Oscar Wilde

Part 3 out of 3

in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For
out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation
what in the creator was not. Nay, I would say that the more
objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really
is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the
white streets of London, or seen the serving-men of rival houses
bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came
out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements
of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred
so strongly within him that he had, as it were perforce, to suffer
them to realise their energy, not on the lower plane of actual
life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so
made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where Love can
indeed find in Death its rich fulfilment, where one can stab the
eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new-made grave, and
make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one's father's
spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete
steel from misty wall to wall. Action being limited would have
left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is
because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything,
so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that
his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature
and temperament far more completely than do those strange and
exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the
secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most
subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his
own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

ERNEST. The critic, then, being limited to the subjective form,
will necessarily be less able fully to express himself than the
artist, who has always at his disposal the forms that are
impersonal and objective.

GILBERT. Not necessarily, and certainly not at all if he
recognises that each mode of criticism is, in its highest
development, simply a mood, and that we are never more true to
ourselves than when we are inconsistent. The aesthetic critic,
constant only to the principle of beauty in all things, will ever
be looking for fresh impressions, winning from the various schools
the secret of their charm, bowing, it may be, before foreign
altars, or smiling, if it be his fancy, at strange new gods. What
other people call one's past has, no doubt, everything to do with
them, but has absolutely nothing to do with oneself. The man who
regards his past is a man who deserves to have no future to look
forward to. When one has found expression for a mood, one has done
with it. You laugh; but believe me it is so. Yesterday it was
Realism that charmed one. One gained from it that nouveau frisson
which it was its aim to produce. One analysed it, explained it,
and wearied of it. At sunset came the Luministe in painting, and
the Symboliste in poetry, and the spirit of mediaevalism, that
spirit which belongs not to time but to temperament, woke suddenly
in wounded Russia, and stirred us for a moment by the terrible
fascination of pain. To-day the cry is for Romance, and already
the leaves are tremulous in the valley, and on the purple hill-tops
walks Beauty with slim gilded feet. The old modes of creation
linger, of course. The artists reproduce either themselves or each
other, with wearisome iteration. But Criticism is always moving
on, and the critic is always developing.

Nor, again, is the critic really limited to the subjective form of
expression. The method of the drama is his, as well as the method
of the epos. He may use dialogue, as he did who set Milton talking
to Marvel on the nature of comedy and tragedy, and made Sidney and
Lord Brooke discourse on letters beneath the Penshurst oaks; or
adopt narration, as Mr. Pater is fond of doing, each of whose
Imaginary Portraits--is not that the title of the book?--presents
to us, under the fanciful guise of fiction, some fine and exquisite
piece of criticism, one on the painter Watteau, another on the
philosophy of Spinoza, a third on the Pagan elements of the early
Renaissance, and the last, and in some respects the most
suggestive, on the source of that Aufklarung, that enlightening
which dawned on Germany in the last century, and to which our own
culture owes so great a debt. Dialogue, certainly, that wonderful
literary form which, from Plato to Lucian, and from Lucian to
Giordano Bruno, and from Bruno to that grand old Pagan in whom
Carlyle took such delight, the creative critics of the world have
always employed, can never lose for the thinker its attraction as a
mode of expression. By its means he can both reveal and conceal
himself, and give form to every fancy, and reality to every mood.
By its means he can exhibit the object from each point of view, and
show it to us in the round, as a sculptor shows us things, gaining
in this manner all the richness and reality of effect that comes
from those side issues that are suddenly suggested by the central
idea in its progress, and really illumine the idea more completely,
or from those felicitous after-thoughts that give a fuller
completeness to the central scheme, and yet convey something of the
delicate charm of chance.

ERNEST. By its means, too, he can invent an imaginary antagonist,
and convert him when he chooses by some absurdly sophistical

GILBERT. Ah! it is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult
to convert oneself. To arrive at what one really believes, one
must speak through lips different from one's own. To know the
truth one must imagine myriads of falsehoods. For what is Truth?
In matters of religion, it is simply the opinion that has survived.
In matters of science, it is the ultimate sensation. In matters of
art, it is one's last mood. And you see now, Ernest, that the
critic has at his disposal as many objective forms of expression as
the artist has. Ruskin put his criticism into imaginative prose,
and is superb in his changes and contradictions; and Browning put
his into blank verse and made painter and poet yield us their
secret; and M. Renan uses dialogue, and Mr. Pater fiction, and
Rossetti translated into sonnet-music the colour of Giorgione and
the design of Ingres, and his own design and colour also, feeling,
with the instinct of one who had many modes of utterance; that the
ultimate art is literature, and the finest and fullest medium that
of words.

ERNEST. Well, now that you have settled that the critic has at his
disposal all objective forms, I wish you would tell me what are the
qualities that should characterise the true critic.

GILBERT. What would you say they were?

ERNEST. Well, I should say that a critic should above all things
be fair.

GILBERT. Ah! not fair. A critic cannot be fair in the ordinary
sense of the word. It is only about things that do not interest
one that one can give a really unbiassed opinion, which is no doubt
the reason why an unbiassed opinion is always absolutely valueless.
The man who sees both sides of a question, is a man who sees
absolutely nothing at all. Art is a passion, and, in matters of
art, Thought is inevitably coloured by emotion, and so is fluid
rather than fixed, and, depending upon fine moods and exquisite
moments, cannot be narrowed into the rigidity of a scientific
formula or a theological dogma. It is to the soul that Art speaks,
and the soul may be made the prisoner of the mind as well as of the
body. One should, of course, have no prejudices; but, as a great
Frenchman remarked a hundred years ago, it is one's business in
such matters to have preferences, and when one has preferences one
ceases to be fair. It is only an auctioneer who can equally and
impartially admire all schools of Art. No; fairness is not one of
the qualities of the true critic. It is not even a condition of
criticism. Each form of Art with which we come in contact
dominates us for the moment to the exclusion of every other form.
We must surrender ourselves absolutely to the work in question,
whatever it may be, if we wish to gain its secret. For the time,
we must think of nothing else, can think of nothing else, indeed.

ERNEST. The true critic will be rational, at any rate, will he

GILBERT. Rational? There are two ways of disliking art, Ernest.
One is to dislike it. The other, to like it rationally. For Art,
as Plato saw, and not without regret, creates in listener and
spectator a form of divine madness. It does not spring from
inspiration, but it makes others inspired. Reason is not the
faculty to which it appeals. If one loves Art at all, one must
love it beyond all other things in the world, and against such
love, the reason, if one listened to it, would cry out. There is
nothing sane about the worship of beauty. It is too splendid to be
sane. Those of whose lives it forms the dominant note will always
seem to the world to be pure visionaries.

ERNEST. Well, at least, the critic will be sincere.

GILBERT. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal
of it is absolutely fatal. The true critic will, indeed, always be
sincere in his devotion to the principle of beauty, but he will
seek for beauty in every age and in each school, and will never
suffer himself to be limited to any settled custom of thought or
stereotyped mode of looking at things. He will realise himself in
many forms, and by a thousand different ways, and will ever be
curious of new sensations and fresh points of view. Through
constant change, and through constant change alone, he will find
his true unity. He will not consent to be the slave of his own
opinions. For what is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere?
The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth. You
must not be frightened by word, Ernest. What people call
insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our

ERNEST. I am afraid I have not been fortunate in my suggestions.

GILBERT. Of the three qualifications you mentioned, two, sincerity
and fairness, were, if not actually moral, at least on the
borderland of morals, and the first condition of criticism is that
the critic should be able to recognise that the sphere of Art and
the sphere of Ethics are absolutely distinct and separate. When
they are confused, Chaos has come again. They are too often
confused in England now, and though our modern Puritans cannot
destroy a beautiful thing, yet, by means of their extraordinary
prurience, they can almost taint beauty for a moment. It is
chiefly, I regret to say, through journalism that such people find
expression. I regret it because there is much to be said in favour
of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated,
it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By
carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it
shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By
invariably discussing the unnecessary it makes us understand what
things are requisite for culture, and what are not. But it should
not allow poor Tartuffe to write articles upon modern art. When it
does this it stultifies itself. And yet Tartuffe's articles and
Chadband's notes do this good, at least. They serve to show how
extremely limited is the area over which ethics, and ethical
considerations, can claim to exercise influence. Science is out of
the reach of morals, for her eyes are fixed upon eternal truths.
Art is out of the reach of morals, for her eyes are fixed upon
things beautiful and immortal and ever-changing. To morals belong
the lower and less intellectual spheres. However, let these
mouthing Puritans pass; they have their comic side. Who can help
laughing when an ordinary journalist seriously proposes to limit
the subject-matter at the disposal of the artist? Some limitation
might well, and will soon, I hope, be placed upon some of our
newspapers and newspaper writers. For they give us the bald,
sordid, disgusting facts of life. They chronicle, with degrading
avidity, the sins of the second-rate, and with the
conscientiousness of the illiterate give us accurate and prosaic
details of the doings of people of absolutely no interest
whatsoever. But the artist, who accepts the facts of life, and yet
transforms them into shapes of beauty, and makes them vehicles of
pity or of awe, and shows their colour-element, and their wonder,
and their true ethical import also, and builds out of them a world
more real than reality itself, and of loftier and more noble
import--who shall set limits to him? Not the apostles of that new
Journalism which is but the old vulgarity 'writ large.' Not the
apostles of that new Puritanism, which is but the whine of the
hypocrite, and is both writ and spoken badly. The mere suggestion
is ridiculous. Let us leave these wicked people, and proceed to
the discussion of the artistic qualifications necessary for the
true critic.

ERNEST. And what are they? Tell me yourself.

