« PreviousContinue »
writers—none have enjoyed so great a popularity as representing the character of the writer, as well as that of his nation, as each of these great plays has done.
Now a brief reflection may serve to suggest that these dramas, starting from the same standpoint, and resembling each other's plot and evolution so closely, must needs possess matter of exceeding interest for all thinkers and schools of thought.
First, they prove that the problems and difficulties with which men have coped through all time are essentially the same : Prometheus in opposition to the Olympian Deities ; the Patriarch Job in antagonism to the Hebrew Jahve; Faust and the Wonder-Working Magician contending with the Deity of the modern world and with the laws by which he endeavours to rule it—all are vindicators of the self-same issue -protagonists in the self-same battle. They occupy the same standpoint of inherent justice, and of automatic mental independence, of self-determining reason and conscience; they commence from the self-same starting-point; they employ largely the same arguments; they arrive mostly at the same conclusions. In a word, the contest is the same-humanity set in array against the dread powers of the universe,-which has engaged the attention of the noblest minds whose speculations are recorded in human history; a contest contemporaneous with the growth of reason, instinct with its life and attributes, and bound to endure as long as reason and humanity are destined to last-in other words, to the eternity of man and whatever is eternal and divine in his speculation and aspiration.
A word of exception may perchance be thought needful for Hamlet as one of the five skeptical thinkers. In harmony with a nationality which, starting from that of its author and nation, is far more practical than speculative, his doubt is largely concerned with action. He recognises the compulsion in the laws of the universe and in human enactments. His hesitation and fear to act are based on the difficulties inherent
in the circumstances of his own life-problem. In point of fact, he combines speculation with practical doubt, but it is in the direction of action that he finds his actual conclusions. His final justice is mainly accidental; he decides the practical issues of his life by a sort of ethical fluke. If in the issue he kills himself, it is no more than the logical issue of his doubting course of life. The problem he aims to solve is doubt in action —this far more than doubt in speculation—but even here the reasons he appealed to are not unlike those of speculative doubters, and so far much of his reasoning illustrates, and is illustrated by, the arguments of other skeptical free-thinkers. “To be or not to be," to think or not to think, to act or not to act, are only cleverer phases of human problems, all of them beset with, if not identical at least with, similar difficulties, and demanding, not perhaps the same, but analogous methods of consideration and resolution.
Separated by centuries of time, by long ages of linguistic advance or retardation, by infinite degrees of human culture and civilisation, by continents and oceans of terrestrial space, man is found in every condition of existence propounding the same problems, coping with the same or analogous difficulties. The world drama in which he is engaged is always alike in plot, and his rôle is ever the same in aim and character. Nor is its outcome dissimilar. From the whole history of the past, from the world dramas in which the noblest characters have essayed to choose and play their parts, we have the importance, the divine sacredness, of freedom of thought and independence of conscience. The heroes of human thought and action resemble each other in this : they stand firm in the conviction of a mysterious superior justice that rules the universe; they are persuaded of the truth as being both infinite and eternal, that, with all his difficulties, man finds in reason and conscience the weapons best adapted for establishing his rightful claims and position in a universe of which reason and conscience constitute the supreme law and rule.
Πάντα θεοίς ανέθηκαν "Ομηρός θ' Ησίοδός τε
ως πλείστ' έφθέγξαντο θεών αθεμίστια έργα
Das gemeine Menschenschicksal, an welchem wir Alle zu tragen haben, muss denjenigen am schwersten aufliegen, deren Geisteskräfte sich früher und breiter entu ickeln. Wir mögen unter dem Schutz von Eltern und Verwandten emporkommen .. so ist doch immer das Final dass der Mensch auf sich zurückgewiesen wird, und es scheint, es habe sogar die Gottheit sich so zu dem Menschen gestellt das sie dessen Ehrfurcht, Zutrauen und Liebe nicht immer, wenigstens nicht gerade im dringenden Augenblick, erwielern kann."
GOETHE, Wahrheit u. Dichtung, Book xv.
Know ye not me
SHELLEY, Prometheus Unbound, Act i.
Ich dich ehren? Wofiir ?