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Shakespeare's Argument with Montaigne

THERE IS JUST ONE PASSAGE IN Montaigne's Essays of which we can be absolutely certain that it caught Shakespeare's imagination, since it reappears, only slightly adapted, in The Tempest, in the mouth of the good old counsellor Gonzalo. It comes from Montaigne's essay 'Of the Cannibals', in which he extols the idyllic condition of society among the American Indians: What in those nations we see by experience, doth not only exceed all the pictures wherewith licentious Poesie hath proudly embellished the golden age, and all her quaint inventions to feign a happy condition of man, but also the conception and desire of Philosophy. They [Lycurgus and Plato] could not imagine a genuitie so pure and simple as we see it by experience; nor ever believe our society might be maintained with so little art and human combination. It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority; no use of service, of riches or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupation but idle; no respect of kindred, but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn, or metal. The very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulations, covetousness, envy, detractions, and pardon, were never heard of amongst them. How dissonant would he find his imaginary commonwealth from this perfection?
Hos natura modos primum dedit. Nature at first uprise, These manners did devise, (i. 220)' This panegyric is offered in explicit reproach to the corrupt sophistications and complacencies of European civilisation, with sharply critical Quotations from Florio's translation of Montaigne are taken, with spelling modernised, from Michel Lord of Montaigne, Essays, ed. A. R. Waller, 3 vols. (London 1910). TheCambndge Q}iarttrly,Vo\.26, No. 1 (1999) OThe Editors, The Cambridge Quarterly 1999


implications for colonialist assumptions (as in Montaigne's other 'American' essay,'Of Coaches'). But the panegyric is not there only for the sake of the satire. What Montaigne sees and celebrates in the Indians is the profoundly positive vision of a life informed by what he calls 'our great and puissant mother Nature' (i. 219). The essay connects with Montaigne's fundamental concern throughout the Essays with what it means to live naturally, and with our foolish and self-tormenting alienation from such a life. There are many other passages in Montaigne that reflect upon the human condition in ways distinctly similar to sentiments expressed in Shakespeare, particularly in the plays written between 1600 and 1605,
from Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida through to King Lear. (Occasionally

there are also small verbal correspondences to Florio's translation, which was published in 1603, but circulated in manuscript for some time before that.) When Hamlet reflects on the absurdity of life, when the Duke counsels Claudio that death is to be welcomed, when Lear sees in PoorTom a general truth about 'unaccommodated man', it is very possible to find parallels - sometimes slight, sometimes striking - in Montaigne.2 The cumulative evidence certainly makes it tenable, perhaps plausible, to suppose that Shakespeare was reading Montaigne with close attention in the 1600s. However, the interest of these parallels is something distinct from the question of direct influence, and should not be tangled up with it. For one thing, it is hard to feel certain that, in any specific case, Shakespeare was thinking of Montaigne, who characteristically works with sentiments from (for example) Seneca or Plutarch or Horace, thoughts in common currency among the educated. The originality of the Essays is often like that of the book Ulysses affects to be reading in Troilusand Cressida: when he tries to explain to Achilles what is so distinctive about it, Achilles supposes, from the mere synopsis of the position it expounds, that he has heard it all before: 'This is not strange at all.' But Ulysses assures him that the book is more than the commonplaces with which it works: I do not strain at the position, It is familiar, but at the author's drift. . . Montaigne is just such an author, one whose 'drift' may be highly distinctive even while his 'positions' can be found in many other authors.
2 Parallel passages are conveniently assembled in the otherwise tendentious study by J. M. Robertson, Montaigne and Shakespeare (1897). The evidence for influence is lucidly summarised in Robert Ellrodt,'Self-consciousness in Montaigne and Shakespeare', Shakespeare Survey, 28 (1975) 37-50. 'Parallels in ideas undoubtedly suggest that the influence of Montaigne upon Shakespeare, if it ever

existed, was at its height in Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, All's Well that Ends Well, Measure/or Measure and King Lear' (p. 39).