GILBERT. Temperament is the primary requisite for the critic--a
temperament exquisitely susceptible to beauty, and to the various
impressions that beauty gives us. Under what conditions, and by
what means, this temperament is engendered in race or individual,
we will not discuss at present. It is sufficient to note that it
exists, and that there is in us a beauty-sense, separate from the
other senses and above them, separate from the reason and of nobler
import, separate from the soul and of equal value--a sense that
leads some to create, and others, the finer spirits as I think, to
contemplate merely. But to be purified and made perfect, this
sense requires some form of exquisite environment. Without this it
starves, or is dulled. You remember that lovely passage in which
Plato describes how a young Greek should be educated, and with what
insistence he dwells upon the importance of surroundings, telling
us how the lad is to be brought up in the midst of fair sights and
sounds, so that the beauty of material things may prepare his soul
for the reception of the beauty that is spiritual. Insensibly, and
without knowing the reason why, he is to develop that real love of
beauty which, as Plato is never weary of reminding us, is the true
aim of education. By slow degrees there is to be engendered in him
such a temperament as will lead him naturally and simply to choose
the good in preference to the bad, and, rejecting what is vulgar
and discordant, to follow by fine instinctive taste all that
possesses grace and charm and loveliness. Ultimately, in its due
course, this taste is to become critical and self-conscious, but at
first it is to exist purely as a cultivated instinct, and 'he who
has received this true culture of the inner man will with clear and
certain vision perceive the omissions and faults in art or nature,
and with a taste that cannot err, while he praises, and finds his
pleasure in what is good, and receives it into his soul, and so
becomes good and noble, he will rightly blame and hate the bad, now
in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason
why': and so, when, later on, the critical and self-conscious
spirit develops in him, he 'will recognise and salute it as a
friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.' I need
hardly say, Ernest, how far we in England have fallen short of this
ideal, and I can imagine the smile that would illuminate the glossy
face of the Philistine if one ventured to suggest to him that the
true aim of education was the love of beauty, and that the methods
by which education should work were the development of temperament,
the cultivation of taste, and the creation of the critical spirit.

Yet, even for us, there is left some loveliness of environment, and
the dulness of tutors and professors matters very little when one
can loiter in the grey cloisters at Magdalen, and listen to some
flute-like voice singing in Waynfleete's chapel, or lie in the
green meadow, among the strange snake-spotted fritillaries, and
watch the sunburnt noon smite to a finer gold the tower's gilded
vanes, or wander up the Christ Church staircase beneath the vaulted
ceiling's shadowy fans, or pass through the sculptured gateway of
Laud's building in the College of St. John. Nor is it merely at
Oxford, or Cambridge, that the sense of beauty can be formed and
trained and perfected. All over England there is a Renaissance of
the decorative Arts. Ugliness has had its day. Even in the houses
of the rich there is taste, and the houses of those who are not
rich have been made gracious and comely and sweet to live in.
Caliban, poor noisy Caliban, thinks that when he has ceased to make
mows at a thing, the thing ceases to exist. But if he mocks no
longer, it is because he has been met with mockery, swifter and
keener than his own, and for a moment has been bitterly schooled
into that silence which should seal for ever his uncouth distorted
lips. What has been done up to now, has been chiefly in the
clearing of the way. It is always more difficult to destroy than
it is to create, and when what one has to destroy is vulgarity and
stupidity, the task of destruction needs not merely courage but
also contempt. Yet it seems to me to have been, in a measure,
done. We have got rid of what was bad. We have now to make what
is beautiful. And though the mission of the aesthetic movement is
to lure people to contemplate, not to lead them to create, yet, as
the creative instinct is strong in the Celt, and it is the Celt who
leads in art, there is no reason why in future years this strange
Renaissance should not become almost as mighty in its way as was
that new birth of Art that woke many centuries ago in the cities of

Certainly, for the cultivation of temperament, we must turn to the
decorative arts: to the arts that touch us, not to the arts that
teach us. Modern pictures are, no doubt, delightful to look at.
At least, some of them are. But they are quite impossible to live
with; they are too clever, too assertive, too intellectual. Their
meaning is too obvious, and their method too clearly defined. One
exhausts what they have to say in a very short time, and then they
become as tedious as one's relations. I am very fond of the work
of many of the Impressionist painters of Paris and London.
Subtlety and distinction have not yet left the school. Some of
their arrangements and harmonies serve to remind one of the
unapproachable beauty of Gautier's immortal Symphonie en Blanc
Majeur, that flawless masterpiece of colour and music which may
have suggested the type as well as the titles of many of their best
pictures. For a class that welcomes the incompetent with
sympathetic eagerness, and that confuses the bizarre with the
beautiful, and vulgarity with truth, they are extremely
accomplished. They can do etchings that have the brilliancy of
epigrams, pastels that are as fascinating as paradoxes, and as for
their portraits, whatever the commonplace may say against them, no
one can deny that they possess that unique and wonderful charm
which belongs to works of pure fiction. But even the
Impressionists, earnest and industrious as they are, will not do.
I like them. Their white keynote, with its variations in lilac,
was an era in colour. Though the moment does not make the man, the
moment certainly makes the Impressionist, and for the moment in
art, and the 'moment's monument,' as Rossetti phrased it, what may
not be said? They are suggestive also. If they have not opened
the eyes of the blind, they have at least given great encouragement
to the short-sighted, and while their leaders may have all the
inexperience of old age, their young men are far too wise to be
ever sensible. Yet they will insist on treating painting as if it
were a mode of autobiography invented for the use of the
illiterate, and are always prating to us on their coarse gritty
canvases of their unnecessary selves and their unnecessary
opinions, and spoiling by a vulgar over-emphasis that fine contempt
of nature which is the best and only modest thing about them. One
tires, at the end, of the work of individuals whose individuality
is always noisy, and generally uninteresting. There is far more to
be said in favour of that newer school at Paris, the Archaicistes,
as they call themselves, who, refusing to leave the artist entirely
at the mercy of the weather, do not find the ideal of art in mere
atmospheric effect, but seek rather for the imaginative beauty of
design and the loveliness of fair colour, and rejecting the tedious
realism of those who merely paint what they see, try to see
something worth seeing, and to see it not merely with actual and
physical vision, but with that nobler vision of the soul which is
as far wider in spiritual scope as it is far more splendid in
artistic purpose. They, at any rate, work under those decorative
conditions that each art requires for its perfection, and have
sufficient aesthetic instinct to regret those sordid and stupid
limitations of absolute modernity of form which have proved the
ruin of so many of the Impressionists. Still, the art that is
frankly decorative is the art to live with. It is, of all our
visible arts, the one art that creates in us both mood and
temperament. Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with
definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.
The harmony that resides in the delicate proportions of lines and
masses becomes mirrored in the mind. The repetitions of pattern
give us rest. The marvels of design stir the imagination. In the
mere loveliness of the materials employed there are latent elements
of culture. Nor is this all. By its deliberate rejection of
Nature as the ideal of beauty, as well as of the imitative method
of the ordinary painter, decorative art not merely prepares the
soul for the reception of true imaginative work, but develops in it
that sense of form which is the basis of creative no less than of
critical achievement. For the real artist is he who proceeds, not
from feeling to form, but from form to thought and passion. He
does not first conceive an idea, and then say to himself, 'I will
put my idea into a complex metre of fourteen lines,' but, realising
the beauty of the sonnet-scheme, he conceives certain modes of
music and methods of rhyme, and the mere form suggests what is to
fill it and make it intellectually and emotionally complete. From
time to time the world cries out against some charming artistic
poet, because, to use its hackneyed and silly phrase, he has
'nothing to say.' But if he had something to say, he would
probably say it, and the result would be tedious. It is just
because he has no new message, that he can do beautiful work. He
gains his inspiration from form, and from form purely, as an artist
should. A real passion would ruin him. Whatever actually occurs
is spoiled for art. All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be

ERNEST. I wonder do you really believe what you say?

GILBERT. Why should you wonder? It is not merely in art that the
body is the soul. In every sphere of life Form is the beginning of
things. The rhythmic harmonious gestures of dancing convey, Plato
tells us, both rhythm and harmony into the mind. Forms are the
food of faith, cried Newman in one of those great moments of
sincerity that make us admire and know the man. He was right,
though he may not have known how terribly right he was. The Creeds
are believed, not because they are rational, but because they are
repeated. Yes: Form is everything. It is the secret of life.
Find expression for a sorrow, and it will become dear to you. Find
expression for a joy, and you intensify its ecstasy. Do you wish
to love? Use Love's Litany, and the words will create the yearning
from which the world fancies that they spring. Have you a grief
that corrodes your heart? Steep yourself in the Language of grief,
learn its utterance from Prince Hamlet and Queen Constance, and you
will find that mere expression is a mode of consolation, and that
Form, which is the birth of passion, is also the death of pain.
And so, to return to the sphere of Art, it is Form that creates not
merely the critical temperament, but also the aesthetic instinct,
that unerring instinct that reveals to one all things under their
conditions of beauty. Start with the worship of form, and there is
no secret in art that will not be revealed to you, and remember
that in criticism, as in creation, temperament is everything, and
that it is, not by the time of their production, but by the
temperaments to which they appeal, that the schools of art should
be historically grouped.

ERNEST. Your theory of education is delightful. But what
influence will your critic, brought up in these exquisite
surroundings, possess? Do you really think that any artist is ever
affected by criticism?

GILBERT. The influence of the critic will be the mere fact of his
own existence. He will represent the flawless type. In him the
culture of the century will see itself realised. You must not ask
of him to have any aim other than the perfecting of himself. The
demand of the intellect, as has been well said, is simply to feel
itself alive. The critic may, indeed, desire to exercise
influence; but, if so, he will concern himself not with the
individual, but with the age, which he will seek to wake into
consciousness, and to make responsive, creating in it new desires
and appetites, and lending it his larger vision and his nobler
moods. The actual art of to-day will occupy him less than the art
of to-morrow, far less than the art of yesterday, and as for this
or that person at present toiling away, what do the industrious
matter? They do their best, no doubt, and consequently we get the
worst from them. It is always with the best intentions that the
worst work is done. And besides, my dear Ernest, when a man
reaches the age of forty, or becomes a Royal Academician, or is
elected a member of the Athenaeum Club, or is recognised as a
popular novelist, whose books are in great demand at suburban
railway stations, one may have the amusement of exposing him, but
one cannot have the pleasure of reforming him. And this is, I dare
say, very fortunate for him; for I have no doubt that reformation
is a much more painful process than punishment, is indeed
punishment in its most aggravated and moral form--a fact which
accounts for our entire failure as a community to reclaim that
interesting phenomenon who is called the confirmed criminal.

