CHAPTER IV: THE AGE OF ELIZABETH, 1558-1603
The Reign of Elizabeth.—Queen Elizabeth, who ranks among the greatest of the world's rulers, was the daughter of Henry VIII. and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth reigned as queen of England from 1558 until her death in 1603. The remarkable allowances which she made for difference of opinion showed that she felt the spirit of the Renaissance. She loved England, and her most important acts were guided, not by selfish personal motives, but by a strong desire to make England a great nation.
She had a law passed restoring the supremacy of the monarch, “as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things as temporal.” The prayer book of Edward VI. was again introduced and the mass was forbidden. She was broad enough not to inquire too closely into the private religious opinions of her subjects, so long as they went to the established church. For each absence they were fined a shilling. Next to churchgoing and her country, she loved and encouraged plays.
For more than twenty years she was worried by fear that either France or Spain would put her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the English throne. With masterly diplomacy, Elizabeth for a long time managed to retain the active friendship of at least one of these great powers, in order to restrain the other from interfering. She had kept Mary a prisoner for nineteen years, fearing to liberate her. At last an active conspiracy was discovered to assassinate Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. Elizabeth accordingly had her cousin beheaded in 1587. Spain thereupon prepared her fleet, the Invincible Armada, to attack England. When this became known, the outburst of patriotic feeling was so intense among all classes in England that the queen did not hesitate to put Lord Howard, a Catholic, in command of the English fleet. The Armada was utterly defeated, and England was free to enter on her glorious period of influencing the thought and action of the world.
In brief, Elizabeth's reign was remarkable for the rise of the middle classes, for the growth of manufactures, for the appearance of English ships in almost all parts of the world, for the extension of commerce, for greater freedom of thought and action, for what the world now calls Elizabethan literature, and for the ascendancy of a great mental and moral movement to which we must next call attention.
Culmination of the Renaissance and the Reformation.—We have seen that the Renaissance began in Italy in the fourteenth century and influenced the work of Chaucer. In the same century, Wycliffe's influence helped the cause of the Reformation. Elizabethan England alone had the good fortune to experience the culmination of these two movements at one and the same time. At no other period and in no other country have two forces, like the Renaissance and the Reformation, combined at the height of their ascendancy to stimulate the human mind. One result of these two mighty influences was the work of William Shakespeare, which speaks to the ear of all time.
The Renaissance, having opened the gates of knowledge, inspired the Elizabethans with the hope of learning every secret of nature and of surmounting all difficulties. The Reformation gave man new freedom, imposed on him the gravest individual responsibilities, made him realize the importance of every act of his own will, and emphasized afresh the idea of the stewardship of this present life, for which he would be held accountable. In Elizabethan days, these two forces cooeperated; in the following Puritan age they were at war.
Some Characteristics of Elizabethan Life.—It became an ambition to have as many different experiences as possible, to search for that variety craved by youth and by a youthful age. Sir Walter Raleigh was a courtier, a writer, a warden of the tin mines, a vice admiral, a captain of the guard, a colonizer, a country gentleman, and a pirate. Sir Philip Sidney, who died at the age of thirty-two, was an envoy to a foreign court, a writer of romances, an officer in the army, a poet and a courtier. Shakespeare left the little town where he was born, to plunge into the more complex life of London. The poet, Edmund Spenser, went to turbulent Ireland, where he had enough experiences to suggest the conflicts in the Faerie Queene.
The greater freedom and initiative of the individual and the remarkable extension of trade with all parts of the world naturally led to the rise of the middle class. The nobility were no longer the sole leaders in England's rapid progress. Many of Elizabeth's councilors were said to have sprung from the masses, but no reign could boast of wiser ministers. It was then customary for the various classes to mingle much more freely than they do now. There was absence of that overspecialization which today keeps people in such sharply separated groups. This mingling was further aided by the tendency to try many different pursuits and by the spirit of patriotism in the air. All classes were interested in repelling the Spanish Armada and in maintaining England's freedom. It was fortunate for Shakespeare that the Elizabethan age gave him unusual opportunity to meet and to become the spokesman of all classes of men. The audience that stood in the pit or sat in the boxes to witness the performance of his plays, comprised not only lords and wealthy merchants, but also weavers, sailors, and country folk.
Initiative and Love of Action.—The Elizabethans were distinguished for their initiative. This term implies the possession of two qualities: (1) ingenuity or fertility in ideas, and (2) ability to pass at once from an idea to its suggested action. Never did action habitually follow more quickly on the heels of thought. The age loved to translate everything into action, because the spirit of the Renaissance demanded the exercise of youthful activity to its fullest capacity in order that the power which the new knowledge promised could be acquired and enjoyed before death. As the Elizabethans felt that real life meant activity in exploring a new and interesting world, both physical and mental, they demanded that their literature should present this life of action. Hence, all their greatest poets, with the exception of Spenser, were dramatists. Even Spenser's Faerie Queene, with its abstractions, is a poem of action, for the virtues fight with the vices.
ELIZABETHAN PROSE LITERATURE
Variety in the Prose.—The imaginative spirit of the Elizabethans craved poetry, and all the greatest authors of this age, with the exception of Francis Bacon, were poets. If, however, an Elizabethan had been so peculiarly constituted as to wish to stock his library with contemporary prose only, he could have secured good works in many different fields. He could, for instance, have obtained (1) an excellent book on education, the Scholemaster of Roger Ascham (1515-1568); (2) interesting volumes of travel, such as the Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616); and The Discovery of Guiana, by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618); (3) history, in the important Chronicles of England, Ireland, and Scotland (1578), by Raphael Holinshed; the Chronicle (Annals of England) and Survey of London, by John Stow (1525-1604); and the Brittania, by William Camden (1551-1623); (4) biography, in the excellent translation of Plutarch's Lives, by Sir Thomas North (1535-1601?); (5) criticism, in The Apologie for Poetrie, by Sir Philip Sidney; (6) essays on varied subjects by Francis Bacon; (7) works dealing with religion and faith: (a) John Foxe's (1516-1587) Book of Martyrs, which told in simple prose thrilling stories of martyrs and served as a textbook of the Reformation; (b) Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, a treatise on theology; (8) fiction, in John Lyly's Euphues (1579), Robert Greene's Pandosto (1588), Sir Philip Sidney's Arcardia (1590), Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveler (1594), and Thomas Deloney's The Gentle Craft (1597).
Shakespeare read Holinshed, North, Greene, Sidney, and Lodge and turned some of their suggestions into poetry, which we very much prefer to their prose. We are nearly certain that Shakespeare studied Lyly's Euphues, because we can trace the influence of that work in his style.