To demonstrate influence in such a tricky case, one would need to emphasise the element of similarity. The real interest of the comparison lies, however, in the divergence it reveals, for the Montaignean vision of radical naturalness, of unaccommodated man, both fascinates certain of Shakespeare's characters, and generates a kind of recoil. Thoughts which Montaigne embraces as salutary and humane, as fostering a profound toleration of the nature of human life, become in their Shakespearean context radically destabilising, markers of an intolerable distress, often associated with cynicism or disgust. Both the engagement and the recoil can be felt in Theiempest, and may be summed up in the statement that Montaigne's splendid cannibals become Caliban - although we must remember that we never meet Caliban in his original, natural state, but only as Prospero's expelled pupil and rebellious slave. There are two accounts of how he came to be what now he is, and Shakespeare gives us no way back to adjudicate between Caliban's own, sufficiently Montaignean, claim that he has been corrupted by his education, and Prospero's insistence that he was, from the beginning, 'a born devil'; neither witness speaks disinterestedly. Shakespeare translates Montaigne's vision sympathetically, in that he gives it to the good Gonzalo, but also exposes it to sceptical voices. The result is an unstable ambivalence: Gonzalo. I' the commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things; for no kind of traffic Would I admit; no name of magistrate; Letters should not be known; riches, poverty, And use of service, none; contract, succession, Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none; No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil; No occupation; all men idle, all; And women too, but innocent and pure; No sovereignty, Yet he would be king on't. The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning. All things in common nature should produce Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine, Would I not have; but nature should bring forth, Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance, To feed my innocent people. No marrying 'mong his subjects?

Sebastian. Antonio. Gonzalo.



Antonio. Gonzalo.

None, man; all idle; whores and knaves. I would with such perfection govern, sir, To excel the golden age.

The lords' mockery of Gonzalo's vision is humanly unpleasant and imaginatively impoverished; nor, in this play of wonders, will their knowingness reach as far as they suppose. For all that, their scepticism is not unintelligent. It supplies a rather sour recognition of what is omitted fron Gonzalo's account, a recognition invited by Gonzalo's dilution of what in Montaigne is radical. Compare Montaigne's no occupation but idle; no respect of kindred, but common, no apparel but natural with No occupation; all men idle, all; And women too, but innocent and pure. Montaigne's emphasis on the natural becomes a more vulnerable affirmation: that of innocence. Where Shakespeare is otherwise following Montaigne so closely, it seems significant that 'no respect of kindred, but common, no apparel, but natural'should be edited out, as if the abolition of family ties and the image of physical nakedness run too close to the animal to be tolerable within even a Utopian idyll; instead, one feels in Gonzalo's 'but' something like a censorship of the natural imagination, as it begins to wonder about relations between the sexes in this unregulated paradise: And women too, but innocent and pure. 'Whores and knaves' is the inevitable, the necessary riposte to that. It is not merely that this commonwealth is impracticable; all Utopias are impracticable, and in'Of Cannibals' Montaigne knew well enough that the New World could hardly be a role-model for the Old. But the vitality in the essay expresses the sense that what has been discovered in America uncovers a real potentiality, of which the bare idea is enough to alter the Old World's sense of itself forever. Gonzalo's idea, however, is Utopian in a way which cannot act upon experience, for it omits too much - it is too 'innocent' - for its rehearsal to touch any reality: Gonzalo. Alonso. And, - do you mark me, sir? Prithee, no more; thou dost talk nothing to me.

Montaigne's affirmation of a radical naturalness, of the sovereignty of our 'puissant mother Nature', cannot be so vigorously affirmed in Shakespeare;


it has to be hedged a litde by Gonzalo, and provokes in reaction a destructive, cynical voice altogether foreign to Montaigne. In support of that generalisation, let me turn to another essay which is centrally concerned to affirm the puissance of the natural, and which has never, so far as I know, been proposed as a candidate for direct influence on the play I have in mind, Othello. In the fifth essay of his third book/Upon Some Verses of Virgil', Montaigne offers the reader a kind of manifesto for the reality and the rights of sexuality. Why should sex not be speakable?, he asks, and delights in thrusting into consciousness, through all the refinements, decencies, and equivocations with which most writers have clothed the matter, the reminder of some naked truths: Well then, leaving books aside and speaking more materially and
simply: when all is done, I find that love is nothing else but an insatiate thirst of enjoying a greedily desired subject. Nor Venus that good huswife, other,

than a tickling delight of emptying one's seminary vessels: as is the pleasure which nature giveth us to discharge other parts: which becometh faulty by immoderation, and defective by indiscretion. To
Socrates, love is an appetite of generation by the mediation of beauty. Now

considering oftentimes the ridiculous tickling, or titiUation of this pleasure, the absurd, giddy and hare-brained motions wherewith it tosseth %eno, and agitates Cratippus: that unadvised rage, that furious and with cruelty enflamed visage in love's lustful and sweetest effects: and then a grave, stern, severe, surly countenance in so fond-fond an action, that one hath pell-mell lodged our joys and filths together, and that the supremest voluptuousness both ravisheth and plaineth, as doth sorrow: I believe that which Plato says to be true, that man was
made by the Gods for them to toy and play withal. quaenam istajocandi Saevitia ?

