The comparison of Montaigne's «Essays» to the plays of Shakespeare is fruitful in many aspects: we can better understand the outlook of both authors, the conceptions of Shakespeare and even some of the textological problems in his plays. When reading the «Essays» in John Florio's translation one comes to the firm conclusion that Shakespeare had had access to this translation long before it appeared in press in 1603, during the years 1595—1599.
Shakespeare did not study the «Essays» as he studied his main sources — Plutarch and Holinshed, but must have enjoyed reading them for pleasure, imbibing the new ideas not only from Montaigne but also from the numerous ancient and modern writers quoted in the «Essays». In a very short space of time he had acquired a deeper knowledge of Greek and Roman history, philosophy and poetry, of the original and bold views of Lucretius and other ancient philosophers.
The language of Shakespeare's heroes in the plays written after 1596 quickly enriched, and it was proved by the scholars that many new words were rare or not known in the English language before Florio's translation of Montaigne. Used by Shakespeare in a different context they usually retain the meaning given to them by Florio, which helps to clarify some difficulties of Shakespeare's text It is even possible to venture a tempting guess that Shakespeare might have consciously chosen some rare words he had met in those essays which contain the most dangerous discourses of Montaigne.
The chronicle plays of the years 1596—1599 «King John», «Richard II», «Henry IV» show a much deeper treatment of such problems as the leading powers in history, the relations between past, present and future, between law and necessity in state politics, the role of religion in political conflicts. Many points arc relative to sonic of the most essential ideas of the «Essays», such as the part played by «commodity» in human life and history, the fate of the ruler and the best politics, the social conflicts and their causes.
By 1599 when Shakespeare turned from Holinshed to Plutarch, his political outlook underwent a radical change, the picture of history in «Julius Caesar» became more complex and the actions of the heroes more deeply motivated. The most striking example of Montaigne's influence is the attitude of Shakespeare towards Julius Caesar. Montaigne is more critical than Plutarch to this great hero of the Roman history, — while admiring Caesar's talents of the statesman, warrior and orator he says that all these excellent gifts and qualities were smothered and eclipsed by the Furious passion of ambition. Shakespeare must have taken into consideration this judgement of Montaigne as a clue to the hero's character when depicting his extreme vanity as the leading motive of all his actions.
We must also bear in mind that some trends of thought common to Shakespeare and Montaigne were due to the general Renaissance atmospehere. Both Montaigne and Shakespeare reveal their objectivity and historial insight more typical to the Greek and Roman historians than even to the progressive Renaissance historical thinking. They treat history as the dynamic process in which the leading power appears to be «commodity» — that is gain, profit or necessity, either personal or «general» — the interests of the commonwealth or community.
Both Montaigne and Shakespeare show their sympathy with the sufferings of the people, both are convinced that the people has ever been a great power in history, yet this power can be good or evil. Montaigne was a witness of the fury of the fanatical multitude during the massacre at Saint Bartholomew's day; Shakespeare found in his sources a great many facts of cruelty and fanatism during the popular revolts when the commons and the Roman plebeians were led by demagogues. In depicting the psychology of the wavering multitude Shakespeare reveals the same views as Montaigne, though this attitude must not be ascribed to Montaigne's influence — it is common to many writers of the Renaissance. Shakespeare's method in presenting the popular revolt had been born long before he began reading the «Essays».
There is no doubt that Montaigne's discussion of political and religious questions was a kind of creative impulse to Shakespeare when he depicted the conflicts between humanity and state necessity. While appealing to the audience with the speeches on the necessity of order in the state both authors treat the conflicts and changes as an indispensable part of the historical process. History for them is neither chaotic clashing of interests nor a strait line of events but a complex, dynamic and dialectic process in which the present is brought forth by the past and is pointing to the future; and this process must be studied to frame the best policy tor the state and society, which agrees to the demands of the time.
