Critical Articles by Jenny Marx

3. Shakespearian Studies in England

Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

London, end of December 1876

Three years ago a new Shakespeare society was founded here “to honour the great writer and stimulate and facilitate serious and intelligent study of his works among all classes of the population.” Affiliated societies with corresponding members have been formed throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, in the colonies and in North America. Many German Shakespeare groups have joined and even those rare birds, French Shakespeare enthusiasts, have become members. Professor Delius of Bonn is one of the society’s most loyal and active collaborators. In London, the

society has many hundreds of members, each of whom pays. an annual subscription of one guinea, and every four weeks, a meeting is held in the building of London University, at which contributions in the form of letters, essays, critical works and research papers are read and discussed. Apart from these transactions, the society, under the leadership of Frederick Furnivall, its active, able and enthusiastic president, is regularly reprinting the oldest Shakespeare editions in chronological sequence, as well as extremely rare and valuable works of that period and important modern criticism and research. In this way, a highly interesting and solidly-based literature on Shakespeare will gradually be built up.

This year every member has received splendidly-produced copies of the following works:

a) Tell-Trothes New-yeares gift, 1593, with the passionate Morrice; b) John Lane’s Tom Tell-Troths message, and his Pen’s Complaint, 1600; c) Thomas Powell’s Tom of all Trades; or the Plaine Path-way to Preferment, 1631; d) the Glasse of Godley Love, 1569.

William Stafford’s Compendious or brief Examination of certayne ordinary complaints of divers of our countrymen in these our Dayes, 1581 (presented by the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby).

Philipp Stubbe’s Anatomie of abuses, May 1, 1583, with extracts from his life and that of his wife, 1591.

Plays. The Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare and Fletcher, reprinted from the 1634 quarto, and an edition of the play with corrections and notes by Harold Littledale of Trinity College, Dublin.

Miscellanea. The late Professor W. Spalding’s letter on the authors of The Two Noble Kinsmen, the characteristic features of Shakespeare’s style and the secret of his superiority, 1833.

The first publication for 1877 is now ready:

Shakespeare’s England. William Harrison’s Description of England, 1577, 1587, published by Furnivall, together with map of London by van den Keere, 1593, with notes by H. B. Wheatley.

The following publications are in the press:

1. The transactions; 2. an article by Professor Delius on the epic element in Shakespeare, translated into English by two young ladies, one English and one German; 3. a study of Henry VI, Part 2 and 3, and their original sources by Miss Jane Lee, daughter of the Archbishop of Dublin.

2. The Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare and Fletcher, with an introduction and index by Harold Littledale of all words distinguishing Shakespeare from Fletcher.

3. Cymbeline, reprinted from the 1623 folio; a corrected edition with introduction and notes by W. J. Craig, Trinity College, Dublin.

4. Henry V with parallel texts from the quarto and the first folio, arranged to show the differences between them, and a revised edition of the play.

Mysteries. 15th Century Mysteries with a Morality from the Digby M. S. 133, published by Furnivall according to the only M. S. Wills of actors and writers under Elizabeth and James.

Edward III. Reprinted from the first quarto, 1596, and a revised edition with notes, the sources of the play by Froissart and Painter’s Palace of Pleasure.

Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr, from which Shakespeare’s verses Phoenix and Turtle were taken.

Original sources and analogues. A. Shakespeare Holingshead, the chronicle and the historical plays, compared by W. Stone.

Some highly interesting works have been proposed for publication next year.

Meetings have hitherto been only sparsely attended; however, it is a true pleasure to spend some time among the small community of the faithful, all of whom (the ladies not excepted) treat the study of Shakespeare seriously and are enriching some branch of literature by their critical and often very original and detailed research.

In this Shakespearian lodge, a true spirit of brotherhood prevails; from downy-cheeked youngster to grizzled veteran, every newcomer receives a friendly welcome, and true Malvolio smiles and grins greet the youngest labourer in the lord’s vineyard.

When the Englishman becomes enthusiastic about something (and there are, in fact, many enthusiasts in this matter-of-fact nation) and John Bull gets an idea into his head, it easily becomes an idée fixe, a mania, a fad, a declared hobby-horse. This is the spawning ground of humbugs and fanatics; this is how sects are formed. But among adherents of the sects one finds unimpeachably honest men and women in the greatest numbers — I would not like to say the only honest men and women — whose principles are not for sale. Honesty toute pure is rare and therefore often carries with it a slight touch of eccentricity, oddity and arrogance.

This is true of our worthy Shakespearians. It is also true of the tiny group of Comtists, some thirty strong who, fair-haired professors and grey-bearded doctors and lawyers alike, every Sunday make the pilgrimage to their “school,” carrying their bibles under their arms, to burn incense to their humanitarian god, Auguste Comte, and the saints in his calendar. And it is true of the followers of Urquhart, who swear by Mohammed and his prophet “David” and who, in their journal the Diplomatic Review, demonstrate with excellently written, objective articles (in earlier years their most brilliant contributor was Urquhart, but at almost eighty, the old man’s genius has now somewhat lost its edge) and reprints of highly interesting rare documents and diplomatic papers that they understand rather more about foreign policy and the “Eastern question” than the booming orators and the trumpeters of peace in St. James Hall, [8 December 1876, a National Conference on the Oriental Question was held in London] the “Freemen” and the “Merrymen.”

The beneficial effects of the Shakespeare society are already becoming apparent in a variety of ways. Study of the great poet, for many years completely neglected, has revived among wide sections of the public; however, speaking of the growing interest among the people, one cannot help returning again and, again to the great and undeniable service rendered by Henry Irving. It is he who has electrified the masses; and it is not only that his own theatre is filled every night — Shakespeare has begun to draw audiences in previously empty theatres.

Irving has been touring the provinces, Scotland and Ireland for six months, supported by the talented and charming sisters Kate, Isabel and Virginia Bateman. From beginning to end the tour has been a triumph, but reached its high point among the enthusiastic citizens of Dublin.

Irving was accorded the greatest honour that can be shown an artist when a “university festival” was organised for him. Only one other actress has ever received this distinction, and that twenty-five years ago, when Helen Faucit appeared as Antigone. This highly gifted and charming performer, who at that time shone in the company of Macready, is the wife of Theodor Martin, who recently published a life of Prince Albert, authorised by the Queen, and who is best known as an excellent translator of German and Danish works.

Some time ago Irving received an Address from the graduates and undergraduates of Dublin University. It was presented to him by a committee of twelve, including professors, scholars and well-known authorities on Shakespeare, among them Doctors Ingram and Dowden. Edward Gibson, Queen’s Counsellor and a Member of Parliament, who headed the deputation, began with the following words: “It gives me particular pleasure to express to you on behalf of the graduates etc., etc., their great admiration and respect for so great a performer, so accomplished a gentleman and so charming a companion.” He then read the Address, in which he especially stressed the rare pleasure given by Irving’s performances, the new insights into the character of Hamlet he had afforded, even to those most intimately familiar with Shakespeare, and the fresh interest in the finest poetry he had awakened in the hearts of all. “Performances such as yours ennoble and elevate the stage and serve to lead it back to its true calling — as a powerful lever of intellectual and moral culture.” Irving responded with a few words of thanks. The same day a “College Evening” was held, at which the foremost professors of the university and even Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, were present (the royal princes are seldom or never seen at performances of Shakespeare). The hall was packed to suffocation and the enthusiasm was truly Irish. On Saturday, Irving returns to his London friends and admirers, who will be proud and pleased to welcome him as the Thane of Cawdor.