ERNEST. But may it not be that the poet is the best judge of
poetry, and the painter of painting? Each art must appeal
primarily to the artist who works in it. His judgment will surely
be the most valuable?

GILBERT. The appeal of all art is simply to the artistic
temperament. Art does not address herself to the specialist. Her
claim is that she is universal, and that in all her manifestations
she is one. Indeed, so far from its being true that the artist is
the best judge of art, a really great artist can never judge of
other people's work at all, and can hardly, in fact, judge of his
own. That very concentration of vision that makes a man an artist,
limits by its sheer intensity his faculty of fine appreciation.
The energy of creation hurries him blindly on to his own goal. The
wheels of his chariot raise the dust as a cloud around him. The
gods are hidden from each other. They can recognise their
worshippers. That is all.

ERNEST. You say that a great artist cannot recognise the beauty of
work different from his own.

GILBERT. It is impossible for him to do so. Wordsworth saw in
Endymion merely a pretty piece of Paganism, and Shelley, with his
dislike of actuality, was deaf to Wordsworth's message, being
repelled by its form, and Byron, that great passionate human
incomplete creature, could appreciate neither the poet of the cloud
nor the poet of the lake, and the wonder of Keats was hidden from
him. The realism of Euripides was hateful to Sophokles. Those
droppings of warm tears had no music for him. Milton, with his
sense of the grand style, could not understand the method of
Shakespeare, any more than could Sir Joshua the method of
Gainsborough. Bad artists always admire each other's work. They
call it being large-minded and free from prejudice. But a truly
great artist cannot conceive of life being shown, or beauty
fashioned, under any conditions other than those that he has
selected. Creation employs all its critical faculty within its own
sphere. It may not use it in the sphere that belongs to others.
It is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper
judge of it.

ERNEST. Do you really mean that?

GILBERT. Yes, for creation limits, while contemplation widens, the

ERNEST. But what about technique? Surely each art has its
separate technique?

GILBERT. Certainly: each art has its grammar and its materials.
There is no mystery about either, and the incompetent can always be
correct. But, while the laws upon which Art rests may be fixed and
certain, to find their true realisation they must be touched by the
imagination into such beauty that they will seem an exception, each
one of them. Technique is really personality. That is the reason
why the artist cannot teach it, why the pupil cannot learn it, and
why the aesthetic critic can understand it. To the great poet,
there is only one method of music--his own. To the great painter,
there is only one manner of painting--that which he himself
employs. The aesthetic critic, and the aesthetic critic alone, can
appreciate all forms and modes. It is to him that Art makes her

ERNEST. Well, I think I have put all my questions to you. And now
I must admit -

GILBERT. Ah! don't say that you agree with me. When people agree
with me I always feel that I must be wrong.

ERNEST. In that case I certainly won't tell you whether I agree
with you or not. But I will put another question. You have
explained to me that criticism is a creative art. What future has

GILBERT. It is to criticism that the future belongs. The subject-
matter at the disposal of creation becomes every day more limited
in extent and variety. Providence and Mr. Walter Besant have
exhausted the obvious. If creation is to last at all, it can only
do so on the condition of becoming far more critical than it is at
present. The old roads and dusty highways have been traversed too
often. Their charm has been worn away by plodding feet, and they
have lost that element of novelty or surprise which is so essential
for romance. He who would stir us now by fiction must either give
us an entirely new background, or reveal to us the soul of man in
its innermost workings. The first is for the moment being done for
us by Mr. Rudyard Kipling. As one turns over the pages of his
Plain Tales from the Hills, one feels as if one were seated under a
palm-tree reading life by superb flashes of vulgarity. The bright
colours of the bazaars dazzle one's eyes. The jaded, second-rate
Anglo-Indians are in exquisite incongruity with their surroundings.
The mere lack of style in the story-teller gives an odd
journalistic realism to what he tells us. From the point of view
of literature Mr. Kipling is a genius who drops his aspirates.
From the point of view of life, he is a reporter who knows
vulgarity better than any one has ever known it. Dickens knew its
clothes and its comedy. Mr. Kipling knows its essence and its
seriousness. He is our first authority on the second-rate, and has
seen marvellous things through keyholes, and his backgrounds are
real works of art. As for the second condition, we have had
Browning, and Meredith is with us. But there is still much to be
done in the sphere of introspection. People sometimes say that
fiction is getting too morbid. As far as psychology is concerned,
it has never been morbid enough. We have merely touched the
surface of the soul, that is all. In one single ivory cell of the
brain there are stored away things more marvellous and more
terrible than even they have dreamed of, who, like the author of Le
Rouge et le Noir, have sought to track the soul into its most
secret places, and to make life confess its dearest sins. Still,
there is a limit even to the number of untried backgrounds, and it
is possible that a further development of the habit of
introspection may prove fatal to that creative faculty to which it
seeks to supply fresh material. I myself am inclined to think that
creation is doomed. It springs from too primitive, too natural an
impulse. However this may be, it is certain that the subject-
matter at the disposal of creation is always diminishing, while the
subject-matter of criticism increases daily. There are always new
attitudes for the mind, and new points of view. The duty of
imposing form upon chaos does not grow less as the world advances.
There was never a time when Criticism was more needed than it is
now. It is only by its means that Humanity can become conscious of
the point at which it has arrived.

Hours ago, Ernest, you asked me the use of Criticism. You might
just as well have asked me the use of thought. It is Criticism, as
Arnold points out, that creates the intellectual atmosphere of the
age. It is Criticism, as I hope to point out myself some day, that
makes the mind a fine instrument. We, in our educational system,
have burdened the memory with a load of unconnected facts, and
laboriously striven to impart our laboriously-acquired knowledge.
We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.
It has never occurred to us to try and develop in the mind a more
subtle quality of apprehension and discernment. The Greeks did
this, and when we come in contact with the Greek critical
intellect, we cannot but be conscious that, while our subject-
matter is in every respect larger and more varied than theirs,
theirs is the only method by which this subject-matter can be
interpreted. England has done one thing; it has invented and
established Public Opinion, which is an attempt to organise the
ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of
physical force. But Wisdom has always been hidden from it.
Considered as an instrument of thought, the English mind is coarse
and undeveloped. The only thing that can purify it is the growth
of the critical instinct.

It is Criticism, again, that, by concentration, makes culture
possible. It takes the cumbersome mass of creative work, and
distils it into a finer essence. Who that desires to retain any
sense of form could struggle through the monstrous multitudinous
books that the world has produced, books in which thought stammers
or ignorance brawls? The thread that is to guide us across the
wearisome labyrinth is in the hands of Criticism. Nay more, where
there is no record, and history is either lost, or was never
written, Criticism can re-create the past for us from the very
smallest fragment of language or art, just as surely as the man of
science can from some tiny bone, or the mere impress of a foot upon
a rock, re-create for us the winged dragon or Titan lizard that
once made the earth shake beneath its tread, can call Behemoth out
of his cave, and make Leviathan swim once more across the startled
sea. Prehistoric history belongs to the philological and
archaeological critic. It is to him that the origins of things are
revealed. The self-conscious deposits of an age are nearly always
misleading. Through philological criticism alone we know more of
the centuries of which no actual record has been preserved, than we
do of the centuries that have left us their scrolls. It can do for
us what can be done neither by physics nor metaphysics. It can
give us the exact science of mind in the process of becoming. It
can do for us what History cannot do. It can tell us what man
thought before he learned how to write. You have asked me about
the influence of Criticism. I think I have answered that question
already; but there is this also to be said. It is Criticism that
makes us cosmopolitan. The Manchester school tried to make men
realise the brotherhood of humanity, by pointing out the commercial
advantages of peace. It sought to degrade the wonderful world into
a common market-place for the buyer and the seller. It addressed
itself to the lowest instincts, and it failed. War followed upon
war, and the tradesman's creed did not prevent France and Germany
from clashing together in blood-stained battle. There are others
of our own day who seek to appeal to mere emotional sympathies, or
to the shallow dogmas of some vague system of abstract ethics.
They have their Peace Societies, so dear to the sentimentalists,
and their proposals for unarmed International Arbitration, so
popular among those who have never read history. But mere
emotional sympathy will not do. It is too variable, and too
closely connected with the passions; and a board of arbitrators
who, for the general welfare of the race, are to be deprived of the
power of putting their decisions into execution, will not be of
much avail. There is only one thing worse than Injustice, and that
is Justice without her sword in her hand. When Right is not Might,
it is Evil.

No: the emotions will not make us cosmopolitan, any more than the
greed for gain could do so. It is only by the cultivation of the
habit of intellectual criticism that we shall be able to rise
superior to race-prejudices. Goethe--you will not misunderstand
what I say--was a German of the Germans. He loved his country--no
man more so. Its people were dear to him; and he led them. Yet,
when the iron hoof of Napoleon trampled upon vineyard and
cornfield, his lips were silent. 'How can one write songs of
hatred without hating?' he said to Eckermann, 'and how could I, to
whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation
which is among the most cultivated of the earth and to which I owe
so great a part of my own cultivation?' This note, sounded in the
modern world by Goethe first, will become, I think, the starting
point for the cosmopolitanism of the future. Criticism will
annihilate race-prejudices, by insisting upon the unity of the
human mind in the variety of its forms. If we are tempted to make
war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to
destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most
important element. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will
always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it
will cease to be popular. The change will of course be slow, and
people will not be conscious of it. They will not say 'We will not
war against France because her prose is perfect,' but because the
prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land.
Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds far
closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist.
It will give us the peace that springs from understanding.

