THE literary critic Titu Maiorescu turned his knowledge of English literature to excellent service. In order to illustrate some principles of poetry, he put before the rising poets various passages from Shakespeare, whom he held to be—I quote his words—"the most perfect model for all that will ever be called poetical imagination." Then, in his opposition to short-sighted critics who always expected teaching in a literary work, he pointed to Shakespeare.
"What tendency," he said, "what tendency of practical morality is there in Othello? He is jealous, in his jealousy he strangles Desdemona. What great sin did Desdemona commit to be so cruelly struck down? What is the reward of her innocence? Ophelia loves Hamlet. Is there any wrong in this? She goes mad, none the less, and full of the greatest emotions is the scene showing us her madness. Where is here any direct lesson of morality? Falstaff is a jolly beggar who laughs all the time and makes us laugh, too, with his indecent jokes. Whoever condemned this character of Shakespeare?"
Professor Iorga, whose personality has left a deep mark on Roumanian literature of the last twenty years, published in 1920 his History of Romance Literature. In the second volume there is a chapter on Shakespeare in relation to the literary currents of France, Italy, and Spain which were bound to affect him. Professor Iorga here analyses Shakespeare plays, giving by way of illustration some excellent translations of various passages.1 Coming to Antony and Cleopatra he does not insist especially on the character of the heroine as realized by Shakespeare; but five years later in a lecture on Byzantine literature delivered at the University of Geneva, he said:
"Some people see in Cleopatra but the friend of Caesar and Antonius, one who might have wished to be also the friend of Octavius, and she is exhibited as a beautiful woman on her knees before the conqueror, accepting together with victory the man who upheld it. But it is enough to read even a few pages of Plutarch to see that there was something else in the successor of great Alexander's achievement, in the one who represented with such majesty and pride the millenary conception of the Oriental monarchy—a quite different thing from impudence of youth." 2
These views were embodied in his own Cleopatra which, though not free from Shakespeare's influence, succeeded in being a modern compact play, given at the National Theatre in Bucharest in 1928.
In searching further through Roumanian literature one would also find Shakespeare's influence in the works of the dramatists. One of our best historical dramas is Apus de Soare—Sunset, by Delavrancea. One will remember Shakespeare's line in Julius Cæsar:
This forms the title of the Roumanian drama, and its principal character is modelled upon Shakespeare's Caesar: we see the same powerful and fearless personality, round whom gathers the same atmosphere of conspiracy, hinted at now and again by dark portents. Even the last characteristic words of Antony concerning Brutus are repeated here: "A fost un oml"—"This was a man!"
Another dramatist, Victor Eftimiu, published some time ago a novel, The Tragedy of a Comedian. The hero is a despised little man—a monster of ugliness, whose keen intellect and strong passions, however, find vent in the establishment of a "Shakespeare's Theatre" in Bucharest. He starts with Macbeth and himself plays with great success the role of Caliban in The Tempest. Every piece is discussed and various opinions passed on Shakespeare. I quote a passage:
"Shakespeare is not only Shakespeare; he is also all that commentators and actors of renown have added to him through the ages and all that we producers discover in him and add, without altering his text, merely interpreting him. The great Shakespearean legend is chiefly due to the legion of disciples who served him in all countries. Like nature and like life itself, he is an occasion for interpretation. Shakespeare is more than a creative genius, rigid, shut in by formulas, he is a great inspiration."
Of course, the lines reflect the ideas of the author himself, who was director of the National Theatre in Bucharest, preceded with no less zeal for Shakespeare by Corneliu Moldovanu and Ion Rebreanu. And a great many Shakespearean plays have been staged of late, with great splendour and new scenery—not only in Bucharest but also in the five other National Theatres we possess in the capitals of the Roumanian provinces. From 1884 to the present day no fewer than eighteen Shakespearean plays have been produced by the National Theatre alone in Bucharest, reaching altogether 850 performances. At the head stands Hamlet, which has been given 215 times. Then follow:
and so forth.3
Bernard Shaw told me once, in a rather serious mood: "You know, since Shakespeare's days the English language has evolved and changed so much that the British public can hardly understand him. But for you in translation he is modern and fresh"—I should add, an old wine put into new bottles which we enjoy and shall continue to enjoy in future.