusionsabout the nature of a man who would admit suchthings to himself-and aloud,too!

    Our experience,of course, is not likely to bring us into contact with anypeople so baseas Shakespeare's asest villains.They are"out of nature",a judg-ment which the Romanticswere reluctantto accept. BecauseColeridgeand hiscontemporarieswere somewhat deficient in a knowledge of dramaticconven-tions, and becausethey were inclined to an optimistic view of human nature,they were perturbedat finding in Shakespeare'swork characterswho, whencarefullyexamined in the closet, failed to pass the test of reality.Since most ofColeridge'scomments on such charactersare impromptuutterances, hey vary.Generallythey revealhis eagernessto place the villain againsta backgroundofextenuating circumstances,or, when this is impossible, to indicate that theparticularcharacterunderdiscussion s unique among Shakespeare'sreations,alapse on the part of the dramatist,or, preferably,a creation which thoughstrangeto mortal eyes, may perhapsembody a truth we at the moment fail toperceive.Discussingthis or that particularplay, Coleridge is apt to characterizeone of the villains of the piece as unique in the body of Shakespeare'swork-unique in his unmitigated evil. Thus, Oswald "the Steward (as a contrast toKent) [is] the only characterof utter unredeemablebasenessin Shakespeare"(SC, I, 62).8 Yet a moment later Coleridgespeaks of "the monster Goneril",

    8 Oswald has not lacked for defenders. Dr. Johnson remarked-though in a puzzled tone-on his fidelity, and Bradley and Kittredge also comment on this alleged virtue. Most recently RobertMetcalf Smith has put in "A Good Word for Oswald," in A Tribute to George Coffin Taylor, ed.Arnold Williams (Chapel Hill, i95i), pp. 62-66. But Oswald's fidelity is necessary for the exigen-cies of the plot. Furthermore, his is a fidelity which, in its dramatic context, is so deficient in themoral connotations which normally accompany that word that we should rather attribute to hima persistence in evil. He is a relatively minor figure, and our attitude toward him depends to a

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  • 7/27/2019 Barnet - Coleridge on Shakespeare's Villains


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    COLERIDGEON SHAKESPEARE'SVILLAINS I5and notes that "Regan and Cornwall [are] in perfect sympathyof monstrosity"(SC, I, 63). Elsewhere, he jotteddown his opinion that "Reganand Gonerilarethe only pictures of the unnatural n Shakespeare-the pureunnatural;and youwill observethat Shakespearehas left theirhideousnessunsoftenedor diversifiedby a single line of goodness or common human frailty" (SC, I, 354). AlfredHarbage,however, will not allow that even these two "unnaturalhags"are themonsters of Coleridge'sstatement. For him, "Regan is not so bad as Goneril,and thus shadesoff from blackto dark-grey".9 hat the two elder daughtersarenot identical is obvious and dramaticallynecessary,but need one be betterthanthe other? A certain variety of characterizations demandedby the audience,but cannot two creaturesboth be villainous, and yet embody different aspectsof villainy? Though AlexanderPope overstatedhis case when he insistedthatno two characters n a play speak in similartones, he was surelycorrect n sug-gesting that Shakespeareexcels not merely in drawing characterswho differfrom each other in passion and nature, but can even discriminate betweencharacterswho may be said, in broad terms, to have the samegeneralnature.10So it is with Goneril and Regan. Though they are not copies one of the other,each is, in the view of the audience, a "she-fox"whose baseness s not mitigatedeither by the evil of the other, or the faults in Lear himself. That the vices ofRegan differ from those of Goneril is obvious, but whose vices are worse is aproblem which cannot easily be decided, and perhaps should not be decided.Harbage finds Regan the better, but Bradley,who was thoroughly aware thatRegan lacked the initiative of her sister, found her the "more loathsome"."Coleridge,I think, is on saferground when he places them both in the realmof the "unnatural".He was inclined to hold to his view that the sisters wereutterlyevil and, in fact,went so far as to admirethe "superlative udgment andthe finest moral tact"which dared to utilize these "uttermonsters,nulla virtuteredemptae",as a means of "deepening ... [the] noblest emotions towards ...Lear, Cordelia,etc." (MC, 83).Edmund, on the other hand, is thought by Coleridge to have sufficientmotives for his deeds, and thus to be within the pale of nature.Shakespeare,hesays, wishes to avoid drawing Edmund as a monster, and seeks "to prevent theguilt from passing into utter monstrosity-which . . . dependson the presenceor absenceof causes and temptations sufficientto account for the wickedness,without the necessity of recurring to a thorough fiendishness of nature for itsorigination"(SC, I, 58). Edmund is despisedand his sense of "shame sharpensa pre-disposition n the heart to evil. For it is a profound moral, that shamewill naturallygenerateguilt; the oppressedwill be vindictive,like Shylock, andin the anguish of undeservedignominy the delusion secretly springs up, ofgetting over the moral quality of an action by fixing the mind on the meregreat extent on the descriptionsof him by Kent, Lear, and Edgar.To Edgar he is "a serviceablevillain,/As duteous to the vices of . . . [his] mistress/As badnesswould desire" (IV. vi. 256-258).And Kent's characterizations too well known to be repeated in full, but we should considerwhether we can attribute idelity to "one that wouldstbe a bawd in a way of good service, and . . .[is] nothing but the compositionof a knave, beggar,coward, [and] pandar"(II. ii. 20-23).9 As They Liked 1t, p. 66.10 "Prefaceto the Works of Shakespeare,"n EighteenthCenturyEssayson Shakespeare, d.D. Nichol Smith (Glasgow, 1903), p. 48.11 Shakespearean ragedy(London, 1950), p. 299.