Nor is this all. It is Criticism that, recognising no position as
final, and refusing to bind itself by the shallow shibboleths of
any sect or school, creates that serene philosophic temper which
loves truth for its own sake, and loves it not the less because it
knows it to be unattainable. How little we have of this temper in
England, and how much we need it! The English mind is always in a
rage. The intellect of the race is wasted in the sordid and stupid
quarrels of second-rate politicians or third-rate theologians. It
was reserved for a man of science to show us the supreme example of
that 'sweet reasonableness' of which Arnold spoke so wisely, and,
alas! to so little effect. The author of the Origin of Species
had, at any rate, the philosophic temper. If one contemplates the
ordinary pulpits and platforms of England, one can but feel the
contempt of Julian, or the indifference of Montaigne. We are
dominated by the fanatic, whose worst vice is his sincerity.
Anything approaching to the free play of the mind is practically
unknown amongst us. People cry out against the sinner, yet it is
not the sinful, but the stupid, who are our shame. There is no sin
except stupidity.

ERNEST. Ah! what an antinomian you are!

GILBERT. The artistic critic, like the mystic, is an antinomian
always. To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness,
is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of
sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain
low passion for middle-class respectability. Aesthetics are higher
than ethics. They belong to a more spiritual sphere. To discern
the beauty of a thing is the finest point to which we can arrive.
Even a colour-sense is more important, in the development of the
individual, than a sense of right and wrong. Aesthetics, in fact,
are to Ethics in the sphere of conscious civilisation, what, in the
sphere of the external world, sexual is to natural selection.
Ethics, like natural selection, make existence possible.
Aesthetics, like sexual selection, make life lovely and wonderful,
fill it with new forms, and give it progress, and variety and
change. And when we reach the true culture that is our aim, we
attain to that perfection of which the saints have dreamed, the
perfection of those to whom sin is impossible, not because they
make the renunciations of the ascetic, but because they can do
everything they wish without hurt to the soul, and can wish for
nothing that can do the soul harm, the soul being an entity so
divine that it is able to transform into elements of a richer
experience, or a finer susceptibility, or a newer mode of thought,
acts or passions that with the common would be commonplace, or with
the uneducated ignoble, or with the shameful vile. Is this
dangerous? Yes; it is dangerous--all ideas, as I told you, are so.
But the night wearies, and the light flickers in the lamp. One
more thing I cannot help saying to you. You have spoken against
Criticism as being a sterile thing. The nineteenth century is a
turning point in history, simply on account of the work of two men,
Darwin and Renan, the one the critic of the Book of Nature, the
other the critic of the books of God. Not to recognise this is to
miss the meaning of one of the most important eras in the progress
of the world. Creation is always behind the age. It is Criticism
that leads us. The Critical Spirit and the World-Spirit are one.

ERNEST. And he who is in possession of this spirit, or whom this
spirit possesses, will, I suppose, do nothing?

GILBERT. Like the Persephone of whom Landor tells us, the sweet
pensive Persephone around whose white feet the asphodel and
amaranth are blooming, he will sit contented 'in that deep,
motionless quiet which mortals pity, and which the gods enjoy.' He
will look out upon the world and know its secret. By contact with
divine things he will become divine. His will be the perfect life,
and his only.

ERNEST. You have told me many strange things to-night, Gilbert.
You have told me that it is more difficult to talk about a thing
than to do it, and that to do nothing at all is the most difficult
thing in the world; you have told me that all Art is immoral, and
all thought dangerous; that criticism is more creative than
creation, and that the highest criticism is that which reveals in
the work of Art what the artist had not put there; that it is
exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge
of it; and that the true critic is unfair, insincere, and not
rational. My friend, you are a dreamer.

GILBERT. Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only
find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the
dawn before the rest of the world.

ERNEST. His punishment?

GILBERT. And his reward. But, see, it is dawn already. Draw back
the curtains and open the windows wide. How cool the morning air
is! Piccadilly lies at our feet like a long riband of silver. A
faint purple mist hangs over the Park, and the shadows of the white
houses are purple. It is too late to sleep. Let us go down to
Covent Garden and look at the roses. Come! I am tired of thought.


In many of the somewhat violent attacks that have recently been
made on that splendour of mounting which now characterises our
Shakespearian revivals in England, it seems to have been tacitly
assumed by the critics that Shakespeare himself was more or less
indifferent to the costumes of his actors, and that, could he see
Mrs. Langtry's production of Antony and Cleopatra, he would
probably say that the play, and the play only, is the thing, and
that everything else is leather and prunella. While, as regards
any historical accuracy in dress, Lord Lytton, in an article in the
Nineteenth Century, has laid it down as a dogma of art that
archaeology is entirely out of place in the presentation of any of
Shakespeare's plays, and the attempt to introduce it one of the
stupidest pedantries of an age of prigs.

Lord Lytton's position I shall examine later on; but, as regards
the theory that Shakespeare did not busy himself much about the
costume-wardrobe of his theatre, anybody who cares to study
Shakespeare's method will see that there is absolutely no dramatist
of the French, English, or Athenian stage who relies so much for
his illusionist effects on the dress of his actors as Shakespeare
does himself.

Knowing how the artistic temperament is always fascinated by beauty
of costume, he constantly introduces into his plays masques and
dances, purely for the sake of the pleasure which they give the
eye; and we have still his stage-directions for the three great
processions in Henry the Eighth, directions which are characterised
by the most extraordinary elaborateness of detail down to the
collars of S.S. and the pearls in Anne Boleyn's hair. Indeed it
would be quite easy for a modern manager to reproduce these
pageants absolutely as Shakespeare had them designed; and so
accurate were they that one of the court officials of the time,
writing an account of the last performance of the play at the Globe
Theatre to a friend, actually complains of their realistic
character, notably of the production on the stage of the Knights of
the Garter in the robes and insignia of the order as being
calculated to bring ridicule on the real ceremonies; much in the
same spirit in which the French Government, some time ago,
prohibited that delightful actor, M. Christian, from appearing in
uniform, on the plea that it was prejudicial to the glory of the
army that a colonel should be caricatured. And elsewhere the
gorgeousness of apparel which distinguished the English stage under
Shakespeare's influence was attacked by the contemporary critics,
not as a rule, however, on the grounds of the democratic tendencies
of realism, but usually on those moral grounds which are always the
last refuge of people who have no sense of beauty.

The point, however, which I wish to emphasise is, not that
Shakespeare appreciated the value of lovely costumes in adding
picturesqueness to poetry, but that he saw how important costume is
as a means of producing certain dramatic effects. Many of his
plays, such as Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, The Two
Gentleman of Verona, All's Well that Ends Well, Cymbeline, and
others, depend for their illusion on the character of the various
dresses worn by the hero or the heroine; the delightful scene in
Henry the Sixth, on the modern miracles of healing by faith, loses
all its point unless Gloster is in black and scarlet; and the
denoument of the Merry Wives of Windsor hinges on the colour of
Anne Page's gown. As for the uses Shakespeare makes of disguises
the instances are almost numberless. Posthumus hides his passion
under a peasant's garb, and Edgar his pride beneath an idiot's
rags; Portia wears the apparel of a lawyer, and Rosalind is attired
in 'all points as a man'; the cloak-bag of Pisanio changes Imogen
to the Youth Fidele; Jessica flees from her father's house in boy's
dress, and Julia ties up her yellow hair in fantastic love-knots,
and dons hose and doublet; Henry the Eighth woos his lady as a
shepherd, and Romeo his as a pilgrim; Prince Hal and Poins appear
first as footpads in buckram suits, and then in white aprons and
leather jerkins as the waiters in a tavern: and as for Falstaff,
does he not come on as a highwayman, as an old woman, as Herne the
Hunter, and as the clothes going to the laundry?

Nor are the examples of the employment of costume as a mode of
intensifying dramatic situation less numerous. After slaughter of
Duncan, Macbeth appears in his night-gown as if aroused from sleep;
Timon ends in rags the play he had begun in splendour; Richard
flatters the London citizens in a suit of mean and shabby armour,
and, as soon as he has stepped in blood to the throne, marches
through the streets in crown and George and Garter; the climax of
The Tempest is reached when Prospero, throwing off his enchanter's
robes, sends Ariel for his hat and rapier, and reveals himself as
the great Italian Duke; the very Ghost in Hamlet changes his
mystical apparel to produce different effects; and as for Juliet, a
modern playwright would probably have laid her out in her shroud,
and made the scene a scene of horror merely, but Shakespeare arrays
her in rich and gorgeous raiment, whose loveliness makes the vault
'a feasting presence full of light,' turns the tomb into a bridal
chamber, and gives the cue and motive for Romeo's speech of the
triumph of Beauty over Death.

Even small details of dress, such as the colour of a major-domo's
stockings, the pattern on a wife's handkerchief, the sleeve of a
young soldier, and a fashionable woman's bonnets, become in
Shakespeare's hands points of actual dramatic importance, and by
some of them the action of the play in question is conditioned
absolutely. Many other dramatists have availed themselves of
costume as a method of expressing directly to the audience the
character of a person on his entrance, though hardly so brilliantly
as Shakespeare has done in the case of the dandy Parolles, whose
dress, by the way, only an archaeologist can understand; the fun of
a master and servant exchanging coats in presence of the audience,
of shipwrecked sailors squabbling over the division of a lot of
fine clothes, and of a tinker dressed up like a duke while he is in
his cups, may be regarded as part of that great career which
costume has always played in comedy from the time of Aristophanes
down to Mr. Gilbert; but nobody from the mere details of apparel
and adornment has ever drawn such irony of contrast, such immediate
and tragic effect, such pity and such pathos, as Shakespeare
himself. Armed cap-a-pie, the dead King stalks on the battlements
of Elsinore because all is not right with Denmark; Shylock's Jewish
gaberdine is part of the stigma under which that wounded and
embittered nature writhes; Arthur begging for his life can think of
no better plea than the handkerchief he had given Hubert -

Have you the heart? when your head did but ache,
I knit my handkerchief about your brows,
(The best I had, a princess wrought it me)
And I did never ask it you again;

and Orlando's blood-stained napkin strikes the first sombre note in
that exquisite woodland idyll, and shows us the depth of feeling
that underlies Rosalind's fanciful wit and wilful jesting.