It was the misfortune of Elizabethan prose to be almost completely overshadowed by the poetry. This prose was, however, far more varied and important than that of any preceding age. The books mentioned on page 123 constitute only a small part of the prose of this period.
Lyly, Sidney, Hooker.—In 1579, when Shakespeare was fifteen years old, there appeared the first part of an influential prose work, John Lyly's (1554?-1606) Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit, followed in 1580 by a second part, Euphues and his England. Much of Lyly's subject matter is borrowed, and his form reflects the artificial style then popular over Europe.
Euphues, a young Athenian, goes to Naples, where he falls in love and is jilted. This is all the action in the first part of the so-called story. The rest is moralizing. In the second part, Euphues comes to England with a friend, who falls in love twice, and finally marries; but again there is more moralizing than story. Euphues returns to Athens and retires to the mountains to muse in solitude.
In its use of a love story, Euphues prefigures the modern novel. In Euphues, however, the love story serves chiefly as a peg on which to hang discussions on fickleness, youthful follies, friendship, and divers other subjects.
Lyly aimed to produce artistic prose, which would render his meaning clear and impressive. To achieve this object, he made such excessive use of contrast, balanced words and phrases, and far-fetched comparisons, that his style seems highly artificial and affected. This quotation is typical:—
“Achilles spear could as well heal as hurt, the scorpion though he
sting, yet he stints the pain, through the herb Nerius poison the
sheep, yet is a remedy to man against poison... There is great
difference between the standing puddle and the running stream, yet
both water: great odds between the adamant and the pomice, yet both
stones, a great distinction to be put between vitrum and the
crystal, yet both glass: great contrariety between Lais and
Lucretia, yet both women.”
Although this selection shows unnatural or strained antithesis, there is also evident a commendable desire to vary the diction and to avoid the repetition of the same word. To find four different terms for nearly the same idea “difference,” “odds,” “distinction,” and “contrariety,” involves considerable painstaking. While it is true that the term “euphuism” has come to be applied to any stilted, antithetical style that pays more attention to the manner of expressing a thought than to its worth, we should remember that English prose style has advanced because some writers, like Lyly, emphasized the importance of artistic form. Shakespeare occasionally employs euphuistic contrast in an effective way. The sententious Polonius says in Hamlet:—
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”
Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) wrote for his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, a pastoral romance, entitled Arcadia (published in 1590). Unlike Lyly, Sidney did not aim at precision, emphatic contrast, and balance. For its effectiveness, the Arcadia relies on poetic language and conceptions. The characters in the romance live and love in a Utopian Arcadia, where “the morning did strow Roses and Violets in the heavenly floor against the coming of the Sun,” and where the shepherd boy pipes “as though he should never be old.”
Passages like the following show Sidney's poetic style and as much exuberant fancy as if they had been written by a Celt:—
“Her breath is more sweet than a gentle southwest wind, which
comes creeping over flowery fields and shadowed waters in the
extreme heat of summer and yet is nothing compared to the
honey-flowing speech that breath doth carry.”
The Arcadia furnished Shakespeare's King Lear with the auxiliary plot of Gloucester and his two sons and inspired Thomas Lodge to write his novel Rosalynde, which in turn suggested Shakespeare's As You Like It.
To Sidney belongs the credit of having written the first meritorious essay on criticism in the English language, The Apologie for Poetrie. This defends the poetic art, and shows how necessary such exercise of the imagination is to take us away from the cold, hard facts of life.
Richard Hooker's (1554?-1600) Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity shows a third aim in Elizabethan prose,—to express carefully reasoned investigation and conclusion in English that is as thoroughly elaborated and qualified as the thought. Lyly's striking contrasts and Sidney's flowery prose do not appeal to Hooker, who uses Latin inversions and parenthetical qualifications, and adds clause after clause whenever he thinks it necessary to amplify the thought or to guard against misunderstanding. Hooker's prose is as carefully wrought as Lyly's and far more rhythmical. Both were experimenting with English prose in different fields, serving to teach succeeding writers what to imitate and to avoid.
Unlike Euphues and the Arcadia, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is more valuable for its thought than for its form of expression. This work, which is still studied as an authority, is an exposition of divine law in its relations to both the world and the church. Hooker was personally a compound of sweetness and light, and his philosophy is marked by sweet reasonableness. He was a clergyman of the Church of England, but he shows a spirit of toleration toward other churches. He had much of the modern idea of growth in both government and religion, and he “accepts no system of government either in church or state as unalterable.”
FRANCIS BACON, 1561-1626
Life.—A study of Bacon takes us beyond the limits of the reign of Elizabeth, but not beyond the continued influences of that reign. Francis Bacon, the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under Elizabeth, was born in London and grew up under the influences of the court. In order to understand some of Bacon's actions in later life, we must remember the influences that helped to fashion him in his boyhood days. Those with whom he early associated and who unconsciously molded him were not very scrupulous about the way in which they secured the favor of the court or the means which they took to outstrip an adversary. They also encouraged in him a taste for expensive luxuries. These unfortunate influences were intensified when, at the age of sixteen, he went with the English ambassador to Paris, and remained there for two and a half years, studying statecraft and diplomacy.
When Bacon was nineteen, his father died. The son, being without money, returned from Paris and appealed to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, one of Elizabeth's ministers, for some lucrative position at the court. In a letter to his uncle, Bacon says: “I confess I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends; for I have taken all knowledge to be my province.” This statement shows the Elizabethan desire to master the entire world of the New Learning. Instead of helping his nephew, however, Lord Burleigh seems to have done all in his power to thwart him. Bacon thereupon studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1582.
Bacon entered Parliament in 1584 and distinguished himself as a speaker. Ben Jonson, the dramatist, says of him “There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speaking. No man ever spoke more neatly, more presly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. His hearers could not cough or look aside from him without loss. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should make an end.” This speaking was valuable training for Bacon in writing the pithy sentences of his Essays. A man who uses the long, involved sentences of Hooker can never become a speaker to whom people will listen. The habit of directness and simplicity, which Bacon formed in his speaking, remained with him through Life.
Among the many charges against Bacon's personal code of ethics, two stand out conspicuously. The Earl of Essex, who had given Bacon an estate then worth L1800, was influential in having him appointed to the staff of counselors to Queen Elizabeth. When Essex was accused of treason, Bacon kept the queen's friendship by repudiating him and taking an active part in the prosecution that led to the earl's execution. After James I. had made Bacon Lord High Chancellor of England, he was accused of receiving bribes as a judge. He replied that he had accepted only the customary presents given to judges and that these made no difference in his decisions. He was tried, found guilty, fined L40,000, and sentenced to be imprisoned in the Tower during the king's pleasure. After a few days, however, the king released him, forgave the fine, and gave him an annual pension of L1200.