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    i6 SHAKESPEAREQUARTERLYphysical act alone" (SC, I, 62).12 In contrastto the monstrosity of Regan andGoneril, "in Edmund, for whom passion,the sense of shame as a bastard,andambition, offer some plausibleexcuses, Shakespearehas placed many redeemingtraits. Edmund is what, under certain circumstances,any man of powerfulintellect might be, if some other qualities and feelings were cut off" (SC, II,354). Note, first of all, that Coleridge has, by his last phrase, mplicitly broughtEdmund into the company of those great dramatic creations which are theproduct of Shakespeare'smeditation, not of his observationand copying. "Thegreat prerogativeof genius (and Shakespeare elt and availed himself of it) isnow to swell itself to the dignity of a god, and now to subdue and keep dormantsome part of that lofty nature, and to descendeven to the lowest character-tobecome everything, in fact, but the vicious" (SC, II, I33). Second, it is im-portant to observe that Coleridge regardsEdmund's illegitimacy as, in somedegree, an indirect cause of his evil acts. Edmund not only is ashamed of hisdescent, but he displaysrighteous indignation, says Coleridge, when he "hearshis mother and the circumstances f his birth spoken of with a most degradingand licentious levity" (SC, I, 56). But as Kittredge has pointed out, thoughEdmund is on the stage when Gloucestertells Kent of his old lust, he presum-ably does not hear the conversation.'3Most important,however, is Coleridge'sattitude toward bastardy,which simply does not coincide with what seems tohave been Shakespeare's iew. Putting aside the notable exception of Faulcon-bridge, who is "a good blunt fellow", it is clear that bastardswere regardedasdeficient in virtue. The taint of their birth was not so much a cause of theirvillainy, but a symptomof their moral deviation.

    Coleridge, then, seeks to "naturalize"Edmund by endowing him with a"powerful intellect",on which certain forcesoperate to turn him to a courseofevil. In short, Coleridgewishes to justify the psychologyof Edmund's behavior.It is improbable,however,that Shakespearewas similarlyconcerned.The Eliza-bethans were much more willing than theatre-goersof the nineteenth andtwentieth centuriesto take the villain for what he seemed to be, and to paycloser attention to what he did than tovwhy he did it. Yet we cannot deny thatEdmund is an impressivecharacter;and he does seem to be endowed with thatmental power which Coleridge attributes to him. This strength of intellect,however, is not given Edmund to make him psychologicallyconsistent, but tolend force and immediacyto the power of evil, which will do such great harmbefore the drama is over. Shakespearedoes not mitigate the destructiveforces,nor does he build his tragedy on mere "mistakes".And he does not wish, atleast in King Lear, to have evil reside solely within the characterof the principalpersonage.The German critics of the last century,who were so anxious to por-tray Shakespeareas a dispenserof poetic justice,unduly emphasizedthe evil inthe characterswhom we may, speaking broadly, call "good", and tended tominimize the fact that Shakespeareoften portraysevil as a force of terrible12 Similarly, Coleridge observes (MC, p. 450) that the Second Murderer in Macbeths is not "a