What cruelty is this, so set on jesting is? And that Nature in mockery left us the most troublesome of our actions, the most common: thereby to equal us, and without distinction to set the foolish and the wise, us and beasts all in one rank, (iii. 105 f.) Nor is it only the sexual act in itself which marks 'our vanity and deformity', but our peculiarly preposterous sense of shame at so fundamental a part of our being: On the one side nature urgeth us unto it: having thereunto combined, yea fastened, the most noble, the most profitable, and the most sensually-pleasing, of all her functions: and on the other suffereth us to


accuse, to condemn and to shun it, as insolent, as dishonest, and as lewder to blush at it, and allow, yea, and to commend abstinence. Are
not we most brutish, to term that work beastly which begets, andwhich maketh us?

. . . What monstrous beast is this that makes himself a horror to himself, whom his delights displease, who ties himself unto misfortune? (iii. 106,108) Out of this account of the division within the self Montaigne builds his analysis of, and attack on, sexual jealousy, which becomes the main subject of his essay. Jealousy was unknown among the cannibals, where the wives were delighted 'to have as many rivals as possibly they can, forasmuch as it is a testimony of their husband's virtue' (i. 228); in this essay Montaigne takes on the thornier subject of male jealousy, and pours scorn on the obsessive male concern with female chastity. Such concern is indefensible, he argues, partly because of the sexual double standard, but more importantly because it represents such a puny and hopeless stand against our great and puissant mother Nature, against the power and volatility of sexual desire especially in women, who are more libidinous than men by upbringing and by nature. To think of restraining such vigorous and resourceful sexuality is both unreasonable in itself and unworkable in practice. Montaigne plays with mischievous delight upon this theme, exuberantly working it up into a certain kind of male nightmare, giving the worst of male sexual apprehensions the worst of words: Let them [women] somewhat dispense with ceremonies, let them fall into free liberty of speech; we [men] are but children, we are but gulls, in respect of them, about any such subject. Hear them relate how we sue, how we woo, how we solicit, and how we entertain them, they will soon give you to understand, that we can say, that we can do, and that we can bring them nothing, but what they already knew, and had long before digested without us. May it be (as Plato saith) because they have one time or other been themselves wanton, licentious and amorous lads? Mine ears happened one day in a place, where without suspicion they might listen and steal some of their private, lavish and bold discourses; O why is is not lawful for me to repeat them? By'rlady (quoth I to myself) it is high time indeed for us to go study the phrases ofAmadis, the metaphors ofAretine, and eloquence of Boccace, thereby to become more skilful, more ready and more sufficient to confront them: surely we bestow our time well; there is nor quaint phrase, nor choice word, nor ambiguous figure, nor pathetical example, nor loveexpressing gesture, nor alluring posture, but they know them all better than our books: It is a cunning bred in their veins and will never out of the flesh,


Et mentem Venus ipsa dedit.

Venus herself assigned 1b them both means and mind, which these skill infusing school-mistresses nature, youth, health and opportunity, are ever buzzing in their ears, ever whispering in their minds: They need not learn, nor take pains about it; they beget it, with them it is born. (iii. 80 f.) A hopeless task to require chastity of such creatures, 'folly, to go about to bridle women of a desire, so fervent and so natural in them' (iii. 92); cosifan tutte is the word; and even supposing that one could keep adequate guard over their bodies, how could one dream of controlling what is finally much more to the point, their wills and desires? Now the duty of chastity hath a large extension and far-reaching compass. Is it their will, we would have them to bridle? That's a part very pliable and active. It is very nimble and quick-rolling, to be stayed. . . . A thousand causes, besides affection and good will, may obtain us this grant of women. It is no sufficient testimony of true affection: therein may lurk treason, as elsewhere: they sometime go but faintly to work, and as they say with one buttock. . . . What if she eat your bread, with the sauce of a more pleasing imagination? (iii. 91, lllf.) There is a thought to burn upon the male ego like the mines of sulphur. 'O curse of marriage, |That we can call these delicate creatures ours, | And not their appetites', Othello reflects. The inevitable response to such a thought is jealousy, and yet (as Iago also understands) there is nothing more wretched, more radically stupid, than to be gripped by this hopeless and degrading passion: This our immoderate and lawless exasperation against this vice, proceedeth and is bred of jealousy: the most vain and turbulent infirmity that may afflict man's mind. . . . It is mere folly for one to seek to be resolved of a doubt, or search into a mischief, for which there is no remedy, but makes it worse, but festereth the same: the reproach whereof is increased, and chiefly published by jealousy: and the revenge whereof doth more wound and disgrace our children, than it helpeth or graceth us. You waste away and die in pursuit of so concealed a mystery, of so obscure a verification. Whereunto how piteously have they arrived, who in my time have attained their purpose? If the accuser, or intelligencer, present not withal the remedy and his assistance, his office is injurious, his intelligence