The question whether he wrote Shakespeare's plays needs almost as much discussion on the moral as on the intellectual side. James Spedding, after studying Bacon's life and works for thirty years, said: “I see no reason to suppose that Shakespeare did not write the plays. But if somebody else did, then I think I am in a position to say that it was not Lord Bacon.”
After his release, Bacon passed the remaining five years of his life in retirement,—studying and writing. His interest in observing natural objects and experimenting with them was the cause of his death. He was riding in a snowstorm when it occurred to him to test snow as a preservative agent. He stopped at a house, procured a fowl, and stuffed it with snow. He caught cold during this experiment and, being improperly cared for, soon died.
The Essays.—The first ten of his Essays, his most popular work, appeared in the year 1597. At the time of his death, he had increased them to fifty-eight. They deal with a with range of subjects, from Studiesand Nobility, On the one hand, to Marriage and Single Life and Gardens on the other. The great critic Hallam say: “It would be somewhat derogatory to a man of the slightest claim to polite letters, were he unacquainted with the Essays of Bacon. It is, indeed, little worth while to read this or any other book for reputation's, sake; but very few in our language so well repay the pains, or afford more nourishment to the thoughts.”
The following sentence from the essay Of Studies will show some of the characteristics of his way of presenting thought:—
“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing
an exact man: and, therefore, if a man write little, he had need
have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present
wit; and if he read little, he need have much cunning to seem to
know that he doth not.”
We may notice here (1) clearness, (2) conciseness, (3) breadth of thought and observation.
A shrewd Scotchman says: “It may be said that to men wishing to rise in the world by politic management of their fellowmen, Bacon's Essays are the best handbook hitherto published.” In justification of this criticism, we need only quote from the essay Of Negotiating :—
“It is generally better to deal by speech than by letter... Letters
are good, when a man would draw an answer by letter back again, or
when it may serve, for a man's justification, afterwards to produce
his own letter, or where it may he danger to be interrupted or heard
by pieces. To deal in person is good, when a man's face breedeth
regard, as commonly with inferiors, or in tender cases, where a
man's eye upon the countenance of him with whom he speaketh may give
him a direction how far to go, and generally, where a man will
reserve to himself liberty either to disavow or to expound.”
Scientific and Miscellaneous Works.—The Advancement of Learning is another of Bacon's great works. The title aptly expresses the purpose of the took. He insists on the necessity of close observation of nature and of making experiments with various forms of matter. He decries the habit of spinning things out of one's inner consciousness, without patiently studying the outside world to see whether the facts justify the conclusions. In other words, he insists on induction. Bacon was not the father of the inductive principle, as is sometimes wrongly stated; for prehistoric man was compelled to make inductions before he could advance one step from barbarism. The trouble was that this method was not rigorously applied. It was currently believed that our valuable garden toad is venomous and that frogs are bred from slime. For his knowledge of bees, Lyly consulted classical authors in preference to watching the insects. Bacon's writings exerted a powerful influence in the direction of exact inductive method.
Bacon had so little faith in the enduring qualities of the English language, that he wrote the most of his philosophical works in Latin. He planned a Latin work in six parts, to cover the whole field of the philosophy of natural science. The most famous of the parts completed is the Novum Organum, which deals with certain methods for searching after definite truth, and shows how to avoid some ever present tendencies toward error.
Bacon wrote an excellent History of the Reign of Henry VII., which is standard to this day. He is also the author of The New Atlantis, which may be termed a Baconian Utopia, or study of an ideal commonwealth.
General Characteristics.—In Bacon's sentences we may often find remarkable condensation of thought in few words. A modern essayist has taken seven pages to express, or rather to obscure, the ideas in these three lines from Bacon:—
“Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little,
repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period,
but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.”
His works abound in illustrations, analogies, and striking imagery; but unlike the great Elizabethan poets, he appeals more to cold intellect than to the feelings. We are often pleased with his intellectual ingenuity, for instance, in likening the Schoolmen to spiders, spinning such stuff as webs are made of “out of no great quantity of matter.”
He resembles the Elizabethans in preferring magnificent to commonplace images. It has been often noticed that if he essays to write of buildings in general, he prefers to describe palaces. His knowledge of the intellectual side of human nature is especially remarkable, but, unlike Shakespeare, Bacon never drops his plummet into the emotional depths of the soul.
THE NON-DRAMATIC POETRY—LYRICAL VERSE
A Medium of Artistic Expression.—No age has surpassed the Elizabethan in lyrical poems, those “short swallow flights of song,” as Tennyson defines them. The English Renaissance, unlike the Italian, did not achieve great success in painting. The Englishman embodied in poetry his artistic expression of the beautiful. Many lyrics are merely examples of word painting. The Elizabethan poet often began his career by trying to show his skill with the ingenious and musical arrangement of words, where an Italian would have used color and drawing on an actual canvas.
We have seen that in the reign of Henry VIII. Wyatt and Surrey introduced into England from Italy the type of lyrical verse known as the sonnet. This is the most artificial of lyrics, because its rules prescribe a length of exactly fourteen lines and a definite internal structure.
The sonnet was especially popular with Elizabethan poets. In the last ten years of the sixteenth century, more than two thousand sonnets were written. Even Shakespeare served a poetic apprenticeship by writing many sonnets as well as semi-lyrical poems, like Venus and Adonis.
We should, however, remember that the sonnet is only one type of the varied lyric expression of the age. Many Elizabethan song books show that lyrics were set to music and used on the most varied occasions. There were songs for weddings, funerals, dances, banquets,—songs for the tinkers, the barbers, and other workmen. If modern readers chance to pick up an Elizabethan novel, like Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), they are surprised to find that prose will not suffice for the lover, who must “evaporate” into song like this:—
“Love in my bosom like a bee,
Doth suck his sweet.
Now with his wings he plays with me,
Now with his feet.”
There are large numbers of Elizabethan lyrics apparently as spontaneous and unfettered as the song of the lark. The seeming artlessness of much of this verse should not blind us to the fact that an unusual number of poets had really studied the art of song.
Love Lyrics.—The subject of the Elizabethan sonnets is usually love. Sir Philip Sidney wrote many love sonnets, the best of which is the one beginning:—
“With how sad steps. O Moon, thou climb'st the Skies!”