    perfect monster" because he has been incensed by "the vile blows and buffets of the world' andtherefore is reckless of what he does (IV. i. 107-i so). But Shakespeare is, I think, not so concernedwith motivating the killer, as with telling the audience that here is a wretch who will not refuse toperform any deed of horror. We are assured, not that the murderer has reasons for being anti-social,but that Banquo will die.

    13Sixteen Plays of Shakespeare (Boston, 1946), p. II57.

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    COLERIDGEON SHAKESPEARE'SVILLAINS 17power,capable f bringing o material uinmuchgoodness.Edmund s drawnon an impressivecalebecausedramaticallye mustbe impressive.f he seemsto us to havea morepowerfulntellect hanDon Johnof MuchAdo, it is be-causeLear s a tragedyandthe decorum equires villainof stature,while incomedy he villain, f drawn oo powerfully,mayovershadowhe happyout-come,as Shylock ftendoeswhen misplayedoday.

    Thecharacteristicshatgiveweight o thevillainare, n Shakespeare,ottobe usedas devices or explaininghis villainy,but to make him a sufficientlyimpressive adversary.As Stoll,'4 among others has pointed out, Shakespearedoesnot so muchrelatehisvillains' virtues"o theirvices,assuperimposeomeelementof magnitude n to the evil qualities.'5 his methodmakes or goodtheatre,but the closetstudentof drama,whoseinterestrunsnot so muchtowhatDrydencalled"bold trokes"s to subtlety f characterization,requentlyfindsit disconcerting. t the sametime,his bardolatry ill not allowhim tocryof the author,"the essShakespearee",so insteadhe exclaims f thechar-acter,"the essvillainhe".Coleridge'somments n Shakespeare'sreativemethod,and.theresultingproblem f accountingorhis successn depicting illains,didnotfall on deafears.The Romanticwriterswho troopedmoreor less faithfully o the RoyalInstitutionectureroomfound amid the ramblings f the lecturer CharlesLambsaidthatthetalkon RomeoandJulietwasdeliveredn thecharacterfthe Nurse [SC,II, 2i6]) muchthatwas provocative.HenryCrabbRobinsonandLambwerestimulatedyhisremarks.

    C. L. [i.e.,Lamb]spokewellaboutShakespeare.had objectedo Cole-ridge's assertion in his lecture, that Shakespearebecame every thing exceptthe vicious, observing that if Shakespeare becoming a character is to bedetermined by the truth and vivacity with which he describes them andenters into their feelings, [Shakespearebecomes the vicious charactersalso].C. L. justified Coleridge's remark by saying (what by the bye was inclusive[conclusive?]) that Shakespeare never gives truly odious and detestablecharacters.He always mingles strokes of nature and humanity in his pic-tures. I adduced the King in Hamlet as altogether mean. He allowed thisto be the worst of Shakespeare's characters.He has not another like it. Icited Lady Macbeth. I think this one of Shakespeare'sworst [i.e., poorest]characters, said Lamb. It is at the same time inconsistent with itself. Hersleep-walking does not suit such a hardened being.-(it however occursto me that this sleep-walking is perhaps the vindication of Shakespeare inhis portraitureof the character,as it certainly is his excellence that he doesnot create monsters, but always saves the honour of human nature, if I mayuse such an expression. So in this, while the voluntary actions and senti-ments of Lady M. are all inhuman, her involuntary nature rises against herhabitual feelings springing out of depraved passions, and in her sleep sheshews to be a woman, while waking she is a monster.) I then referred tothe Bastard in Lear, but Lamb considers his characteras vindicated by theprovocation arising out of his illegitimacy. And L. mentioned as admirableillustrations of the skill with which Shakespeare could make his worst

    14 See, for example, his ShakespearreStudies (New York, 1927), pp. 337-402.15 Greek tragedy rarely portrays a villain, but when it does, as in Aeschylus' delineation of

    Clytemnestra, the villain is drawn "greater than life" and endowed with heroic (though perverse)qualities which do not explain the villainy, but make it awful.

