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A STUDY IN SHAKESPEAREAN CRITICISM
They say that young men fresh from college are pretty
positive about what they know. But from my own experience
of life, I should say that if you take a comfortable,
elderly man who hasn't been near a college for about
twenty years, who has been pretty liberally fed and dined
ever since, who measures about fifty inches around the
circumference, and has a complexion like a cranberry by
candlelight, you will find that there is a degree of
absolute certainty about what he thinks he knows that
will put any young man to shame. I am specially convinced
of this from the case of my friend Colonel Hogshead, a
portly, choleric gentleman who made a fortune in the
cattle-trade out in Wyoming, and who, in his later days,
has acquired a chronic idea that the plays of Shakespeare
are the one subject upon which he is most qualified to
He came across me the other evening as I was sitting by
the fire in the club sitting-room looking over the leaves
of The Merchant of Venice, and began to hold forth to me
about the book.
"Merchant of Venice, eh? There's a play for you, sir!
There's genius! Wonderful, sir, wonderful! You take the
characters in that play and where will you find anything
like them? You take Antonio, take Sherlock, take Saloonio--"
"Saloonio, Colonel?" I interposed mildly, "aren't you
making a mistake? There's a Bassanio and a Salanio in
the play, but I don't think there's any Saloonio, is
For a moment Colonel Hogshead's eye became misty with
doubt, but he was not the man to admit himself in error:
"Tut, tut! young man," he said with a frown, "don't skim
through your books in that way. No Saloonio? Why, of
course there's a Saloonio!"
"But I tell you, Colonel," I rejoined, "I've just been
reading the play and studying it, and I know there's no
"Nonsense, sir, nonsense!" said the Colonel, "why he
comes in all through; don't tell me, young man, I've read
that play myself. Yes, and seen it played, too, out in
Wyoming, before you were born, by fellers, sir, that
could act. No Saloonio, indeed! why, who is it that is
Antonio's friend all through and won't leave him when
Bassoonio turns against him? Who rescues Clarissa from
Sherlock, and steals the casket of flesh from the Prince
of Aragon? Who shouts at the Prince of Morocco, 'Out,
out, you damned candlestick'? Who loads up the jury in
the trial scene and fixes the doge? No Saloonio! By gad!
in my opinion, he's the most important character in the
"Colonel Hogshead," I said very firmly, "there isn't any
Saloonio and you know it."
But the old man had got fairly started on whatever dim
recollection had given birth to Saloonio; the character
seemed to grow more and more luminous in the Colonel's
mind, and he continued with increasing animation:
"I'll just tell you what Saloonio is: he's a type.
Shakespeare means him to embody the type of the perfect
Italian gentleman. He's an idea, that's what he is, he's
a symbol, he's a unit--"
Meanwhile I had been searching among the leaves of the
play. "Look here," I said, "here's the list of the Dramatis
Personae. There's no Saloonio there."
But this didn't dismay the Colonel one atom. "Why, of
course there isn't," he said. "You don't suppose you'd
find Saloonio there! That's the whole art of it! That's
Shakespeare! That's the whole gist of it! He's kept clean
out of the Personae--gives him scope, gives him a free
hand, makes him more of a type than ever. Oh, it's a
subtle thing, sir, the dramatic art!" continued the
Colonel, subsiding into quiet reflection; "it takes a
feller quite a time to get right into Shakespeare's mind
and see what he's at all the time."
I began to see that there was no use in arguing any
further with the old man. I left him with the idea that
the lapse of a little time would soften his views on
Saloonio. But I had not reckoned on the way in which old
men hang on to a thing. Colonel Hogshead quite took up
Saloonio. From that time on Saloonio became the theme of
his constant conversation. He was never tired of discussing
the character of Saloonio, the wonderful art of the
dramatist in creating him, Saloonio's relation to modern
life, Saloonio's attitude toward women, the ethical
significance of Saloonio, Saloonio as compared with
Hamlet, Hamlet as compared with Saloonio--and so on,
endlessly. And the more he looked into Saloonio, the more
he saw in him.
Saloonio seemed inexhaustible. There were new sides to
him--new phases at every turn. The Colonel even read over
the play, and finding no mention of Saloonio's name in
it, he swore that the books were not the same books they
had had out in Wyoming; that the whole part had been cut
clean out to suit the book to the infernal public schools,
Saloonio's language being--at any rate, as the Colonel
quoted it--undoubtedly a trifle free. Then the Colonel
took to annotating his book at the side with such remarks
as, "Enter Saloonio," or "A tucket sounds; enter Saloonio,
on the arm of the Prince of Morocco." When there was no
reasonable excuse for bringing Saloonio on the stage the
Colonel swore that he was concealed behind the arras, or
feasting within with the doge.
But he got satisfaction at last. He had found that there
was nobody in our part of the country who knew how to
put a play of Shakespeare on the stage, and took a trip
to New York to see Sir Henry Irving and Miss Terry do
the play. The Colonel sat and listened all through with
his face just beaming with satisfaction, and when the
curtain fell at the close of Irving's grand presentation
of the play, he stood up in his seat, and cheered and
yelled to his friends: "That's it! That's him! Didn't
you see that man that came on the stage all the time and
sort of put the whole play through, though you couldn't
understand a word he said? Well, that's him! That's
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