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A Symmetrically Developed Man
His Dramatic Art no Accident
Hamlet ends almost as bloodily as does Titus Andronicus and the pre-Shakespearian tragedies. It was the perfect blending of these two diverse elements that gave him his power. Moreover, Shakespeare's education need not trouble
He lived during the active period of his life amid an environment that was tenfold better than any university, and the marvelous epoch of which he was a part developed him, unlike so many of his contemporaries, symmetrically. It created in him no theories; it placed him upon no hobbies.
His very lack of a university course tended to make him more sane and tolerant.
His dramatic art was no accident; it grew from a long practical experience with the stage and a careful study of the public wants. He threw himself with all his Teu. tonic energy into his chosen profession.
The youth who at twenty-two was penniless and unknown in a vast city, at thirty-three was able to purchase the best estate in his native town, to procure for his family a patent of nobility, and to win the patronage of royalty itself. This alone is enough to show the intensity with which he had practiced his profession. He was first of all a practical, studious, hard-working caterer to the wants of the theater-going public. It was the ruling thought of his whole life to make his every line count upon his audiences, to hold his hearers within his grasp, and to move them as he would. As an actor in his own plays he had a chance to study the effect of his work; his characters stood living before him in the persons of his fellow-play
it was as if he wrote with his characters actually in the flesh about him and in the presence of his audience. To do this was to make a successful play, and success
His Knowledge of Human Life
His Use of External Nature
ful plays meant increased income, a worthy home for his declining years, and the honor and respect of all men.
His marvelous grasp upon the meaning of life, his insight into human character, and his knowledge of every round of human experience came from his quick sympathy and intuition and his wide acquaintance with gifted men in an era of great intellectual activity. His knowledge of external nature, of country life and scenes, came from his early experiences at Stratford. He was an accurate observer, and he knew the birds and flowers as well as did Chaucer. He is seldom at fault in his descriptions and allusions, but to him external nature was but the background for the play of human character, and in the ab. sence of all scenery on the early stage he elaborated his backgrounds with peculiar minuteness and care. Nature is ever in sympathy with the action. Lovers ever woo in the moonlight amid the flowers; murderers ever work at midnight to the accompaniment of the owl and the storm.
The influence of Shakespeare upon later literature can hardly be estimated. He created no sudden revolution; he was no literary dictator like his contemporary, Jonson. He illustrates perfectly the old fable of the contest between the wind and the sun. His contemporaries, who were all men of broader education, did not dream of his transcendent superiority, and hë took no pains to impress it upon them.
He was “gentle Shakespeare " to them [declares Gosse), and they loved both the man and his poetry. That he excelled them at every point, as the oak excels the willow, this, had it been whispered at the Mermaid, would have aroused smiles of derision.
It must not be forgotten that his works made no definite appeal to the reading class until after his
The Influence of His Work
Three Centuries of Shakespeare
death. The study of “Shakespeare ” as a book cannot date farther back than 1623.
But the quiet, pervasive influence of Shakespeare's work told upon the playgoing public. After a taste of his marvelous dramas it was impossible to satisfy them with anything else. Jonson might propound with vigor his learned theories; it was the sun working silently and gently that won. After Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Lear, it was impossible for the English stage to develop anything but the strong romantic drama.
Three Centuries of Shakespeare. During the centuries since the close of the Elizabethan era Shakespeare has had a varied career. The Restoration stage preferred its drama in the French style; Shakespeare was altered and " improved remor selessly. During the classic
Augustan period” the great dramatist was looked upon as a “ rude and Gothic genius” who sang“ wood . notes wild,” but who sadly needed polish. In the middle of the eighteenth century David Garrick, the actor, began his revival of the old dramatist, which soon resulted in a “Shakespeare fever.” Soon afterwards began the era of Shakespearian scholars,—Dr. Johnson, Capell, Steevens, Malone, and others,—who industriously collected every scrap of textual information. It was not until 1814, however, when Coleridge began his celebrated series of lectures, that modern Shakespearian criticism, which is constructive and sympathetic, may be said to have begun. Since then Shakespeare has been the supreme figure in English literature. The Germans have studied his plays as if they were a part of the phenomena of Nature herself, and the English have written voluminously upon every phase of his work. The growth
Supreme Figure in English Literature
His Characterization of Brutus
of Shakespeare as an educating power has been constant all through the present century, until to-day he is studied by every schoolboy, and his works, in annotated editions for every possible use, are like leaves in the autumn forests.
Such was Shakespeare. It is impossible for us to do more than introduce him to the reader. He is in himself a literature, and to treat adequately his art and his personality would require volumes. Yet no amount of criticism could describe the man better than he has done himself in his comment upon Brutus in Julius Cæsar :
His life was gentle, and the elements
REQUIRED READING. The minimum reading of Shakespeare should include Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter's Tale, Richard III., Henry V., Fulius Cæsar, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest.
BEN JONSON AND HIS CIRCLE
He stands alone, colossal, iron-jointed, the behemoth of the
HE years between 1593 and 1616 are so filled with the
radiance of Shakespeare that we are liable to forget that other dramatists of originality and power were at work during the same era. The same conditions that had produced the master dramatist produced, as we have already remarked, a school of playwrights whose produce tions, even had there arisen no Shakespeare, would have made the age a glorious one. Contemporary criticism was unjust to Shakespeare. He won the hearts of the people with his romantic creations, but the scholars of the period, the literary critics and dramatic experts, by no means awarded to him the preëminent place that he has since gained. The real literary master of the age, the culmination of correct dramatic art, was, almost by acclamation of the critics, the ponderous Ben Jonson. Near him in learned esteem stood the classic Chapman and the more romantic Dekker, Heywood, and Marston. It was this group of dramatists that, with Marlowe and Shakespeare, made the golden age of the Elizabethan drama.
1. Ben Jonson (1573-1037) Authorities. The standard edition of Jonson has long been Gifford's, first issued in 1816; more modern and