Last night 'twas on my arm; I kissed it;
I hope it be not gone to tell my lord
That I kiss aught but he,

says Imogen, jesting on the loss of the bracelet which was already
on its way to Rome to rob her of her husband's faith; the little
Prince passing to the Tower plays with the dagger in his uncle's
girdle; Duncan sends a ring to Lady Macbeth on the night of his own
murder, and the ring of Portia turns the tragedy of the merchant
into a wife's comedy. The great rebel York dies with a paper crown
on his head; Hamlet's black suit is a kind of colour-motive in the
piece, like the mourning of the Chimene in the Cid; and the climax
of Antony's speech is the production of Caesar's cloak:-

I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on.
'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent,
The day he overcame the Nervii:-
Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed. . . .
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar's vesture wounded?

The flowers which Ophelia carries with her in her madness are as
pathetic as the violets that blossom on a grave; the effect of
Lear's wandering on the heath is intensified beyond words by his
fantastic attire; and when Cloten, stung by the taunt of that
simile which his sister draws from her husband's raiment, arrays
himself in that husband's very garb to work upon her the deed of
shame, we feel that there is nothing in the whole of modern French
realism, nothing even in Therese Raquin, that masterpiece of
horror, which for terrible and tragic significance can compare with
this strange scene in Cymbeline.

In the actual dialogue also some of the most vivid passages are
those suggested by costume. Rosalind's

Dost thou think, though I am caparisoned like a man, I have a
doublet and hose in my disposition?


Grief fills the place of my absent child,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

and the quick sharp cry of Elizabeth -

Ah! cut my lace asunder! -

are only a few of the many examples one might quote. One of the
finest effects I have ever seen on the stage was Salvini, in the
last act of Lear, tearing the plume from Kent's cap and applying it
to Cordelia's lips when he came to the line,

This feather stirs; she lives!

Mr. Booth, whose Lear had many noble qualities of passion, plucked,
I remember, some fur from his archaeologically-incorrect ermine for
the same business; but Salvini's was the finer effect of the two,
as well as the truer. And those who saw Mr. Irving in the last act
of Richard the Third have not, I am sure, forgotten how much the
agony and terror of his dream was intensified, by contrast, through
the calm and quiet that preceded it, and the delivery of such lines

What, is my beaver easier than it was?
And all my armour laid into my tent?
Look that my staves be sound and not too heavy -

lines which had a double meaning for the audience, remembering the
last words which Richard's mother called after him as he was
marching to Bosworth:-

Therefore take with thee my most grievous curse,
Which in the day of battle tire thee more
Than all the complete armour that thou wear'st.

As regards the resources which Shakespeare had at his disposal, it
is to be remarked that, while he more than once complains of the
smallness of the stage on which he has to produce big historical
plays, and of the want of scenery which obliges him to cut out many
effective open-air incidents, he always writes as a dramatist who
had at his disposal a most elaborate theatrical wardrobe, and who
could rely on the actors taking pains about their make-up. Even
now it is difficult to produce such a play as the Comedy of Errors;
and to the picturesque accident of Miss Ellen Terry's brother
resembling herself we owe the opportunity of seeing Twelfth Night
adequately performed. Indeed, to put any play of Shakespeare's on
the stage, absolutely as he himself wished it to be done, requires
the services of a good property-man, a clever wig-maker, a
costumier with a sense of colour and a knowledge of textures, a
master of the methods of making-up, a fencing-master, a dancing-
master, and an artist to direct personally the whole production.
For he is most careful to tell us the dress and appearance of each
character. 'Racine abhorre la realite,' says Auguste Vacquerie
somewhere; 'il ne daigne pas s'occuper de son costume. Si l'on
s'en rapportait aux indications du poete, Agamemnon serait vetu
d'un sceptre et Achille d'une epee.' But with Shakespeare it is
very different. He gives us directions about the costumes of
Perdita, Florizel, Autolycus, the Witches in Macbeth, and the
apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, several elaborate descriptions of
his fat knight, and a detailed account of the extraordinary garb in
which Petruchio is to be married. Rosalind, he tells us, is tall,
and is to carry a spear and a little dagger; Celia is smaller, and
is to paint her face brown so as to look sunburnt. The children
who play at fairies in Windsor Forest are to be dressed in white
and green--a compliment, by the way, to Queen Elizabeth, whose
favourite colours they were--and in white, with green garlands and
gilded vizors, the angels are to come to Katherine in Kimbolton.
Bottom is in homespun, Lysander is distinguished from Oberon by his
wearing an Athenian dress, and Launce has holes in his boots. The
Duchess of Gloucester stands in a white sheet with her husband in
mourning beside her. The motley of the Fool, the scarlet of the
Cardinal, and the French lilies broidered on the English coats, are
all made occasion for jest or taunt in the dialogue. We know the
patterns on the Dauphin's armour and the Pucelle's sword, the crest
on Warwick's helmet and the colour of Bardolph's nose. Portia has
golden hair, Phoebe is black-haired, Orlando has chestnut curls,
and Sir Andrew Aguecheek's hair hangs like flax on a distaff, and
won't curl at all. Some of the characters are stout, some lean,
some straight, some hunchbacked, some fair, some dark, and some are
to blacken their faces. Lear has a white beard, Hamlet's father a
grizzled, and Benedick is to shave his in the course of the play.
Indeed, on the subject of stage beards Shakespeare is quite
elaborate; tells us of the many different colours in use, and gives
a hint to actors always to see that their own are properly tied on.
There is a dance of reapers in rye-straw hats, and of rustics in
hairy coats like satyrs; a masque of Amazons, a masque of Russians,
and a classical masque; several immortal scenes over a weaver in an
ass's head, a riot over the colour of a coat which it takes the
Lord Mayor of London to quell, and a scene between an infuriated
husband and his wife's milliner about the slashing of a sleeve.

As for the metaphors Shakespeare draws from dress, and the
aphorisms he makes on it, his hits at the costume of his age,
particularly at the ridiculous size of the ladies' bonnets, and the
many descriptions of the mundus muliebris, from the long of
Autolycus in the Winter's Tale down to the account of the Duchess
of Milan's gown in Much Ado About Nothing, they are far too
numerous to quote; though it may be worth while to remind people
that the whole of the Philosophy of Clothes is to be found in
Lear's scene with Edgar--a passage which has the advantage of
brevity and style over the grotesque wisdom and somewhat mouthing
metaphysics of Sartor Resartus. But I think that from what I have
already said it is quite clear that Shakespeare was very much
interested in costume. I do not mean in that shallow sense by
which it has been concluded from his knowledge of deeds and
daffodils that he was the Blackstone and Paxton of the Elizabethan
age; but that he saw that costume could be made at once impressive
of a certain effect on the audience and expressive of certain types
of character, and is one of the essential factors of the means
which a true illusionist has at his disposal. Indeed to him the
deformed figure of Richard was of as much value as Juliet's
loveliness; he sets the serge of the radical beside the silks of
the lord, and sees the stage effects to be got from each: he has
as much delight in Caliban as he has in Ariel, in rags as he has in
cloth of gold, and recognises the artistic beauty of ugliness.

The difficulty Ducis felt about translating Othello in consequence
of the importance given to such a vulgar thing as a handkerchief,
and his attempt to soften its grossness by making the Moor
reiterate 'Le bandeau! le bandeau!' may be taken as an example of
the difference between la tragedie philosophique and the drama of
real life; and the introduction for the first time of the word
mouchoir at the Theatre Francais was an era in that romantic-
realistic movement of which Hugo is the father and M. Zola the
enfant terrible, just as the classicism of the earlier part of the
century was emphasised by Talma's refusal to play Greek heroes any
longer in a powdered periwig--one of the many instances, by the
way, of that desire for archaeological accuracy in dress which has
distinguished the great actors of our age.

In criticising the importance given to money in La Comedie Humaine,
Theophile Gautier says that Balzac may claim to have invented a new
hero in fiction, le heros metallique. Of Shakespeare it may be
said he was the first to see the dramatic value of doublets, and
that a climax may depend on a crinoline.

The burning of the Globe Theatre--an event due, by the way, to the
results of the passion for illusion that distinguished
Shakespeare's stage-management--has unfortunately robbed us of many
important documents; but in the inventory, still in existence, of
the costume-wardrobe of a London theatre in Shakespeare's time,
there are mentioned particular costumes for cardinals, shepherds,
kings, clowns, friars, and fools; green coats for Robin Hood's men,
and a green gown for Maid Marian; a white and gold doublet for
Henry the Fifth, and a robe for Longshanks; besides surplices,
copes, damask gowns, gowns of cloth of gold and of cloth of silver,
taffeta gowns, calico gowns, velvet coats, satin coats, frieze
coats, jerkins of yellow leather and of black leather, red suits,
grey suits, French Pierrot suits, a robe 'for to goo invisibell,'
which seems inexpensive at 3 pounds, 10s., and four incomparable
fardingales--all of which show a desire to give every character an
appropriate dress. There are also entries of Spanish, Moorish and
Danish costumes, of helmets, lances, painted shields, imperial
crowns, and papal tiaras, as well as of costumes for Turkish
Janissaries, Roman Senators, and all the gods and goddesses of
Olympus, which evidence a good deal of archaeological research on
the part of the manager of the theatre. It is true that there is a
mention of a bodice for Eve, but probably the donnee of the play
was after the Fall.

Indeed, anybody who cares to examine the age of Shakespeare will
see that archaeology was one of its special characteristics. After
that revival of the classical forms of architecture which was one
of the notes of the Renaissance, and the printing at Venice and
elsewhere of the masterpieces of Greek and Latin literature, had
come naturally an interest in the ornamentation and costume of the
antique world. Nor was it for the learning that they could
acquire, but rather for the loveliness that they might create, that
the artists studied these things. The curious objects that were
being constantly brought to light by excavations were not left to
moulder in a museum, for the contemplation of a callous curator,
and the ennui of a policeman bored by the absence of crime. They
were used as motives for the production of a new art, which was to
be not beautiful merely, but also strange.