harmful, and which better deserveth a stab, than doth a lie. We flout him no less, that toileth to prevent it, than laugh at him that is a
cuckold and knows it not. The character ofcuckoldry is perpetual; on whom it

oncefasUneth, it holdethfor ever. The punishment bewraieth it more than the fault. It is a goodly sight, to draw our private misfortunes from out the shadow of oblivion or dungeon of doubt, for to blazon and proclaim them on tragical stages. . . (iii. 88, 95 f.) One need not suppose any direct influence to see the most interesting parallels here with the matter of Othello - the interest being, I take it, the nature of the fine dividing-line that, in this area, distinguishes medicine from poison. Iago's 'drift' is very different from Montaigne's, and yet what Montaigne has to tell us is distincdy similar to what we, and Othello, hear from honest Iago. The assertion that 'love is nothing else but an insatiate thirst of enjoying a greedily desired subject' would be congenial enough to Iago, who knows that love 'is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will'. Iago also shares Montaigne's views on women, who 'go to bed to work', and from whom sexual constancy is not to be thought of: When the blood is made dull witii the act of sport, there should be, again to inflame it, and to give satiety a fresh appetite, loveliness in favour, sympathy in years, manners, and beauties; all which the Moor is defective in. Now, for want of these required conveniences, her delicate tenderness will find itself abused, begin to heave the gorge, disrelish and abhor the Moor; very nature will instruct her in it. A similar view of 'very nature' is to be found in Montaigne:
It is against the nature of love, not to be violent, and against the condition of

violence, to be constant. . . . It yet continueth after satiety: nor can any man prescribe it or end or constant satisfaction: it ever goeth on beyond its possession, beyond its bounds, (iii. 115) It is just diese thoughts of Montaigne on women's sexuality, and the likely fate of husbands, that Iago insinuates, with tragic effect, into Othello's mind: I know our country disposition well; InVenice they do let heaven see the pranks They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience Is not to leave't undone, but keep't unknown. This is a thought which, as it breeds within his imagination, turns Othello's brain; and whether or not one supposes that special circumstances in Othello's character and situation make him peculiarly vulnerable to such a


suggestion, the play strongly suggests that where such a thought is entertained, it poisons life at its roots. Even Iago, himself consumed by a reasonless jealousy, cannot truly embrace the conclusions of his cynicism, but speaks of human sexuality and its effects with the contempt of one who holds himself apart: If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions; but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts. The thoughts with which Iago destroys Othello are ultimately intolerable even to himself. Yet in Montaigne's essay these same thoughts are not only tolerable, but positively relished as a kind of vigorous exorcism of the anxieties upon which they play. There is no recoil in Montaigne from the 'preposterous conclusions' to which our physical natures draw us, hence none of Iago's misogyny (Montaigne ends with the reflection that 'both male
and female, are cast in one same mould; instruction and custom excepted, there is not

great difference between them', iii. 128); the essay's drift is humane as Iago's sentiments clearly are not. A similar contrast can be traced in areas where Montaigne and Shakespeare have been more traditionally related, and where much of the speculation about influence has been focused. Montaigne's affirmation of 'our great and puissant mother Nature' offers a radical challenge, not only to the structures of civilisation, but to the very idea of human distinction. One fundamental way in which he develops this thought is by querying man's superiority to the animals. According to Montaigne, sexuality sets 'the foolish and the wise, us and beasts all in one rank' (iii. 106), an equation echoed in the animal imagery that permeates Othello: with the difference that in the play the animal is invariably felt as bestial. Montaigne's fullest comparison of man and the animals fills many pages in the Apology for Raimond Sebond', an essay that is often cited in connection with King Lear: Truly, when I consider man all naked . . . and view his defects, his natural subjection, and manifold imperfections, I find we have had much more reason to hide and cover our nakedness than any creature else. We may be excused for borrowing those which nature had therein favored more than us, with their beauties to adorn us, and under their spoils of wool, of hair, of feathers, and of silk to shroud us. (ii. 181) Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou ow'st the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha ! here's three on's are sophisticated: thou art the thing itself:



unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art. Montaigne's insistence that the qualities which seem to distinguish man from the animals are either illusory, or reflect only the absurdity of the human condition, is part of his general attack in the 'Apology'on the scope of human rationality and the wretched presumptuousness of human pride. This attack comes closer to sounding dogmatic than Montaigne normally does; the play of a genial irony is more intermittent in this essay than in others. Even so, the equation of man with the animals is, very clearly, not conducted in Lear's spirit. It is, for one thing, consciously extravagant; Montaigne's animals are never bestial, and if the comparison sometimes works through a degradation of the human, it more often turns on a quasiwhimsical upgrading of the mental and imaginative powers of animals as in the celebrated 'When I am playing with my cat, who knows whether she have more sport in dallying with me than I have in gaming with her?', or the splendid case of 'the elephant that in the love of an herb-wife, in the city of Alexandria, was corival with Aristophanes the Grammarian, who in all offices pertaining to an earnest wooer and passionate suitor yielded nothing unto him' (ii. 142, 166). Lear and Montaigne agree upon the fact - that it is only by virtue of his 'sophistications' that man affects to differ from the animals but that fact is very differently understood: Beasts as well as we have choice in their loves, and are very nice in choosing of their mates. They are not altogether void of our extreme and unappeasable jealousies. Lustful desires are either natural and necessary, as eating and drinking; or else natural and not necessary, as the acquaintance of males and females; or else neither necessary nor natural: of this last kind are almost all men's, for they are all superfluous and artificial. It is wonderful to see with how little nature will be satisfied, and how little she hath left for us to be desired, (ii. 165 f.) O reason not the need ! Our basest beggars Are in the poorest thing superfluous. Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man's life is cheap as beast's. For Montaigne, with no sense of animal life as 'cheap', and with man's animality as a realm from which we are foolish to hold ourselves alienated, the boundary between civilised life and the realm of instinct needs not to be so anxiously patrolled; but for Lear, on the very edge of the storm, the distinctively human condition stands in the utmost peril. The whole Learmadness can be seen as the expression of a horrified fascination with, and reinterpretation of, the world of unaccommodated nature which



Montaigne sketches so favourably in 'Of Cannibals': a world of freedom from restraint, and without 'respect of kindred', in which authority and subordination are merely token - the Indians brought to Rouen wondered that the poor did not rise against the rich, and that the soldiers who received orders from the young king did not seize power for themselves (i. 229) - and 'our great and puissant mother Nature' provides full gratification of all natural desires. They are yet in that happy estate, as they desire no more, than what their natural necessities direct them: whatsoever is beyond it, is to them superfluous. Those that are much about one age, do generally inter-call one another brethren, and such as are younger, they call children, and the aged are esteemed as fathers to all the rest. These leave this full possession of goods in common, and without division to their heirs, without other claim or title, but that which nature doth plainly impart unto all creatures, even as she brings them into the world, (i. 224 f.) In his madness Lear is obsessed by the coexistence of, on the one hand, the moral codes which distinguish the human, and, on the other, his vision of man as merely part of nature's greater whole, driven and determined by 'natural necessities'. It is a vision by which he is both fascinated and repelled: Behold yond simpering dame, Whose face between her forks presageth snow; That minces virtue, and does shake the head To hear of pleasure's name; The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to't With a more riotous appetite. The soiled horse? A contrast might be drawn with the stallion in Venus and Adonis, about whose riotous appetite there is nothing foul, and with Shakespeare's unheated, ironic contemplation in that early poem of the fact that for human beings sexual relations are rather more complicated than for horses (or goddesses). Lear's imagination is scarcely less polluted than Othello's by these thoughts. Yet in the passage in the essay 'Of Vanity' of which Shakespeare may perhaps have been thinking we find that Montaigne, again, seems able to accommodate them with ease:
Of the same paper, whereon aJudge writ but even now the condemnation against an adulterer, he will tear a scantling, thereon to write some love-lines to his fellow judge's wife. The same woman from whomyou came lately, and with whomyou have committed that unlawful-pleasingsport, will soon after even inyour presence,



rail and scold more bitterly against the same fault in her neighbour, than ever Portia or Lucrece could. And some condemn men to die for crimes, that themselves esteem nofaults, (iii. 237)