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    i8 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLYcharactersnteresting,Tago ndRichard II.I noticedKing JohnandLewis,as if Shakespearemeant ike a Jacobino shewhow baseand vile kingsare;L. did not remarkon this,but saidKing John is one of the playshe likesthe least(SC,II, i6-2I7).

    We have alreadyexaminedColeridge'sremarkson Edmund.Of King JohnandLewis the Dauphin, he has nothing to say; of King Claudius, a bit; of LadyMacbeth,Iago, andRichardIII, rathermore.

    Referring to Claudius'speech,"There'ssuch divinity doth hedge a king",Coleridgeobserves:"Proof,as indeed all else is, that Shakespeareneverintendedus to see the king with Hamlet's eyes, tho', I suspect,the managershave longdone so" (SC, I, 34). Coleridgewas quiteright in seeing the dangerof assumingone characterto be what the others say, but his desire to find a complex per-sonality in Claudius, as in each of Shakespeare'smajor figures, leads him toignore or to slight some of the obvious signposts by which a dramatistmustguide his audience."'Lady Macbeth,whom Dr. Johnson"detested",and in whom he could see"no nice discriminationsof character",7 was regardedmore tolerantlyby theRomantics. In her refusal to kill the king because he resembled her father,Coleridge found, as did Mrs. Siddons,'8"confirmation hat Shakespearenevermeant Lady Macbethmore than Macbethhimself for [a] moral monster likeGoneril" (MC, 449). He sought to show, in an elaborateanalysisof her charac-ter, that she was not "out of natureand without conscience",and to explainheractions in terms of her "visionaryand day-dreamingturn of mind". Further-more, "a passage where she alludes to 'plucking her nipple from the bonelessgums of her infant',thoughusuallythoughtto provea mercilessand unwomanlynature, provesthe directopposite:she bringsit as the most solemn enforcementto Macbeth of the solemnity of his promise to undertake the plot againstDuncan. Had she so sworn,she would have done that which was most horribleto her feelings, ratherthan breakthe oath" (SC, II, 270-271). Coleridgehere isoverlookingthe contextof the speech,and he is eagerto do this becausehe can-not conceive of any woman in life as monstrous. Lady Macbethis not, in thisspeech,showing her belief in the binding power of an oath by announcingherwillingness to sin horriblyratherthan breaka vow-a vow which, by the way,could have no meaning in a moraluniverse-rather, she is devilishly urging her

    faltering husbandto commit a monstrous crime. PerhapsMalcolm'sdescriptionof Lady Macbeth,a "fiend-likequeen",is too strong, but we should keep theearly part of the play in mind and rememberthat if her deeds do not alwaysequal her words, and her conscience ultimatelytormentsher, thereis neverthe-less little evidence for the view that "her constant effort throughout the playwas, if the expressionmay be forgiven, to bully conscience"(SC, II, 270-27I),and that she"sinks in the seasonof remorse" SC, I, 72).In only one instance, says Coleridge, has Shakespearepresentedus with16 It is perhaps significant that Coleridge's statement, "It is a common error to mistake the

    epithets applied by the dramatis personae to each other, as trsly descriptive of what the audienceought to see or know" (SC, I, 47), is used as a defense against accepting Othello as a Negro. I mustpoint out, however, that the authenticity of this remark is suspect. See Raysor's note, SC, I, 47, n. i.