Edmund Spencer composed fifty-eight sonnets in one year to chronicle his varied emotions as a lover. We may find among Shakespeare's 154 sonnets some of the greatest love lyrics in the language, such, for instance, as CXVI., containing the lines:—
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds”;
or, as XVIII.:—
“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease bath all too short a date.
* * * * *
But thy eternal summer shall not fade.”
Sonnets came to be used in much the same way as a modern love letter or valentine. In the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, sonnets were even called “merchantable ware.” Michael Drayton (1563-1631), a prolific poet, author of the Ballad of Agincourt, one of England's greatest war songs, tells how he was employed by a lover to write a sonnet which won the lady. Drayton's best sonnet is, Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part.
Outside of the sonnets, we shall find love lyrics in great variety. One of the most popular of Elizabethan songs is Ben Jonson's:—
“Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.”
The Elizabethans were called a “nest of singing birds” because such songs as the following are not unusual in the work of their minor writers:—
“Sweet air, blow soft; mount, lark, aloft
To give my love good morrow!
Winds from the wind to please her mind,
Notes from the lark I'll borrow.”
Pastoral Lyrics.—In Shakespeare's early youth it was the fashion to write lyrics about the delights of rustic life with sheep and shepherds. The Italians, freshly interesting in Vergil's Georgics and Bucolics, had taught the English how to write pastoral verse. The entire joyous world had become a Utopian sheep pasture, in which shepherds piped and fell in love with glorified sheperdesses. A great poet named one of his productions, Shepherd's Calendar and Sir Philip Sidney wrote in poetic prose the pastoral romance Arcadia.
Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is a typical poetic expression of the fancied delight in pastoral life:—
”...we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.”
Miscellaneous Lyrics.—As the Elizabethan age progressed, the subject matter of the lyrics became broader. Verse showing consummate mastery of turns expressed the most varied emotions. Some of the greatest lyrics of the period are the songs interspersed in the plays of the dramatists, from Lyly to Beaumont and Fletcher. The plays of Shakespeare, the greatest and most varied of Elizabethan lyrical poets, especially abound in such songs. Two of the best of these occur in his Cymbeline. One is the song—
“Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,”
and the other is the dirge beginning:—
“Fear no more the heat o' the sun.”
Ariel's songs in The Tempest fascinate with the witchery of untrammeled existence. Two lines of a song from Twelfth Night give an attractive presentation of the Renaissance philosophy of the present as opposed to an elusive future:—
“What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter.”
Two of the later Elizabethan poets, Ben Jonson and John Donne (1573-1631), specially impress us by their efforts to secure ingenious effects in verse. Ben Jonson often shows this tendency, as in trying to give a poetic definition of a kiss as something—
“So sugar'd, so melting, so soft, so delicious,”
and in showing so much ingenuity of expression in the cramping limits of an epitaph:—
“Underneath this stone doth lie
As much beauty as could die,
Which in life did harbor give
To more virtue than doth live.”
The poet most famous for a display of extreme ingenuity in verse is John Donne, a traveler, courtier, and finally dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, who possessed, to quote his own phrase, an “hydroptic immoderate desire of human learning.” He paid less attention to artistic form than the earlier Elizabethans, showed more cynicism, chose the abstract rather than the concrete, and preferred involved metaphysical thought to simple sensuous images. He made few references to nature and few allusions to the characters of classical mythology, but searched for obscure likenesses between things, and for conceits or far-fetched comparisons. In his poem, A Funeral Elegy, he shows these qualities in characterizing a fair young lady as:—
“One whose clear body was so pure and thin,
Because it need disguise no thought within;
'Twas but a through-light scarf her mind to enroll,
Or exhalation breathed out from her soul.”
The idea in Shakespeare's simpler expression, “the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,” was expanded by Donne into:—
“Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.”
Donne does not always show so much fine-spun ingenuity, but this was the quality most imitated by a group of his successors. His claim to distinction rests on the originality and ingenuity of his verse, and perhaps still more on his influence over succeeding poets.
EDMUND SPENSER, 1552-1599
Life and Minor Poems.—For one hundred and fifty-two years after Chaucer's death, in 1400, England had no great poet until Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552. Spenser, who became the greatest non-dramatic poet of the Elizabethan age, was twelve years older than Shakespeare.
His parents were poor, but fortunately in Elizabethan times, as well as in our own days, there were generous men who found their chief pleasure in aiding others. Such a man assisted Spenser in going to Cambridge. Spenser's benefactor was sufficiently wise not to give the student enough to dwarf the growth of self-reliance. We know that Spenser was a sizar at Cambridge, that is, one of those students who, to quote Macaulay, “had to perform some menial services. They swept the court; they carried up the dinner to the fellows' table, and changed the plate and poured out the ale of the rulers of society.” We know further that Spenser was handicapped by ill health during a part of his course, for we find records of allowances paid “Spenser aegrotanti.”
After leaving Cambridge Spenser went to the north of England, probably in the capacity of tutor. While there, he fell in love with a young woman whom he calls Rosalind. This event colored his after life. Although she refused him, she had penetration enough to see in what his greatness consisted, and her opinion spurred him to develop his abilities as a poet. He was about twenty-five years old when he fell in love with Rosalind; and he remained single until he was forty-two, when he married an Irish maiden named Elizabeth. In honor of that event, he composed the Epithalamion, the noblest marriage song in any literature. So strong are early impressions that even in its lines he seems to be thinking of Rosalind and fancying that she is his bride.
After returning from the north, he spent some time with Sir Philip Sidney, who helped fashion Spenser's ideals of a chivalrous gentleman. Sidney's influence is seen in Spenser's greatest work, the Faerie Queene. Sir Walter Raleigh was another friend who left his imprint on Spenser.
In 1579, Spenser published the Shepherd's Calendar. This is a pastoral poem, consisting of twelve different parts, one part being assigned to each of the twelve months. Although inferior to the Faerie Queene, the Shepherd's Calendar remains one of the greatest pastoral poems in the English language.
In 1580 he was appointed secretary to Lord Gray, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In one capacity or another, in the service of the crown, Spenser passed in Ireland almost the entire remaining eighteen years of his life. In 1591 he received in the south of Ireland a grant of three thousand acres, a part of the confiscated estate of an Irish earl. Sir Walter Raleigh was also given forty-two thousand acres near Spenser. Ireland was then in a state of continuous turmoil. In such a country Spenser lived and wrote his Faerie Queene. Of course, this environment powerfully affected the character of that poem. It has been said that to read a contemporary's account of “Raleigh's adventures with the Irish chieftains, his challenges and single combats, his escapes at fords and woods, is like reading bits of the Faerie Queene in prose.”