Montaigne remarks the ingrained contradictoriness of humanity quite as sharply as Lear, but he exhibits none of Lear's (or Othello's) compulsion to resolve the contradiction, to collapse one aspect of human behaviour into another as the more fundamental. This compulsion is driven by the sense of intolerable division, which registers the natural as disgusting, and the human as hypocritical and vicious, so that the options threaten to become as Antonio sees them: 'whores and knaves'. The energy of these Shakespearean tragedies is largely concerned with the reality of that threat, and with the cost of resisting it. But Montaigne, whose vision is never tragic, sustains a double perspective which tolerates contradiction: licentiousness is written deeply into the nature of life, but no less necessarily part of our foolish, self-tormenting condition is the impulse to suppress or to regulate such energies. So great an enemy is our condition unto consistence. Man doth necessarily ordain unto himself to be in fault. He is not very crafty, to measure his duty by the reason of another being, than his own. To whom prescribes he that, which he expects no man will perform? Is he unjust in not doing that, which he cannot possibly achieve? The laws which condemn us, not to be able; condemn us for that which we cannot perform, (iii. 239) Measure for Measure is the play that addresses that Montaignean paradox most directly, and struggles to find an outcome for it which is other than tragic. This attempt at toleration is embodied in the figure of the Duke and his position in the structure of the play: for the action of the play is, rather literally, that which the Duke is willing to tolerate. It is, in a sense, the Duke's essai, in which Angelo's metal can be tested, and moral positions and human fallibilities tried out in a kind of thought-experiment that is guaranteed against undesirable consequences. And the specific presence of Montaigne has often been felt in the Duke's single most powerful speech, where he persuades Claudio to 'be absolute for death'. The idea that 'to philosophise is to learn how to die' is a recurrent theme in Montaigne's writing, as well as the title of one of his essays; our fear of death, like our assertion of human dignity and distinction, expresses the ultimately absurd clenching of the will against the course of nature. Our religion hath had no surer human foundation than the contempt of life. Discourse of reason doth not only call and summon us to it. For why should we fear to lose a thing, which being lost, cannot be



moaned? but also, since we are threatened by so many kinds of death, there is no more inconvenience to fear them all, than to endure one: what matter is it when it cometh, since it is unavoidable? (i. 86) The 'cannibals', even when fallen into the hands of their enemies, were wholly without fear of death. To relax our own anxiety about mortality is to recognise our participation in nature's larger flux: an attitude of mind 'that furnisheth our life with an easeful tranquillity, and gives us a pure and amiable taste of it' (i. 75). So Montaigne advises us; and so the Duke persuades Claudio: Be absolute for death; either death or life Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life: If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art, Servile to all the skyey influences, That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st, Hourly afflict. Merely, thou art death's fool; For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun, And yet run'st towards him still. Thou art not noble: For all th'accommodations that thou bear'st Are nurs'd by baseness. Thou art by no means valiant; For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep, And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself; For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get, And what thou hast, forget'st. Thou art not certain, For thy complexion shifts to strange effects After the moon. . . . Two of Montaigne's favourite themes come together here: the acceptance of mortality, and the 'imbecility' of the human condition. Such thoughts are, of course, commonplaces, albeit profound commonplaces, and are very far from original to Montaigne. The ascription of any direct influence on Shakespeare is particularly hazardous here. But the Duke's emphasis on the instability and inconstancy of man, servile to all the skyey influences, may still recall Montaigne's sentiments in the Apology for Sebond: There are a thousand indiscreet and casual agitations in me. Either a melancholy humour possesseth me, or a choleric passion swayeth me, which having shaken off, sometimes frowardness and peevishness hath



predominancy, and other times gladness and blitheness overrule me.. . . If Nature enclose within the limits of her ordinary progress, as all other things, so the beliefs, the judgements and the opinions of men; if they have their revolutions, their seasons, their birth, and their death, even as cabbages: if heaven doth move, agitate and roll them at his pleasure, what powerful and permanent authority do we ascribe unto them? If by uncontrolled experience we palpably touch, that the form of our being depends of the air, of the climate, and of the soil wherein we are born, and not only the hue, the stature, the complexion and the countenance, but also the soul's faculties . . . what become of all those goodly prerogatives wherewith we still flatter ourselves? (ii. 280, 291 f) Hamlet, too, like the Duke, contemplates the pains of life, and considers that death, if 'no more' than sleep, may be a consummation devoutly to be wished. This is close to the sentiment that Montaigne, in'Of Physiognomy', ascribes to his hero Socrates. But what makes the parallel with Montaigne interesting is, once more, not the similarity but the divergence. As with the other cases looked at above, a thought deeply characteristic of Montaigne provokes, in its Shakespearean context, an immediate revision; the Montaigne passage may even seem to have supplied the cue for its own repudiation:
Death may peradventure be a thing indifferent, happily a thing desirable.. . . If it be a consummation ofone's being, it is also an amendment and entrance into a long and quiet night. We find nothing so sweet in life, as a quiet rest andgentle sleep, and without dreams, (iii. 308 f.)