There is much in common between Montaigne and Shakespeare in their concept of «time» as the power that brings forth the most radical changes in the material and spiritual world, but Shakespeare shows more definitely than Montaigne that the concept «new time» means first of all the new relations between social groups in their struggle for power and commodities of life.
The attitude of Montaigne and Shakespeare towards the eminent historial heroes is both ethical and historical — they are convinced that the conflict between ethical and political values was typical for all epochs in history, yet it is desirable to look for the balance between humanity and state necessity. Both authors condemn cruelty and tyranny.
The influence of Montaigne upon Shakespeare's philosophical outlook is usually seen in «Hamlet», where the scholars have found many parallels in language and thought. It is evident that Shakespeare was deeply impressed by some important ideas of the «Essays» that stirred his imagination. But it would be wrong to analyse the tragedy as the reaction to these ideas of Montaigne's «Essays». Shakespeare had his own conception in every play, and his pattern was never born under the influence of any other author. However, the comparison with «Hamlet» is helpful and adds much to the many previous works on the subject of Montaigne's influence on Shakespeare.
While discussing the philosophical problems of the tragedy we must bear in mind that even Hamlet, the most noble hero of Shakespeare is not created as the author's mouthpiece.
One of the mam parallels is studied by many commentators — that is Hamlet's maxim «there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so» (H., II, 2, 249). This saying is connected with the general trend of discourse in chapter 40 of the First Book, in Florio's translation: «That the taste of Goods or Evils doth (sic!) greatly depend on the opinion we have of them».
It is necessary to analyse Montaigne's and Hamlet s sayings in their context in order to grasp their full significance and to feel the main difference in the attitude of Montaigne and Hamlet. Montaigne's discussion of the relativity of human opinions on the questions of good and evil is mostly ethical and psychological. Hamlet departs from the similar philosophical generalizations, and Montaigne's ideas serve as a strong impulse. But Shakespeare placed this maxim in a different context, audaciously political: «Denmark is a prison», «to me it is a prison». The succeeding metaphors linked with the theme of ambition have also a political turn, and the commentators comparing them to some philosophical ideas of Montaigne did not conceive the main difference: while Montaigne speaks of the man's freedom from human passions, Hamlet argues his freedom from ambition yet he confesses the impossibility for him even if «bounded in a nutshell», to be free from «bad dreams». The image must be linked with his passionate reaction to «dreams» that may come after death in his monologue «To be or not to be»: «bad dreams» that disturb him mean the external evil world, «unweeded garden that grows to seed».
It is well known that the main task of Hamlet is not that of revenge, but the «enterprise of great pith and moment» or, as he states it in the end of the first act: «The time is out of joint: Î cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right» (H., I. 5, 189—190). These words are the core of the tragedy and it is helpful to trace the links with Montaigne when discussing the problem of Hamlet's «delay».
The causes of this delay are revealed in Hamlet's monologue «To be or not to be» (H., III, 1, 56—88) which is from the beginning to the end ambiguous: the two trends of meditation are so closely united that it is impossible to divide them. The problem of suicide hides another and more dangerous problem of a heroic enterprise, of killing the vile murderer who is the king of the state.
There are some striking resemblances in Montaigne's and Hamlet's reflections upon suicide: is it nobler to end one's miseries by the self-destruction or to continue living? Montaigne cites different judgements upon suicide, and some writers call death a remedy against the evils of this life, but Montaigne comes to the conclusion that there is more constancy and valour in enduring one's sufferings than in ending them by being no more». The whole chapter «A custome of the Ile (isle) of Cea» (II, 3) was studied by Shakespeare as well as some other essays in which the question of suicide is discussed. Montaigne quotes many opinions of the authors who treat suicide as the noble action, but he also cites the contrary sayings in which suicide is qualified as cowardness and not virtue, for it is the way taken from fear of ills to come.