Infessura tells us that in 1485 some workmen digging on the Appian
Way came across an old Roman sarcophagus inscribed with the name
'Julia, daughter of Claudius.' On opening the coffer they found
within its marble womb the body of a beautiful girl of about
fifteen years of age, preserved by the embalmer's skill from
corruption and the decay of time. Her eyes were half open, her
hair rippled round her in crisp curling gold, and from her lips and
cheek the bloom of maidenhood had not yet departed. Borne back to
the Capitol, she became at once the centre of a new cult, and from
all parts of the city crowded pilgrims to worship at the wonderful
shrine, till the Pope, fearing lest those who had found the secret
of beauty in a Pagan tomb might forget what secrets Judaea's rough
and rock-hewn sepulchre contained, had the body conveyed away by
night, and in secret buried. Legend though it may be, yet the
story is none the less valuable as showing us the attitude of the
Renaissance towards the antique world. Archaeology to them was not
a mere science for the antiquarian; it was a means by which they
could touch the dry dust of antiquity into the very breath and
beauty of life, and fill with the new wine of romanticism forms
that else had been old and outworn. From the pulpit of Niccola
Pisano down to Mantegna's 'Triumph of Caesar,' and the service
Cellini designed for King Francis, the influence of this spirit can
be traced; nor was it confined merely to the immobile arts--the
arts of arrested movement--but its influence was to be seen also in
the great Graeco-Roman masques which were the constant amusement of
the gay courts of the time, and in the public pomps and processions
with which the citizens of big commercial towns were wont to greet
the princes that chanced to visit them; pageants, by the way, which
were considered so important that large prints were made of them
and published--a fact which is a proof of the general interest at
the time in matters of such kind.

And this use of archaeology in shows, so far from being a bit of
priggish pedantry, is in every way legitimate and beautiful. For
the stage is not merely the meeting-place of all the arts, but is
also the return of art to life. Sometimes in an archaeological
novel the use of strange and obsolete terms seems to hide the
reality beneath the learning, and I dare say that many of the
readers of Notre Dame de Paris have been much puzzled over the
meaning of such expressions as la casaque a mahoitres, les
voulgiers, le gallimard tache d'encre, les craaquiniers, and the
like; but with the stage how different it is! The ancient world
wakes from its sleep, and history moves as a pageant before our
eyes, without obliging us to have recourse to a dictionary or an
encyclopaedia for the perfection of our enjoyment. Indeed, there
is not the slightest necessity that the public should know the
authorities for the mounting of any piece. From such materials,
for instance, as the disk of Theodosius, materials with which the
majority of people are probably not very familiar, Mr. E. W.
Godwin, one of the most artistic spirits of this century in
England, created the marvellous loveliness of the first act of
Claudian, and showed us the life of Byzantium in the fourth
century, not by a dreary lecture and a set of grimy casts, not by a
novel which requires a glossary to explain it, but by the visible
presentation before us of all the glory of that great town. And
while the costumes were true to the smallest points of colour and
design, yet the details were not assigned that abnormal importance
which they must necessarily be given in a piecemeal lecture, but
were subordinated to the rules of lofty composition and the unity
of artistic effect. Mr. Symonds, speaking of that great picture of
Mantegna's, now in Hampton Court, says that the artist has
converted an antiquarian motive into a theme for melodies of line.
The same could have been said with equal justice of Mr. Godwin's
scene. Only the foolish called it pedantry, only those who would
neither look nor listen spoke of the passion of the play being
killed by its paint. It was in reality a scene not merely perfect
in its picturesqueness, but absolutely dramatic also, getting rid
of any necessity for tedious descriptions, and showing us, by the
colour and character of Claudian's dress, and the dress of his
attendants, the whole nature and life of the man, from what school
of philosophy he affected, down to what horses he backed on the

And indeed archaeology is only really delightful when transfused
into some form of art. I have no desire to underrate the services
of laborious scholars, but I feel that the use Keats made of
Lempriere's Dictionary is of far more value to us than Professor
Max Muller's treatment of the same mythology as a disease of
language. Better Endymion than any theory, however sound, or, as
in the present instance, unsound, of an epidemic among adjectives!
And who does not feel that the chief glory of Piranesi's book on
Vases is that it gave Keats the suggestion for his 'Ode on a
Grecian Urn'? Art, and art only, can make archaeology beautiful;
and the theatric art can use it most directly and most vividly, for
it can combine in one exquisite presentation the illusion of actual
life with the wonder of the unreal world. But the sixteenth
century was not merely the age of Vitruvius; it was the age of
Vecellio also. Every nation seems suddenly to have become
interested in the dress of its neighbours. Europe began to
investigate its own clothes, and the amount of books published on
national costumes is quite extraordinary. At the beginning of the
century the Nuremberg Chronicle, with its two thousand
illustrations, reached its fifth edition, and before the century
was over seventeen editions were published of Munster's
Cosmography. Besides these two books there were also the works of
Michael Colyns, of Hans Weigel, of Amman, and of Vecellio himself,
all of them well illustrated, some of the drawings in Vecellio
being probably from the hand of Titian.

Nor was it merely from books and treatises that they acquired their
knowledge. The development of the habit of foreign travel, the
increased commercial intercourse between countries, and the
frequency of diplomatic missions, gave every nation many
opportunities of studying the various forms of contemporary dress.
After the departure from England, for instance, of the ambassadors
from the Czar, the Sultan and the Prince of Morocco, Henry the
Eighth and his friends gave several masques in the strange attire
of their visitors. Later on London saw, perhaps too often, the
sombre splendour of the Spanish Court, and to Elizabeth came envoys
from all lands, whose dress, Shakespeare tells us, had an important
influence on English costume.

And the interest was not confined merely to classical dress, or the
dress of foreign nations; there was also a good deal of research,
amongst theatrical people especially, into the ancient costume of
England itself: and when Shakespeare, in the prologue to one of
his plays, expresses his regret at being unable to produce helmets
of the period, he is speaking as an Elizabethan manager and not
merely as an Elizabethan poet. At Cambridge, for instance, during
his day, a play of Richard The Third was performed, in which the
actors were attired in real dresses of the time, procured from the
great collection of historical costume in the Tower, which was
always open to the inspection of managers, and sometimes placed at
their disposal. And I cannot help thinking that this performance
must have been far more artistic, as regards costume, than
Garrick's mounting of Shakespeare's own play on the subject, in
which he himself appeared in a nondescript fancy dress, and
everybody else in the costume of the time of George the Third,
Richmond especially being much admired in the uniform of a young

For what is the use to the stage of that archaeology which has so
strangely terrified the critics, but that it, and it alone, can
give us the architecture and apparel suitable to the time in which
the action of the play passes? It enables us to see a Greek
dressed like a Greek, and an Italian like an Italian; to enjoy the
arcades of Venice and the balconies of Verona; and, if the play
deals with any of the great eras in our country's history, to
contemplate the age in its proper attire, and the king in his habit
as he lived. And I wonder, by the way, what Lord Lytton would have
said some time ago, at the Princess's Theatre, had the curtain
risen on his father's Brutus reclining in a Queen Anne chair,
attired in a flowing wig and a flowered dressing-gown, a costume
which in the last century was considered peculiarly appropriate to
an antique Roman! For in those halcyon days of the drama no
archaeology troubled the stage, or distressed the critics, and our
inartistic grandfathers sat peaceably in a stifling atmosphere of
anachronisms, and beheld with the calm complacency of the age of
prose an Iachimo in powder and patches, a Lear in lace ruffles, and
a Lady Macbeth in a large crinoline. I can understand archaeology
being attacked on the ground of its excessive realism, but to
attack it as pedantic seems to be very much beside the mark.
However, to attack it for any reason is foolish; one might just as
well speak disrespectfully of the equator. For archaeology, being
a science, is neither good nor bad, but a fact simply. Its value
depends entirely on how it is used, and only an artist can use it.
We look to the archaeologist for the materials, to the artist for
the method.

In designing the scenery and costumes for any of Shakespeare's
plays, the first thing the artist has to settle is the best date
for the drama. This should be determined by the general spirit of
the play, more than by any actual historical references which may
occur in it. Most Hamlets I have seen were placed far too early.
Hamlet is essentially a scholar of the Revival of Learning; and if
the allusion to the recent invasion of England by the Danes puts it
back to the ninth century, the use of foils brings it down much
later. Once, however, that the date has been fixed, then the
archaeologist is to supply us with the facts which the artist is to
convert into effects.

It has been said that the anachronisms in the plays themselves show
us that Shakespeare was indifferent to historical accuracy, and a
great deal of capital has been made out of Hector's indiscreet
quotation from Aristotle. Upon the other hand, the anachronisms
are really few in number, and not very important, and, had
Shakespeare's attention been drawn to them by a brother artist, he
would probably have corrected them. For, though they can hardly be
called blemishes, they are certainly not the great beauties of his
work; or, at least, if they are, their anachronistic charm cannot
be emphasised unless the play is accurately mounted according to
its proper date. In looking at Shakespeare's plays as a whole,
however, what is really remarkable is their extraordinary fidelity
as regards his personages and his plots. Many of his dramatis
personae are people who had actually existed, and some of them
might have been seen in real life by a portion of his audience.
Indeed the most violent attack that was made on Shakespeare in his
time was for his supposed caricature of Lord Cobham. As for his
plots, Shakespeare constantly draws them either from authentic
history, or from the old ballads and traditions which served as
history to the Elizabethan public, and which even now no scientific
historian would dismiss as absolutely untrue. And not merely did
he select fact instead of fancy as the basis of much of his
imaginative work, but he always gives to each play the general
character, the social atmosphere in a word, of the age in question.
Stupidity he recognises as being one of the permanent
characteristics of all European civilisations; so he sees no
difference between a London mob of his own day and a Roman mob of
pagan days, between a silly watchman in Messina and a silly Justice
of the Peace in Windsor. But when he deals with higher characters,
with those exceptions of each age which are so fine that they
become its types, he gives them absolutely the stamp and seal of
their time. Virgilia is one of those Roman wives on whose tomb was
written 'Domi mansit, lanam fecit,' as surely as Juliet is the
romantic girl of the Renaissance. He is even true to the
characteristics of race. Hamlet has all the imagination and
irresolution of the Northern nations, and the Princess Katharine is
as entirely French as the heroine of Divorcons. Harry the Fifth is
a pure Englishman, and Othello a true Moor.