To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes calamity of so long life . . . And in Measure for Measure we get the same recoil, almost immediately, in Claudio: Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction and to rot . . . or to be worse than worst Of those that lawless and uncertain thoughts Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible ! The weariest and most loathed worldly life That age, ache, penury and imprisonment



Can lay on nature is a paradise To what we fear of death. In Shakespeare, the activity of mind 'the pale cast of thought','lawless and uncertain thoughts' cannot give itself up to the larger processes of nature; it cannot conceive of its own non-being. The idea of losing 'all those goodly prerogatives wherewith we still flatter ourselves' sparks a powerful reaction, whereby consciousness stands apart and maintains its own distinction - the price of such standing apart being a certain disgust with life itself. Claudio's fear, like Hamlet's, arises from the apprehension of humanity's fundamental corruption: what should the afterlife contain but the torment which is the due of such whores and knaves as we are? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. And Claudio's horror-driven appeal to Isabella arouses an equal horror in her; the appeal to Nature is instantly redescribed as bestial: - Sweet sister, let me live: What sin you do to save a brother's life, Nature dispenses with the deed so far That it becomes a virtue. - O you beast!. . . Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade. Mercy to thee would prove herself a bawd: 'Tis best that thou diest quickly. It is, for both of them, an utterly wretched moment; the play's cumulative sense of moral constriction here reaches its climax. If the contradictions of life never produce this kind of painful impasse in Montaigne, this is not only or mainly because he looks less deeply into the heart of darkness than does Shakespeare. For all his admiration of life among the cannibals, Montaigne is no naive primitivist. His essays never seek to lay consciousness aside in the return to nature. On the contrary: the form of his writing requires that everything that can be encountered in it is soaked in consciousness, felt within the stream of internally self-aware reflection that may have been another kind of influence on the author of Hamlet. The value of cannibal life, the value of 'our great and puissant mother Nature', is always the value of an idea in the mind. Man's animality is insisted upon with a rhetorical exuberance and a polemical intent that continually remembers its own sophistications. For a sceptic like Montaigne, one entertains an idea not because it is absolutely true but because it supplies, at that moment, in that situation, what seems to be the piece of truth that one needs; it makes for a counterbalance within the mind.



In the earlier essays, where the content of Montaigne's thoughts counts for more than the process of his thinking, this sense of counterbalance is only faintly implied; in some of the later essays, it becomes itself a large part of the subject-matter. In 'Upon Some Verses of Virgil', the essay on sexuality and sexual jealousy discussed earlier, it is carried by the framing passages of directly personal reflection with which the essay begins and ends. In his youth, Montaigne explains at the beginning, it was necessary for him to oppose to the vigorous life of his body the more sober reflections of the mind, but now the case is altered: it is now for his mind to temper and resist the heaviness and sobriety which accompany sickness and old age, the moral lectures on 'coldness and temperance . . . on death, on patience, and on repentance' (iii. 62) which his ageing body now continually, and excessively, preaches to him. Let me tickle myself, I can now hardly wrest a bare smile from this wretched body of mine. I am not pleased but in conceit and dreaming, by sleight to turn aside the wayward cares of age: but sure there is need of other remedies than dreaming. A weak contention of art against nature, (iii. 63 f.) The 'wanton and youthful conceits' (iii. 62) that follow, then, and that fill out the main part of the essay, appear from the point of view offered us in these framing passages as a kind of therapeutic meditation, a sally of the imagination, a 'sleight to turn aside the wayward cares of age'. The preceding essay, 'Of Diversion', had discussed how human beings do not so much face and endure evils as suffer their thoughts to be diverted from them: Let me think of building castles in Spain, my imagination will forge me commodities and afford me means and delights wherewith my mind is really tickled and essentially gladded, (iii. 61) 'Upon Some Verses of Virgil'consciously enacts such a process of diversion, and establishes its power as both limited and real. The endeavour to counter the sadness of the body by the sprightliness of the imagination appears at the beginning of the essay as 'a weak contention of art against nature', and so in one sense it remains: when, at the conclusion, Montaigne returns to himself, it is to acknowledge that love is crowned with the prime, and that his own tide to an interest in its pleasures is long over. And yet the essay also has room to suggest the contrary, since within the realm of the mind the warmth and energy of Montaigne's 'wanton and youthful conceits' assert a substantial reality, which can leave him 'essentially gladded', at least for the time. Thinking about sex is not so entirely beside the point, since the highest sexual delight, as Montaigne apprehends it, is