In 1598 the Irish, infuriated by the invasion of their country and the seizure of their lands, set fire to Spenser's castle. He and his family barely escaped with their lives. He crossed to England and died the next year, according to some accounts, in want. He was buried, at the expense of Lord Essex, in Westminster Abbey, near Chaucer.
The Faerie Queene.—In 1590 Spenser published the first three books of the Faerie Queene. The original plan was to have the poem contain twelve books, like Vergil's AEneid, but only six were published. If more were written, they have been lost.
The poem is an allegory with the avowed moral purpose of fashioning “a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.” Spenser says: “I labour to pourtraict in Arthure, before he was King, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised.” Twelve Knights personifying twelve Virtues were to fight with their opposing Vices, and the twelve books were to tell the story of the conflict. The Knights set out from the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, in search of their enemies, and meet with divers adventures and enchantments.
The hero of the tale is Arthur, who has figured so much in English song and legend. Spenser makes him typical of all the Virtues taken together. The first book, which is really a complete poem by itself, and which is generally admitted to be the finest, contains an account of the adventures of the Red Cross Knight who represents Holiness. Other books tell of the warfare of the Knights who typify Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy.
The poem begins thus:—
“A gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine,
The cruell markes of many' a bloody fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he never wield.
* * * * *
“And on his brest a bloodie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore.
* * * * *
“Upon a great adventure he was bond.
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest glorious Queene of Faerie lond.”
The entire poem really typifies the aspirations of the human soul for something nobler and better than can be gained without effort. In Spenser's imaginative mind, these aspirations became real persons who set out to win laurels in a fairyland, lighted with the soft light of the moon, and presided over by the good genius that loves to uplift struggling and weary souls.
The allegory certainly becomes confused. A critic well says: “We can hardly lose our way in it, for there is no way to lose.” We are not called on to understand the intricacies of the allegory, but to read between the lines, catch the noble moral lesson, and drink to our fill at the fountain of beauty and melody.
Spenser a Subjective Poet.—The subjective cast of Spenser's mind next demands attention. We feel that his is an ideal world, one that does not exist outside of the imagination. In order to understand the difference between subjective and objective, let us compare Chaucer with Spenser. No one can really be said to study literature without constantly bringing in the principle of comparison. We must notice the likeness and the difference between literary productions, or the faint impression which they make upon our minds will soon pass away.
Chaucer is objective; that is, he identifies himself with things that could have a real existence in the outside world. We find ourselves looking at the shiny bald head of Chaucer's Monk, at the lean horse and threadbare clothes of the Student of Oxford, at the brown complexion of the Shipman, at the enormous hat and large figure of the Wife of Bath, at the red face of the Summoner, at the hair of the Pardoner “yelow as wex.” These are not mere figments of the imagination. We feel that they are either realities or that they could have existed.
While the adventures in the Irish wars undoubtedly gave the original suggestions for many of the contests between good and evil in the Faerie Queene, Spenser intentionally idealized these knightly struggles to uphold the right and placed them in fairyland. This great poem is the work of a mind that loved to elaborate purely subjective images. The pictures were not painted from gazing at the outside world. We feel that they are mostly creations of the imagination, and that few of them could exist in a real world. There is no bower in the bottom of the sea, “built of hollow billowes heaped hye,” and no lion ever follows a lost maiden to protect her. We feel that the principal part of Shakespeare's world could have existed in reality as well as in imagination. Spenser was never able to reach this highest type of art.
The world, however, needs poets to create images of a higher type of beauty than this life can offer. These images react on our material lives and cast them in a nobler mold. Spenser's belief that the subjective has power to fashion the objective is expressed in two of the finest lines that he ever wrote:—
“For of the soule the bodie forme doth take;
For soule is forme, and doth the bodie make.”
Chief Characteristics of Spenser's Poetry.—We can say of Spencer's verse that it stands in the front rank for (1) melody, (2) love of the beautiful, and (3) nobility of the ideals presented. His poetry also (4) shows a preference for the subjective world, (5) exerts a remarkable influence over other poets, and (6) displays a peculiar liking for obsolete forms of expression.
Spencer's melody is noteworthy. If we read aloud correctly such lines as these, we can scarcely fail to be impressed with their harmonious flow:—
“A teme of Dolphins raunged in aray
Drew the smooth charett of sad Cymoent:
They were all taught by Triton to obay
To the long raynes at her commaundement:
As swifte as swallowes on the waves they went.
* * * * *
“Upon great Neptune's necke they softly swim,
And to her watry chamber swiftly carry him.
Deepe in the bottome of the sea her bowre
Is built of hollow billowes heaped hye.”
The following lines will show Spenser's love for beauty, and at the same time indicate the nobility of some of his ideal characters. He is describing Lady Una, the fair representative of true religion, who has lost through enchantment her Guardian Knight, and who is wandering disconsolate in the forest:—
”...Her angel's face,
As the great eye of heaven, shyned bright,
And made a sunshine in the shady place;
Did never mortall eye behold such heavenly grace.
“It fortuned out of the thickest wood
A ramping Lyon rushed suddeinly,
Hunting full greedy after salvage blood.
Soone as the royall virgin he did spy,
With gaping mouth at her ran greedily,
To have att once devoured her tender corse;
But to the pray when as he drew more ny,
His bloody rage aswaged with remorse,
And with the sight amazd, forgat his furious forse.
“In stead thereof he kist her wearie feet,
And lickt her lilly hands with fawning tong,
As he her wronged innocence did weet.
O, how can beautie maister the most strong,
And simple truth subdue avenging wrong!”
The power of beauty has seldom been more vividly described. As we read the succeeding stanzas and see the lion following her, like a faithful dog, to shield her from harm, we feel the power of both beauty and goodness and realize that with Spenser these terms are interchangeable, Each one of the preceding selections shows his preference for the subjective and the ideal to the actual.
Spenser searched for old and obsolete words. He used “eyne” for “eyes,” “fone” for “foes,” “shend” for “shame.” He did not hesitate to coin words when he needed them, like “mercify” and “fortunize.” He even wrote “wawes” in place of “waves” because he wished it to rime with “jaws.” In spite of these peculiarities, Spenser is not hard reading after the first appearance of strangeness has worn away.
A critic rightly says that Spenser repels none but the anti-poetical. His influence upon other poets has been far-reaching. Milton, Dryden, Byron, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley show traces of his influence. Spenser has been called the poet's poet, because the more poetical one is, the more one will enjoy him.