Hamlet's ideas are compared by some commentators to the speech of Socrates as given in the «Essays». The verbal coincidences are prominent, yet the trend of thought is different. Socrates states the impossibility to foresee what comes after death: a «consummation» — an entering into a long and quiet night, a sleep without dreams, or something unknown, and if we do not know what comes after death we must not fear it. Hamlet's deduction is different: if we do not know the future we must pause before acting. Shakespeare shows two men acting without thinking — Laertes and Fortinbras, and their acting is senseless and harmful.
Comparing Hamlet's description of the calamities of life to some passages in the «Essays» it is possible to see that the text of the First folio is to be taken as genuine, that we must read «The poor man's contumely», «dispriz'd love» and enterprises of great pith and moment», though the modern editions prefer in these cases the text of the Second quarto.
The enumeration of evils in Hamlet's monologue helps to see the hidden concept of the whole monologue: under the question of suicide seen on the surface we find another problem: is it nobler to fight against evils, to save the world from evils with a bare bodkin, as it was attempted by Brutus and Cassius, or to think of the future — the words «there is the rub» indicate the turning point in Hamlet's argument.
This must be compared to many passages in the «Essays», especially those passages written after 1589 when Henry of Navarre became the king Henry IV. Montaigne thought Henry to be good and talented statesman who is able to save France from civil wars, and Montaigne with a vigor and firm conviction speaks against the subvertion of the present order. If we turn, for instance, to the essay «Of vanity» (III, 9) we find Montaigne's credo: «I am of this opinion that the honorablest vocation is to serve the commonwealth and be profitable to many» (III, 9, 485—486).
Montaigne is grieved by the present state of affairs when France «is out of frame», «much crazed and out of tune», but he is convinced that the vices are too deep and numerous and there cannot be a cure without a «general amendment of condition». Besides, good does not necessary succeed evil
for a worse evil may succeed it (III, 9, 489). He relates the episode of the insurrection in Capua from the work of Livius: the people after great «hurly-burly» were brought to believe that «the oldest and best known evill is ever more tolerable than the fresh and unexperienced mischiefe» (III, 9, 489—490). These and other reflections cited by Montaigne are in keeping with Hamlet's argument.
However, neither Montaigne nor Shakespeare takes this position as the final and the best for a noble and brave man. It is true that the «enterprises of great pith and moment» must be deeply considered: they must be tried by conscience, — that is moral judgement, and by thought, — that is the foreknowledge of the consequences. Yet in the very end of the famous monologue this issue of Hamlet's thinking is made ambiguous and doubtful by an ethically impressive maxims: «thus conscience doth make cowards of us all», «the native hue of resolution» is «sickled over», and «enterprises» do not turn to actions.
These final words lead the way to Hamlets fourth monologue (II., IV, 4, 31—60) which can be convincingly commented only if we link it with the monologue «To be or not to be». The comparison with Montaigne may be helpful in this case as it was in the case of suicide. Montaigne disapproves of those who do not fulfil the duties of a citizen, he prizes more the valour of Scipio Africanus than the virtue î Diogenes (II, 33, 373—374). He repeats that men are born to be doing, that being consists in moving and acting, and nature is more jealous of our actions than of our knowledge. He emphasizes that discourse should direct us to action and performance. One quotation is known as the close parallel to Hamlet's argument. Montaigne writes: «Since it hath pleased God to endow us with some capacitie of discourse, that as beasts we should not servily be subjected to common lawes but rather with judgement and voluntary liberty apply ourselves unto them... ...only reason ought to have the conduct of our inclinations» (II, 8, 192). Montaigne admits that «human enterprises should be managed more grossely» and affairs need not be sifted so nicely and so profoundly, «vaine is his enterprise that presumeth to embrace both causes and consequences». He reminds of the saying of Julius Ceasar that haughty enterprises were to be executed and not consulted upon. All these ideas must have been taken by Shakespeare as stimulating impulses in the explanation of the causes of Hamlet's delay, and the process of Hamlet's thinking leads him to the final words «my thought be bloody or be nothing worth». Shakespeare, as well as Montaigne, leads the audience to think that the aim of setting the world aright must be executed.