very much a matter of the mutual interplay of mind and body - if not, indeed, pre-eminently a quality of the mind: I know not who could set Pallas and the Muses at odds with Venus, and make them cold and slow in affecting of love; as for me, I see no deities that better suit together, nor more indebted one to another. Whoever shall go about to remove amorous imaginations from the Muses, shall deprive them of the best entertainment they have, and of the noblest subject of their work: and who shall debar Cupid the service and conversation of poesie, shall weaken him of his best weapons. . . .The power and might of this god, are found more quick and lively in the shadow of the poesie, than in their own essence.
Et versus digitos habet.

Verses have full effect Of fingers to erect. It representeth a kind of air more lovely than love itself. Venus is not so fair, nor so alluring all naked, quick and panting, as she is here in Virgil. (iii. 71 f.) We can therefore see how Montaigne's own 'wanton and youthful conceits' are something more than the mere diversions of fancy, even while we absolve them from prurience, or from the brutality of fact. They bring the realm of instinctual nature within the play of mind, and it is this - the strategy of this essay, and of the Montaignean essai more generally - that gives force to his concluding affirmation of the integrity offleshand spirit: May we not say, that there is nothing in us, during this earthly prison, simply corporal, or purely spiritual? and that injuriously we dismember a living man? (iii. 123) This precious sense of integration finds no ready echo in Shakespeare's drama after 1600, in which, as I have tried to show, imaginative contact with Montaigne's 'great and puissant mother Nature' is destabilising rather than the reverse. How are we to make sense of this difference? One way would be to argue that Shakespeare is demonising forces of nature which he cannot, unlike Montaigne, see how to integrate into a properly human life; or alternatively, that he exposes the dangerous reductiveness of taking Nature as one's guide, if not one's goddess. There may well be some truth in either (or even both) of those propositions. But it will not do simply to set up Shakespeare and Montaigne as opposing moralists, without adding some complicating recognition of the effect of generic difference, of the difference between the essay, as Montaigne creates and develops that form, and the peculiarly dramatic mode of Shakespeare's drama. For



Montaigne's feeling for the integrity of mind and instinct depends upon the internalising subjectivity of the Essays; it is a function of Montaigne's solitude, the solitude of the essayist, committed to the project of selfknowledge, retired from public life, writing in his tower, for whom the realm of the mind is more immediately real, more fully the site from which one lives, than the world of external events and other people. No character in Shakespeare - not even Hamlet, not even Richard II in the dungeon at Pomfret - can enjoy such sustained subjectivity, such endless soliloquy. Richard tries, indeed, to compare the prison where he lives - the solitary thinking self - with the world, but for because the world is populous, And here is not a creature but myself, I cannot do it not, at least, without fragmenting the kingdom of his mind into an unruly republic of thoughts as diverse and mutually opposed as the elements of the populous world they would replace. Shakespeare's drama is intensely populous. Within the working of his drama no attitude of mind no matter how finely poised and internally counterbalanced - can sustain self-contained existence, without being challenged by conflicting thoughts, exposed to the ironies of situation, transformed in the dynamics of relationship to others. Iago does not only introduce Othello to Montaigne's reflections on female sexuality in general, he induces him to apply them to Desdemona: which makes of them a rather different thing. There is no space in Shakespeare for the privileged viewpoint of the essayist, reflecting on experience, earthing the personal and the particular in some large general commonplace or sententia. The Duke's essay in Measure/or Measure on human life and death is vigorously challenged by what follows, and the claim that he offers a comprehensive point of view, endorsed by the play as a whole, is hardly convincing. But the Duke is, in this respect, a mere prototype for Prospero, whose commanding subjectivity may indeed seem to contain and comprehend the whole world of the play. If there is one drama by Shakespeare which could lend itself to being read as an essai, it is The Tempest, die least populous of all the plays, and the only one where we know for sure that Shakespeare was thinking of Montaigne.
Fred Parker