THE ENGLISH DRAMA
The Early Religious Drama.—It is necessary to remember at the outset that the purpose of the religious drama was not to amuse, but to give a vivid presentation of scriptural truth. On the other hand, the primary aim of the later dramatist has usually been to entertain, or, in Shakespeare's exact words, “to please.” Shakespeare was, however, fortunate in having an audience that was pleased to be instructed, as well as entertained.
Before the sixteenth century, England had a religious drama that made a profound impression on life and thought. The old religious plays helped to educate the public, the playwrights, and the actors for the later drama.
Any one may to-day form some idea of the rise of the religious drama, by attending the service of the Catholic church on Christmas or Easter Sunday. In many Catholic churches there may still be seen at Christmas time a representation of the manger at Bethlehem. Sometimes the figures of the infant Savior, of Joseph and Mary, of the wise men, of the sheep and cattle, are very lifelike.
The events clustering about the Crucifixion and the Resurrection furnished the most striking material for the early religious drama. Our earliest dramatic writers drew their inspiration from the New Testament.
Miracle and Mystery Plays.—A Miracle play is the dramatic representation of the life of a saint and of the miracles connected with him. A Mystery play deals with gospel events which are concerned with any phase of the life of Christ, or with any Biblical event that remotely foreshadows Christ or indicates the necessity of a Redeemer. In England there were few, if any, pure Miracle plays, but the term “Miracle” is applied indiscriminately to both Miracles and Mysteries.
The first Miracle play in England was acted probably not far from 1100. In the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries these plays had become so popular that they were produced in nearly every part of England. Shakespeare felt their influence. He must have had frequent opportunities in his boyhood to witness their production. They were seldom performed in England after 1600, although visitors to Germany have, every ten years, the opportunity of seeing a modern production of a Mystery in the Passion Play at Oberammergau.
The Subjects.—Four great cycles of Miracle plays have been preserved: the York, Chester, and Coventry plays, so called because they were performed in those places, and the Towneley plays, which take their name from Towneley Hall in Lancashire, where the manuscript was kept for some time. It is probable that almost every town of importance had its own collection of plays.
The York cycle contains forty-eight plays. A cycle or circle of plays means a list forming a complete circle from Creation until Doomsday. The York collection begins with Creation and the fall of Lucifer and the bad angels from Heaven,—a theme which was later to inspire the pen of one of England's greatest poets. The tragedies of Eden and the Flood, scenes from the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, the manger at Bethlehem, the slaughter of the Innocents, the Temptation, the resurrection of Lazarus, the Last Supper, the Trial, the Crucifixion, and the Easter triumph are a few of the Miracle plays that were acted in the city of York.
The Actors and Manner of Presentation.—At first the actors were priests who presented the plays either in the church or in its immediate vicinity on sacred ground. After a while the plays became so popular that the laity presented them. When they were at the height of their popularity, that is, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the actors were selected with great care from the members of the various trades guilds. Each guild undertook the entire responsibility for the presentation of some one play, and endeavored to surpass all the other guilds.
Considerable humor was displayed in the allotment of various plays. The tanners presented the fall of Lucifer and the bad angels into the infernal regions; the ship carpenters, the play of Noah and the building of the ark; the bakers, the Last Supper; the butchers, the Crucifixion. In their prime, the Miracle plays were acted on wooden platforms mounted on wheels. There were two distinct stories in these movable stages, a lower one in which the actors dressed, and an upper one in which they played. The entrance to the lower story, known as Hell Mouth, consisted of a terrible pair of dragonlike jaws, painted red. From these jaws issued smoke, flame, and horrible outcries. From the entrance leaped red-coated devils to tempt the Savior, the saints, and men. Into it the devils would disappear with some wicked soul. They would torture it and make it roar with pain, as the smoke poured faster from the red jaws.
In York on Corpus Christi Day, which usually fell in the first week in June, the actors were ordered to be in their places on these movable theaters at half past three in the morning. Certain stations had been selected throughout the city, where each pageant should stop and, in the proper order, present its own play. In this way the enormous crowds that visited York to see these performances were more evenly scattered throughout the city.
The actors did not always remain on the stage. Herod, for example, in his magnificent robes used to ride on horseback among the people, boast of his prowess, and overdo everything. Shakespeare, who was evidently familiar with the character, speaks of out-Heroding Herod. The Devil also frequently jumped from the stage and availed himself of his license to play pranks among the audience.
Much of the acting was undoubtedly excellent. In 1476 the council at York ordained that four of the best players in the city should examine with regard to fitness all who wished to take part in the plays. So many were desirous of acting that it was much trouble to get rid of incompetents. The ordinance ran: “All such as they shall find sufficient in person and cunning, to the honor of the City and worship of the said Crafts, for to admit and able; and all other insufficient persons, either in cunning, voice, or person, to discharge, ammove and avoid.” A critic says that this ordinance is “one of the steps on which the greatness of the Elizabethan stage was built, and through which its actors grew up.”
Introduction of the Comic Element in the Miracle Plays.—While the old drama generally confined itself to religious subjects, the comic element occasionally crept in, made its power felt, and disclosed a new path for future playwrights. In the Play of Noah's Flood, when the time for the flood has come, Noah's wife refuses to enter the ark and a domestic quarrel ensues. Finally her children pull and shove her into the ark. When she is safe on board, Noah bids her welcome. His enraged wife deals him resounding blows until he calls to her to stop, because his back is nearly broken.
The Play of the Shepherds includes a genuine comedy, the first comedy worthy of the name to appear in England. While watching their flocks on Christmas Eve, the shepherds are joined by Mak, a neighbor whose reputation for honesty is not good. Before they go to sleep, they make him lie down within their circle; but he rises when he hears them begin to snore, steals a sheep, and hastens home. His wife is alarmed, because in that day the theft of a sheep was punishable by death. She finally concludes that the best plan will be to wrap the animal in swaddling clothes and put it in the cradle. If the shepherds come to search the house, she will pretend that she has a child; and, if they approach the cradle, she will caution them against touching it for fear of waking the child and causing him to fill the house with his cries. She speedily hurries Mak away to resume his slumbers among the shepherds. When they wake, they miss the sheep, suspect Mak, and go to search his house. His wife allows them to look around thoroughly, but she keeps them away from the cradle. They leave, rather ashamed of their suspicion. As they are going out of the door, a thought strikes one of them whereby they can make partial amends. Deciding to give the child sixpence, he returns, lifts up the covering of the cradle, and discovers the sheep. Mak and his wife both declare that an elf has changed their child into a sheep. The shepherds threaten to have the pair hanged. They seize Mak, throw him on a canvas, and toss him into the air until they are exhausted. They then lie down to rest and are roused with the song of an angel from Bethlehem.