    17 The Playsof WilliamShakespeareLondon, 1765), VI, 484.18 Thomas Campbell, Life of Mrs. Siddons (London, i834), II, 20.

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    COLERIDGE ON SHAKESPEARE'S VILLAINS I9"what is admirable-what our nature compels us to admire-in the mind, andwhat is most detestable n the heart"(SC, I, 58). Iago, he says, is Shakespeare'ssingle presentationof "utter monstrosity-which . . . depends on the . . . ab-sence of causes" (SC, I, 58). Iago is not a man among men, and Hamlet'ssoliloquyon death could not be spoken by this fiend, for it shows "toohabituala communion with the heart,that belongs or ought to belong, to all mankind"(SC, I, 29). A "passionless haracter", ago in his soliloquy at the close of Act Idisplays "the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity. . . . In itself fiendish"(SC, I, 49) Iago is more fiend than man, and only the genius of Shakespeare,with "the opulence of its resources"(SC, I, 58), could have succeededin sodaringan endeavor.

    Richard III, on the other hand, is not sheer fiendish intellect,19devoid ofinfluences of the heart, but, on the contrary,his intellectual capabilitiesarecloselyrelatedto his other faculties.In him Shakespearehas given not only the"charactergrown up and completed,but he has shown us its very sourceandgeneration.The inferiorityof his person made the hero seek consolation andcompensation n the superiorityof his intellect;he thus endeavoured o counter-balance his deficiency. This striking feature is portrayedmost admirably byShakespeare,who representsRichard bringing forward his very defects anddeformitiesas mattersof boast"(SC, II, i8i). Iago and Richard,though differ-ing, are closely allied, for in Richard,as in lago, there was "an overprizingofthe intellectualabove the moral character" SC, II, 284). Both, in Coleridge'sestimation,were men "who reverse he orderof things,who placeintellectat thehead,whereas t ought to follow like geometry,to proveand to confirm"(SC, II,286-287).

    The heart has its reasons,says Pascal,which reasoncannot know. And inhis study of Shakespeare'svillains, as in his other writings, Coleridge revealsthat his allegianceis ultimatelynot to reason,but to the heart,not to the intel-lectual bent, which is so often disposedto evil, but to the moral natureof man.As one inclinedto philosophicspeculationand psychological nvestigation,how-ever, he was not willing to drop the matterhere. If mind and moralityare notalways reconcilednow, as they must ultimately be, in his view, neverthelessboth are powerful and demand attention. Why are Shakespeare'svillains sofascinating? BecauseShakespeare"had read naturetoo heedfully not to knowthat courage, ntellect,and strengthof characterwere the most impressiveformsof power, and that to power in itself, without referenceto any moral end, aninevitable admirationand complacencyappertains,whether it be displayedinthe conquests of a Napoleon or Tamerlane,or in the foam and thunder of acataract"SC, I, 58).Thus, Coleridgeholds, even the unique case of Iago's motivelessmalignityis artisticallyacceptable, imply becauseof the tremendoustruth in the brilliantportraitof unimpededintellect.It is Iago, not Regan,who is anatomized,who isonly partof a human being, a partwhich in life cannotsubsist alone,but whichShakespearehas portrayedso knowingly that we gladly accept it and do notdemand that the clarityof our view of the cell be obscuredby presentationof

    19Coleridgeconcludedthat "in Richardthe 3d. crueltyis less the prominenttrait than pride"(SC, II, 209).

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    20 SHAKESPEAREQUARTERLYthe surroundingtissue. If we wish to know why it is that even the enemies ofrighteousnesshave, in Shakespeare'sdramas,the power of holding our interest,we must recall Coleridge'sview of Shakespeare'screativemethod, a methodbased not on observationbut on meditation, on feeding upon partsof the self."To know is to resemble"(BL, II, 259), says Coleridge, but Shakespearere-sembleshis villains not in their lack of moral sentiment,but in their power ofmind. "They are all cast in the mould of Shakespeare'sown gigantic intellect;and this is the open attractionof his Richard, ago, Edmund" (BL, II, i89).By a variety of explanations,then, not all of which were mutually con-sistent, Coleridge attemptedto force Shakespeare'splays into the mold of hisown aesthetictheory. It is but one of the marksof Shakespeare's reatnessthathe can stimulatea mind so fertile as Coleridge's,and yet foil the searchingsofmortality.Tufts University