In dealing with the tragedies «King Lear», «Macbeth», and «Coriolanus» the most fruitful method is to compare the positions of both authors concerning the same philosophical, psychological and social questions: the relations between men in society, the question of inequality, of the ultimate goal of man's life, of the crime and punishment and other problems that are usually called universal and eternal.
«Macbeth» is the only tragedy of Shakespeare which treats in all aspects the problem of psychological effect of crime on the man who commits such a hideous crime as a murder from the motive of ambition. The tragedy gives the description of the inward sufferings of the heroes, which is in keeping with the sayings of the ancient writers cited by Montaigne: punishment is born in the soul of the criminal at the very moment when the crime is committed. It is noted by some commentators that the image of the «poisoned chalice» was created under the impression of the episode told by Montaigne — how Ceasar Borgia fell a victim of his own attempt to poison cardinal Adrian. It must be added that more important is another discourse of Montaigne: he says that malice usually sucks up its own venom, for the inward evil poisons one's own mind even if nothing external seems to threaten the man.
The tragedy of «Coriolanus» is seldom mentioned in connection with Montaigne. However, the central problem of this play is debated in many essays and is essential to Montaigne's outlook. The tragedy deals with the relation between man and society, man arid the time in which he lives. Montaigne cites with approval the opinion of Aristotle and other philosophers who admire frankness, honesty and boldness in expressing one's love or hate. Montaigne makes a confession that he prefers to be true to his nature and hates «universal doctrine of dissimulation». Yet he is forced to admit that a certain kind of acting is necessary for a man in his private and public life. He quotes the opinions of those who say that men who cannot dissemble cannot be good politicians and statesmen.
Shakespeare presents this problem as the tragedy — he shows the noble and valiant man unable to be false to his nature and to hide his political views, despising dissimulation as the most inherent baseness. But his high ethical virtues are turned to the contrary qualities when he becomes traitor and revenger of his own country. Tins position is shown to proceed from his «defect of judgement», from unability to see that the ethical values arc not absolute, they exist only in society. Shakespeare treats this problem in the same vein as .Montaigne but makes it more clear that the fate of the hero is rooted in the deepest and ancient social conflicts.
The philosophical allegorical play «The Tempest» contains the only quotation from Montaigne—the speech of Gonsalo on the ideal commonwealth studied by many commentators. It is possible to add some comments to stow that Shakespeare's aim was not to criticise old Gonsalo, but to depict the reaction of the statesmen to whom these noble ideas are directed: their attitude is either cinically scornful or indifferent. This picture of the ideal commonwealth is shown to be only a dream — as in Montaigne's discourse. The character of Caliban is conceived as a critical comment on the description of the natural life in the essay «On Cannibals», yet it is also stated that Shakespeare shares Montaigne's belief in the power îf science and art used for the reformation of men and society.
Both Montaigne and Shakespeare have the dialectical outlook when treating history and life—they take any fact in the numerous links with all sides of human life, depicting the complex relations of individual and universal, of psychological and social in the character of man. Shakespeare's heroes are changed in the course of action — he as well as Montaigne sees the human nature as ever changing under the influence of many factors.
There are some cases when Shakespeare, as if taking up Montaigne's theme, reveals new aspects and links and helps to perceive the hidden laws of development in a much deeper and complex way than it is done in Montaigne's «Essays».
Humanism and belief in the powers of good is typical for both authors — they are deeply convinced that even in the time of cruelty and destruction there are noble men and heroic actions. The pessimism of Ben Jonson's «Sejanus» is alien to Montaigne and to Shakespeare.
The calamities are too mighty to be endured and the heroes perish in the struggle but even in their death they remain great and noble. Both Mon taigne and Shakespeare retain tragical and heroic belief that the powers of good in human society will be never vanquished.
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