To produce this comedy required genuine inventive imagination; for there is nothing faintly resembling this incident in the sacred narrative. These early exercises of the imagination in our drama may resemble the tattering footsteps of a child; but they were necessary antecedents to the strength, beauty, and divinity of movement in Elizabethan times.
The Morality.—The next step in the development of the drama is known as the Morality play. This personified abstractions. Characters like Charity, Hope, Faith, Truth, Covetousness, Falsehood, Abominable Living, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil,—in short, all the Virtues and the Vices,—came on the stage in the guise of persons, and played the drama of life.
Critics do not agree about the precise way in which the Morality is related to the Miracle play. It is certain that the Miracle play had already introduced some abstractions.
In one very important respect, the Morality marks an advance, by giving more scope to the imagination. The Miracle plays had their general treatment absolutely predetermined by the Scriptural version of the action or by the legends of the lives of saints, although diverting incidents could be introduced, as we have seen. In the Morality, the events could take any turn which the author chose to give.
In spite of this advantage, the Morality is in general a synonym for what is uninteresting. The characters born of abstractions are too often bloodless, like their parents. The Morality under a changed name was current a few years ago in the average Sunday-school book. Incompetent writers of fiction today often adopt the Morality principle in making their characters unnaturally good or bad, mere puppets who do not develop along the line of their own emotional prompting, but are moved by machinery in the author's hands.
A new character, the Vice, was added as an adjunct to the Devil, to increase the interest of the audience in the Morality play. The Vice represented the leading spirit of evil in any particular play, sometimes Fraud, Covetousness, Pride, Iniquity, or Hypocrisy. It was the business of the Vice to annoy the Virtues and to be constantly playing pranks. The Vice was the predecessor of the clown and the fool upon the stage. The Vice also amused the audience by tormenting the Devil, belaboring him with a sword of lath, sticking thorns into him, and making him roar with pain. Sometimes the Devil would be kicked down Hell Mouth by the offended Virtues; but he would soon reappear with saucily curled tail, and at the end of the play he would delight the spectators by plunging into Hell Mouth with the Vice on his back.
Court Plays.—In the first part of the sixteenth century, the court and the nobility especially encouraged the production of plays whose main object was to entertain. The influence of the court in shaping the drama became much more powerful than that of the church. Wallace says of the new materials which his researches have disclosed in the twentieth century:—
“They throw into the lime-light a brilliant development of this new
drama through the Chapel Royal, a development that took place
primarily under the direction of the great musicians who served as
masters of the children of the Chapel and as court entertainers, the
first true poets-laureate, through the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward
VI., Mary, and Elizabeth.”
In 1509 Henry VIII. appointed William Cornish (died 1523) to be Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. This court institution with its choral body of men and boys not only ministered “by song to the spiritual well-being of the sovereign and his household,” but also gave them “temporal” enjoyment in dances, pageants, and plays. We must not forget, however, that the Chapel Royal was originally, as its name implies, a religious body. Cornish was a capable dramatist, as well as a musician and a poet; and he, unlike the author of Everyman, wrote plays simply to amuse the court and its guests. He has even been called the founder of the secular English drama.
The court of Henry VIII. became especially fond of the Interlude, which was a short play, often given in connection with a banquet or other entertainment. Any dramatic incident, such as the refusal of Noah's wife to enter the ark, or Mak's thievery in The Play of the Shepherds, might serve as an Interlude. Cornish and John Heywood (1497?—1580?), a court dramatist of much versatility, incorporated in the Interlude many of the elements of the five-act drama. The Four P's, the most famous Interlude, shows a contest between a Pardoner, Palmer, Pedlar, and Poticary, to determine who could tell the greatest lie. Wallace thinks that the best Interludes, such as The Four P's and The Pardoner and the Frere, were written by Cornish, although they are usually ascribed to Heywood.
Cornish had unusual ability as a deviser of masques and plays. One of his interludes for children has allegorical characters that remotely suggest some that appear in the modern Bluebird, by Maeterlinck. Cornish had Wind appear “in blue with drops of silver”; Rain, “in black with silver honeysuckles”; Winter, “in russet with flakes of silver snow”; Summer, “in green with gold stars”; and Spring, “in green with gold primroses.” In 1522 Cornish wrote and presented before Henry VIII. and his guest, the Roman emperor, a political play, especially planned to indicate the attitude of the English monarch toward Spain and France. Under court influences, the drama enlarged its scope and was no longer chiefly the vehicle for religious instruction.
Early Comedies.—Two early comedies, divided, after the classical fashion, into acts and scenes, show close approximation to the modern form of English plays.
Ralph Royster Doyster was written not far from the middle of the sixteenth century by Nicholas Udall (1505-1556), sometime master of Eton College and, later, court poet under Queen Mary. This play, founded on a comedy of Plautus, shows the classical influence which was so powerful in England at this time. Ralph, the hero, is a conceited simpleton. He falls in love with a widow who has already promised her hand to a man infinitely Ralph's superior. Ralph, however, unable to understand why she should not want him, persists in his wooing. She makes him the butt of her jokes, and he finds himself in ridiculous positions. The comedy amuses us in this way until her lover returns and marries her. The characters of the play, which is written in rime, are of the English middle class.
Gammer Gurton's Needle, the work of William Stevenson, a little-known pre-Shakespearean writer, was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, shortly after the middle of the sixteenth century. This play borrows hardly anything from the classical stage. Most of the characters of Gammer Gurton's Needle are from the lowest English working classes, and its language, unlike that of Ralph Royster Doyster, which has little to offend, is very coarse.
Gorboduc and the Dramatic Unities.—The tragedy of Gorboduc, the first regular English tragedy written in blank verse, was acted in 1561, three years before the birth of Shakespeare. This play is in part the work of Thomas Sackville (1536-1608), a poet and diplomat, the author of two powerful somber poems, the Induction and Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham. In spite of their heavy narrative form, these poems are in places even more dramatic than the dull tragedy of Gorboduc, which was fashioned after the classical rules of Seneca and the Greeks. Gorboduc requires little action on the stage. There is considerable bloodshed in the play; but the spectators are informed of the carnage by a messenger, as they are not permitted to witness a bloody contest on the stage.
If Gorboduc had been taken for a model, the English drama could never have attained Shakespearean greatness. Our drama would then have been crippled by following the classical rules, which prescribed unity of place and time in the plot and the action. The ancients held that a play should not represent actions which would, in actual life, require much more than twenty-four hours for their performance. If one of the characters was a boy, he had to be represented as a boy throughout the play. The next act could not introduce him as one who had grown to manhood in the interval. The classical rules further required that the action should be performed in one place, or near it. Anything that happened at a great distance had to be related by a messenger, and not acted on the stage.