Again when Shakespeare treats of the history of England from the
fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, it is wonderful how careful
he is to have his facts perfectly right--indeed he follows
Holinshed with curious fidelity. The incessant wars between France
and England are described with extraordinary accuracy down to the
names of the besieged towns, the ports of landing and embarkation,
the sites and dates of the battles, the titles of the commanders on
each side, and the lists of the killed and wounded. And as regards
the Civil Wars of the Roses we have many elaborate genealogies of
the seven sons of Edward the Third; the claims of the rival Houses
of York and Lancaster to the throne are discussed at length; and if
the English aristocracy will not read Shakespeare as a poet, they
should certainly read him as a sort of early Peerage. There is
hardly a single title in the Upper House, with the exception of
course of the uninteresting titles assumed by the law lords, which
does not appear in Shakespeare along with many details of family
history, creditable and discreditable. Indeed if it be really
necessary that the School Board children should know all about the
Wars of the Roses, they could learn their lessons just as well out
of Shakespeare as out of shilling primers, and learn them, I need
not say, far more pleasurably. Even in Shakespeare's own day this
use of his plays was recognised. 'The historical plays teach
history to those who cannot read it in the chronicles,' says
Heywood in a tract about the stage, and yet I am sure that
sixteenth-century chronicles were much more delightful reading than
nineteenth-century primers are.

Of course the aesthetic value of Shakespeare's plays does not, in
the slightest degree, depend on their facts, but on their Truth,
and Truth is independent of facts always, inventing or selecting
them at pleasure. But still Shakespeare's use of facts is a most
interesting part of his method of work, and shows us his attitude
towards the stage, and his relations to the great art of illusion.
Indeed he would have been very much surprised at any one classing
his plays with 'fairy tales,' as Lord Lytton does; for one of his
aims was to create for England a national historical drama, which
should deal with incidents with which the public was well
acquainted, and with heroes that lived in the memory of a people.
Patriotism, I need hardly say, is not a necessary quality of art;
but it means, for the artist, the substitution of a universal for
an individual feeling, and for the public the presentation of a
work of art in a most attractive and popular form. It is worth
noticing that Shakespeare's first and last successes were both
historical plays.

It may be asked, what has this to do with Shakespeare's attitude
towards costume? I answer that a dramatist who laid such stress on
historical accuracy of fact would have welcomed historical accuracy
of costume as a most important adjunct to his illusionist method.
And I have no hesitation in saying that he did so. The reference
to helmets of the period in the prologue to Henry the Fifth may be
considered fanciful, though Shakespeare must have often seen

The very casque
That did affright the air at Agincourt,

where it still hangs in the dusky gloom of Westminster Abbey, along
with the saddle of that 'imp of fame,' and the dinted shield with
its torn blue velvet lining and its tarnished lilies of gold; but
the use of military tabards in Henry the Sixth is a bit of pure
archaeology, as they were not worn in the sixteenth century; and
the King's own tabard, I may mention, was still suspended over his
tomb in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, in Shakespeare's day. For,
up to the time of the unfortunate triumph of the Philistines in
1645, the chapels and cathedrals of England were the great national
museums of archaeology, and in them were kept the armour and attire
of the heroes of English history. A good deal was of course
preserved in the Tower, and even in Elizabeth's day tourists were
brought there to see such curious relics of the past as Charles
Brandon's huge lance, which is still, I believe, the admiration of
our country visitors; but the cathedrals and churches were, as a
rule, selected as the most suitable shrines for the reception of
the historic antiquities. Canterbury can still show us the helm of
the Black Prince, Westminster the robes of our kings, and in old
St. Paul's the very banner that had waved on Bosworth field was
hung up by Richmond himself.

In fact, everywhere that Shakespeare turned in London, he saw the
apparel and appurtenances of past ages, and it is impossible to
doubt that he made use of his opportunities. The employment of
lance and shield, for instance, in actual warfare, which is so
frequent in his plays, is drawn from archaeology, and not from the
military accoutrements of his day; and his general use of armour in
battle was not a characteristic of his age, a time when it was
rapidly disappearing before firearms. Again, the crest on
Warwick's helmet, of which such a point is made in Henry the Sixth,
is absolutely correct in a fifteenth-century play when crests were
generally worn, but would not have been so in a play of
Shakespeare's own time, when feathers and plumes had taken their
place--a fashion which, as he tells us in Henry the Eighth, was
borrowed from France. For the historical plays, then, we may be
sure that archaeology was employed, and as for the others I feel
certain that it was the case also. The appearance of Jupiter on
his eagle, thunderbolt in hand, of Juno with her peacocks, and of
Iris with her many-coloured bow; the Amazon masque and the masque
of the Five Worthies, may all be regarded as archaeological; and
the vision which Posthumus sees in prison of Sicilius Leonatus--'an
old man, attired like a warrior, leading an ancient matron'--is
clearly so. Of the 'Athenian dress' by which Lysander is
distinguished from Oberon I have already spoken; but one of the
most marked instances is in the case of the dress of Coriolanus,
for which Shakespeare goes directly to Plutarch. That historian,
in his Life of the great Roman, tells us of the oak-wreath with
which Caius Marcius was crowned, and of the curious kind of dress
in which, according to ancient fashion, he had to canvass his
electors; and on both of these points he enters into long
disquisitions, investigating the origin and meaning of the old
customs. Shakespeare, in the spirit of the true artist, accepts
the facts of the antiquarian and converts them into dramatic and
picturesque effects: indeed the gown of humility, the 'woolvish
gown,' as Shakespeare calls it, is the central note of the play.
There are other cases I might quote, but this one is quite
sufficient for my purpose; and it is evident from it at any rate
that, in mounting a play in the accurate costume of the time,
according to the best authorities, we are carrying out
Shakespeare's own wishes and method.

Even if it were not so, there is no more reason that we should
continue any imperfections which may be supposed to have
characterised Shakespeare's stage mounting than that we should have
Juliet played by a young man, or give up the advantage of
changeable scenery. A great work of dramatic art should not merely
be made expressive of modern passion by means of the actor, but
should be presented to us in the form most suitable to the modern
spirit. Racine produced his Roman plays in Louis Quatorze dress on
a stage crowded with spectators; but we require different
conditions for the enjoyment of his art. Perfect accuracy of
detail, for the sake of perfect illusion, is necessary for us.
What we have to see is that the details are not allowed to usurp
the principal place. They must be subordinate always to the
general motive of the play. But subordination in art does not mean
disregard of truth; it means conversion of fact into effect, and
assigning to each detail its proper relative value

'Les petits details d'histoire et de vie domestique (says Hugo)
doivent etre scrupuleusement etudies et reproduits par le poete,
mais uniquement comme des moyens d'accroitre la realite de
l'ensemble, et de faire penetrer jusque dans les coins les plus
obscurs de l'oeuvre cette vie generale et puissante au milieu de
laquelle les personnages sont plus vrais, et les catastrophes, par
consequeut, plus poignantes. Tout doit etre subordonne a ce but.
L'Homme sur le premier plan, le reste au fond.'

This passage is interesting as coming from the first great French
dramatist who employed archaeology on the stage, and whose plays,
though absolutely correct in detail, are known to all for their
passion, not for their pedantry--for their life, not for their
learning. It is true that he has made certain concessions in the
case of the employment of curious or strange expressions. Ruy Blas
talks of M, de Priego as 'sujet du roi' instead of 'noble du roi,'
and Angelo Malipieri speaks of 'la croix rouge' instead of 'la
croix de gueules.' But they are concessions made to the public, or
rather to a section of it. 'J'en offre ici toute mes excuses aux
spectateurs intelligents,' he says in a note to one of the plays;
'esperons qu'un jour un seigneur venitien pourra dire tout
bonnement sans peril son blason sur le theatre. C'est un progres
qui viendra.' And, though the description of the crest is not
couched in accurate language, still the crest itself was accurately
right. It may, of course, be said that the public do not notice
these things; upon the other hand, it should be remembered that Art
has no other aim but her own perfection, and proceeds simply by her
own laws, and that the play which Hamlet describes as being caviare
to the general is a play he highly praises. Besides, in England,
at any rate, the public have undergone a transformation; there is
far more appreciation of beauty now than there was a few years ago;
and though they may not be familiar with the authorities and
archaeological data for what is shown to them, still they enjoy
whatever loveliness they look at. And this is the important thing.
Better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a
microscope. Archaeological accuracy is merely a condition of
illusionist stage effect; it is not its quality. And Lord Lytton's
proposal that the dresses should merely be beautiful without being
accurate is founded on a misapprehension of the nature of costume,
and of its value on the stage. This value is twofold, picturesque
and dramatic; the former depends on the colour of the dress, the
latter on its design and character. But so interwoven are the two
that, whenever in our own day historical accuracy has been
disregarded, and the various dresses in a play taken from different
ages, the result has been that the stage has been turned into that
chaos of costume, that caricature of the centuries, the Fancy Dress
Ball, to the entire ruin of all dramatic and picturesque effect.
For the dresses of one age do not artistically harmonise with the
dresses of another: and, as far as dramatic value goes, to confuse
the costumes is to confuse the play. Costume is a growth, an
evolution, and a most important, perhaps the most important, sign
of the manners, customs and mode of life of each century. The
Puritan dislike of colour, adornment and grace in apparel was part
of the great revolt of the middle classes against Beauty in the
seventeenth century. A historian who disregarded it would give us
a most inaccurate picture of the time, and a dramatist who did not
avail himself of it would miss a most vital element in producing an
illusionist effect. The effeminacy of dress that characterised the
reign of Richard the Second was a constant theme of contemporary
authors. Shakespeare, writing two hundred years after, makes the
king's fondness for gay apparel and foreign fashions a point in the
play, from John of Gaunt's reproaches down to Richard's own speech
in the third act on his deposition from the throne. And that
Shakespeare examined Richard's tomb in Westminster Abbey seems to
me certain from York's speech:-

See, see, King Richard doth himself appear
As doth the blushing discontented sun
From out the fiery portal of the east,
When he perceives the envious clouds are bent
To dim his glory.

