Shakespeare and his Love

A Play in Four Acts and an Epilogue
Author: 
Year: 
1904

After writing The Man Shakespeare, Harris decided that his vision of the life of the Bard was worthy of dramatisation, so sat down and wrote Shakespeare and his Love. He was considerably put out when he found out that Shaw had written a play on the same theme, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, which he regarded as stealing his thunder as he tells us in his remarkably crabby preface to this volume. But Shaw's play is infinitely the better of the two: though not a deep work it is witty and entertaining, while Harris' is feeble, flat and dull.

Essentially the play is a retelling of Shakespeare's 'tragic life-story' according to Harris: how he meets and falls in love with the Dark Lady, Mary Fitton, asks William Herbert to plead his cause, but Herbert becomes her lover himself, is thereafter tormented and jealous but writes a lot of plays in which he sublimates his feelings, finally retiring to Stratford to die successful in art if not in love.

Like Joan La Romée, it is simple-minded stuff, undramatic and ill-conceived, with dialog composed of lines bouncing back and forth between characters like a ping-pong match, in a language which is a strange mixture of fake-historic and contemporary idioms. Take, for example, this exchange between the rivals for Miss Fitton:-

HERBERT:
 Don't blame her, she's so young.

SHAKESPEARE:
 And so fair! Such courage, strength, wit, grace, gaiety. God! Had she been true one would have pawned the world for her. And now -

HERBERT:
 You take it too tragic.

SHAKESPEARE:
  Too tragic ! I have lost all - joy, hope, trust - all gone; my pearl of life; my garden of delight!

HERBERT:
  Think, man: it's not the first time she has slipped, she doesn't pretend it is.

SHAKESPEARE:
  The pity of it; ah ! the pity of it ! The sky is all soiled : my lips, too - my hands - ah!

HERBERT:
  Why can't you be a man, and take what's light lightly !

(Doesn't this read like the script of a terrible Hollywood historical movie? Harris surely missed his vocation by dying just as the era of talking pictures was beginning).

After the relative success of Mr and Mrs Daventry, Harris obviously thought he had some talent for the stage. If he had stuck to light, modern subjects then perhaps he might have proved himself right, but this and his other attempt at a serious historical play, Joan La Romée, were absolute stinkers, destined never to be produced.

You may also want to read Harris' cranky, ill-humoured, introduction to this volume.

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