For we can still discern on the King's robe his favourite badge--
the sun issuing from a cloud. In fact, in every age the social
conditions are so exemplified in costume, that to produce a
sixteenth-century play in fourteenth-century attire, or vice versa,
would make the performance seem unreal because untrue. And,
valuable as beauty of effect on the stage is, the highest beauty is
not merely comparable with absolute accuracy of detail, but really
dependent on it. To invent, an entirely new costume is almost
impossible except in burlesque or extravaganza, and as for
combining the dress of different centuries into one, the experiment
would be dangerous, and Shakespeare's opinion of the artistic value
of such a medley may be gathered from his incessant satire of the
Elizabethan dandies for imagining that they were well dressed
because they got their doublets in Italy, their hats in Germany,
and their hose in France. And it should be noted that the most
lovely scenes that have been produced on our stage have been those
that have been characterised by perfect accuracy, such as Mr. and
Mrs. Bancroft's eighteenth-century revivals at the Haymarket, Mr.
Irying's superb production of Much Ado About Nothing, and Mr,
Barrett's Claudian. Besides, and this is perhaps the most complete
answer to Lord Lytton's theory, it must be remembered that neither
in costume nor in dialogue is beauty the dramatist's primary aim at
all. The true dramatist aims first at what is characteristic, and
no more desires that all his personages should be beautifully
attired than he desires that they should all have beautiful natures
or speak beautiful English. The true dramatist, in fact, shows us
life under the conditions of art, not art in the form of life. The
Greek dress was the loveliest dress the world has ever seen, and
the English dress of the last century one of the most monstrous;
yet we cannot costume a play by Sheridan as we would costume a play
by Sophokles. For, as Polonius says in his excellent lecture, a
lecture to which I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing my
obligations, one of the first qualities of apparel is its
expressiveness. And the affected style of dress in the last
century was the natural characteristic of a society of affected
manners and affected conversation--a characteristic which the
realistic dramatist will highly value down to the smallest detail
of accuracy, and the materials for which he can get only from

But it is not enough that a dress should be accurate; it must be
also appropriate to the stature and appearance of the actor, and to
his supposed condition, as well as to his necessary action in the
play. In Mr. Hare's production of As You Like It at the St.
James's Theatre, for instance, the whole point of Orlando's
complaint that he is brought up like a peasant, and not like a
gentleman, was spoiled by the gorgeousness of his dress, and the
splendid apparel worn by the banished Duke and his friends was
quite out of place. Mr. Lewis Wingfield's explanation that the
sumptuary laws of the period necessitated their doing so, is, I am
afraid, hardly sufficient. Outlaws, lurking in a forest and living
by the chase, are not very likely to care much about ordinances of
dress. They were probably attired like Robin Hood's men, to whom,
indeed, they are compared in the course of the play. And that
their dress was not that of wealthy noblemen may be seen by
Orlando's words when he breaks in upon them. He mistakes them for
robbers, and is amazed to find that they answer him in courteous
and gentle terms. Lady Archibald Campbell's production, under Mr.
E. W. Godwin's direction, of the same play in Coombe Wood was, as
regards mounting, far more artistic. At least it seemed so to me.
The Duke and his companions were dressed in serge tunics, leathern
jerkins, high boots and gauntlets, and wore bycocket hats and
hoods. And as they were playing in a real forest, they found, I am
sure, their dresses extremely convenient. To every character in
the play was given a perfectly appropriate attire, and the brown
and green of their costumes harmonised exquisitely with the ferns
through which they wandered, the trees beneath which they lay, and
the lovely English landscape that surrounded the Pastoral Players.
The perfect naturalness of the scene was due to the absolute
accuracy and appropriateness of everything that was worn. Nor
could archaeology have been put to a severer test, or come out of
it more triumphantly. The whole production showed once for all
that, unless a dress is archaeologically correct, and artistically
appropriate, it always looks unreal, unnatural, and theatrical in
the sense of artificial.

Nor, again, is it enough that there should be accurate and
appropriate costumes of beautiful colours; there must be also
beauty of colour on the stage as a whole, and as long as the
background is painted by one artist, and the foreground figures
independently designed by another, there is the danger of a want of
harmony in the scene as a picture. For each scene the colour-
scheme should be settled as absolutely as for the decoration of a
room, and the textures which it is proposed to use should be mixed
and re-mixed in every possible combination, and what is discordant
removed. Then, as regards the particular kinds of colours, the
stage is often too glaring, partly through the excessive use of
hot, violent reds, and partly through the costumes looking too new.
Shabbiness, which in modern life is merely the tendency of the
lower orders towards tone, is not without its artistic value, and
modern colours are often much improved by being a little faded.
Blue also is too frequently used: it is not merely a dangerous
colour to wear by gaslight, but it is really difficult in England
to get a thoroughly good blue. The fine Chinese blue, which we all
so much admire, takes two years to dye, and the English public will
not wait so long for a colour. Peacock blue, of course, has been
employed on the stage, notably at the Lyceum, with great advantage;
but all attempts at a good light blue, or good dark blue, which I
have seen have been failures. The value of black is hardly
appreciated; it was used effectively by Mr. Irving in Hamlet as the
central note of a composition, but as a tone-giving neutral its
importance is not recognised. And this is curious, considering the
general colour of the dress of a century in which, as Baudelaire
says, 'Nous celebrons tous quelque enterrement.' The archaeologist
of the future will probably point to this age as the time when the
beauty of black was understood; but I hardly think that, as regards
stage-mounting or house decoration, it really is. Its decorative
value is, of course, the same as that of white or gold; it can
separate and harmonise colours. In modern plays the black frock-
coat of the hero becomes important in itself, and should be given a
suitable background. But it rarely is. Indeed the only good
background for a play in modern dress which I have ever seen was
the dark grey and cream-white scene of the first act of the
Princesse Georges in Mrs. Langtry's production. As a rule, the
hero is smothered in bric-a-brac and palm-trees, lost in the gilded
abyss of Louis Quatorze furniture, or reduced to a mere midge in
the midst of marqueterie; whereas the background should always be
kept as a background, and colour subordinated to effect. This, of
course, can only be done when there is one single mind directing
the whole production. The facts of art are diverse, but the
essence of artistic effect is unity. Monarchy, Anarchy, and
Republicanism may contend for the government of nations; but a
theatre should be in the power of a cultured despot. There may be
division of labour, but there must be no division of mind. Whoever
understands the costume of an age understands of necessity its
architecture and its surroundings also, and it is easy to see from
the chairs of a century whether it was a century of crinolines or
not. In fact, in art there is no specialism, and a really artistic
production should bear the impress of one master, and one master
only, who not merely should design and arrange everything, but
should have complete control over the way in which each dress is to
be worn.

Mademoiselle Mars, in the first production of Hernani, absolutely
refused to call her lover 'Mon Lion!' unless she was allowed to
wear a little fashionable toque then much in vogue on the
Boulevards; and many young ladies on our own stage insist to the
present day on wearing stiff starched petticoats under Greek
dresses, to the entire ruin of all delicacy of line and fold; but
these wicked things should not be allowed. And there should be far
more dress rehearsals than there are now. Actors such as Mr.
Forbes-Robertson, Mr. Conway, Mr. George Alexander, and others, not
to mention older artists, can move with ease and elegance in the
attire of any century; but there are not a few who seem dreadfully
embarrassed about their hands if they have no side pockets, and who
always wear their dresses as if they were costumes. Costumes, of
course, they are to the designer; but dresses they should be to
those that wear them. And it is time that a stop should be put to
the idea, very prevalent on the stage, that the Greeks and Romans
always went about bareheaded in the open air--a mistake the
Elizabethan managers did not fall into, for they gave hoods as well
as gowns to their Roman senators.

More dress rehearsals would also be of value in explaining to the
actors that there is a form of gesture and movement that is not
merely appropriate to each style of dress, but really conditioned
by it. The extravagant use of the arms in the eighteenth century,
for instance, was the necessary result of the large hoop, and the
solemn dignity of Burleigh owed as much to his ruff as to his
reason. Besides until an actor is at home in his dress, he is not
at home in his part.

Of the value of beautiful costume in creating an artistic
temperament in the audience, and producing that joy in beauty for
beauty's sake without which the great masterpieces of art can never
be understood, I will not here speak; though it is worth while to
notice how Shakespeare appreciated that side of the question in the
production of his tragedies, acting them always by artificial
light, and in a theatre hung with black; but what I have tried to
point out is that archaeology is not a pedantic method, but a
method of artistic illusion, and that costume is a means of
displaying character without description, and of producing dramatic
situations and dramatic effects. And I think it is a pity that so
many critics should have set themselves to attack one of the most
important movements on the modern stage before that movement has at
all reached its proper perfection. That it will do so, however, I
feel as certain as that we shall require from our dramatic critics
in the future higher qualification than that they can remember
Macready or have seen Benjamin Webster; we shall require of them,
indeed, that they cultivate a sense of beauty. Pour etre plus
difficile, la tache n'en est que plus glorieuse. And if they will
not encourage, at least they must not oppose, a movement of which
Shakespeare of all dramatists would have most approved, for it has
the illusion of truth for its method, and the illusion of beauty
for its result. Not that I agree with everything that I have said
in this essay. There is much with which I entirely disagree. The
essay simply represents an artistic standpoint, and in aesthetic
criticism attitude is everything. For in art there is no such
thing as a universal truth. A Truth in art is that whose
contradictory is also true. And just as it is only in art-
criticism, and through it, that we can apprehend the Platonic
theory of ideas, so it is only in art-criticism, and through it,
that we can realise Hegel's system of contraries. The truths of
metaphysics are the truths of masks.


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