Had these rules been followed, the English drama could never have painted the growth and development of character, which is not the work of a day. The genius of Marlowe and Shakespeare taught them to disregard these dramatic unities. In As You Like It, the action is now at the court, and now in the far-off Forest of Arden. Shakespeare knew that the imagination could traverse the distance. At the beginning of the play Oliver is an unnatural, brutal brother; but events change him, so that in the fourth act, when he is asked if he is the man who tried to kill his brother, Oliver replies:—
“'Twas I; but 'tis not I.”
THE PRESENTATION OF ELIZABETHAN PLAYS
The Elizabethan Theater.—Before considering the work of the Elizabethan dramatists, we should know something of the conditions which they had to meet in order to produce plays for the contemporary stage. The courtyard of London inns often served as a playhouse before sufficient regular theaters were built. The stage was in one end of the yard, and the unused ground space in front served as the pit. Two or three tiers of galleries or balconies around the yard afforded additional space for both actors and spectators. These inn yards furnished many suggestions which were incorporated in the early theaters.
The first building in England for the public presentation of plays was known as The Theater. It was built in London in 1576. In 1598 Shakespeare and his associates, failing to secure a lease of the ground on which this building stood, pulled it down, carried the materials across the river, and erected the famous Globe Theater on the Bankside, as the street running along the south side of the Thames was called. In late years a careful study of the specifications (1599) for building the Fortune Theater (see Frontispiece) has thrown much light on the Globe, which is unusually important from its association with Shakespeare. Although the Fortune was square, while the Globe was octagonal, the Fortune was in many essentials modeled after the Globe. A part of the specifications of the Fortune read as follows:—
”...the frame of the saide howse to be sett square and to conteine
fowerscore foote of lawful assize everye waie square, without, and
fiftie five foote of like assize square, everye waie within ... and
the saide frame to conteine three stories in heigth ... [the] stadge
shall conteine in length fortie and three foote of lawfull assize,
and in breadth to extende to the middle of the yarde of the said
howse: the same stadge to be paled in belowe with goode stronge and
sufficyent new oken boardes... And the said stadge to be in all
other proportions contryved and fashioned like unto the stadge
of the wide Playhowse called the Globe.”
The first part of the twentieth century has made a detailed study of the stage on which the Great Elizabethan plays were acted. G.F. Reynolds says:—
“Most students agree that the 'typical' Elizabethan stage consisted
of a platform, uncurtained in front, open as well at the sides,
carpeted, it is generally said, with rushes, and surrounded with a
railing, a space behind this platform closed by a sliding curtain,
and a balcony with its own curtains and entrances. There were also a
space below the stage reached by trap doors, a dressing room behind
the stage, machinery by which characters ascended to and descended
from some place above, and in some theaters at least, a 'heavens,'
or roof over part or all of the stage.”
Possibly no single stage had every feature mentioned in the above description, which gives, however, a good general idea of a typical stage of the time. We must remember that no one has the right to assert that different Elizabethan stages did not differ in details. We are not sure that every stage was so planned as to be divided into two parts by a sliding curtain. The drawing of the Swan Theater shows no place for such a curtain, although it is possible that the draftsman forgot to include it. The specifications of the stage of the Fortune Theater make no mention of a railing.
The Play and the Audience.—It is impossible to criticize Elizabethan plays properly from the point of view of the twentieth-century stage. Many modern criticisms are shown to be without reason when we understand the wishes of the audience and the manner of presenting the plays. The conditions of the entry or the reentry of a player might explain some of those lengthy monologues that seem so inartistic to modern dramatists. The Elizabethan theaters and the tastes of their patrons had certain important characteristics of their own.
I. In the public theaters, the play began in the early afternoon, usually between two and three o'clock, and lasted for about two hours. The audience was an alert one, neither jaded by a long day's business nor rendered impatient by waiting for the adjustment of scenery. The Elizabethans constituted a vigorous audience, eager to meet the dramatist and actors more than half way in interpreting what was presented.
II. In the case of such public theaters as the Globe and the Fortune, even their roofed parts, which extended around the pit and back of the stage and which contained the galleries and the boxes, were all exposed to the open air on the inner side. The pit, which was immediately in front of the stage, had the sky for a roof and the ground for a floor. The frequenters of the pit, who often jostled each other for standing room, were sometimes called the “groundlings.” Occasionally a severe rain would drive them out of the theater to seek shelter. Those who attended the Elizabethan public theater were in no danger of being made drowsy or sick by its bad air.
III. The audiences did not attend merely for relaxation or amusement. They often came for information and education, and they were probably glad to learn about alchemy from one of Ben Jonson's plays. The audience doubtless welcomed long monologues if they were well delivered and presented ideas of worth. The theater took the place of lectures, newspapers, magazines, and, to a certain extent, of books. We know that in 1608 the Blackfriars Theater acted the part of a newspaper in presenting a scandal about the French king and that at another time it gave some humorous information concerning the English monarch's newly discovered silver mine in Scotland.
IV. The Elizabethans loved good poetry for its imaginative appeal. Shakespeare was a poet before he was a dramatist. Beautiful poetry presenting high ideals must have met with vigorous appreciation, or Shakespeare could not have continued to produce such great work.
V. The Elizabethans also demanded story and incident. Modern critics have often noticed that the characterization in Shakespeare's fourth acts, e.g., in Macbeth, does not equal that in the preceding part of the play; but the fourth act of Macbeth interested the Elizabethans because there was progress in the complicated story. To modern theatergoers this fourth act seems to drag because they have acquired through novel reading a liking for analysis and dissection.
Shakespeare succeeded in interesting the Elizabethans by embodying in story and incident his portrayal of character. Because of admiration for the revelation of character in his greatest plays, modern readers forget their moving incidents,—for instance, the almost blood-curdling appearances of a ghost, the actions of a crazed woman, the killing of an eavesdropper on the stage, two men fighting at an open grave, the skull and bones of a human being dug from a grave in full view of the audience, the fighting to the death on the stage, which is ghastly with corpses at the close. When we add to this the roar of cannon whenever the king drinks, as well as when there is some more noteworthy action, and remember that the very last words of Hamlet are: “Go, bid the soldiers shoot,” we shall realize that there was not much danger of going to sleep even during a performance of Hamlet.
Scenery.—The conditions under which early Elizabethan plays were sometimes produced are thus described by Sir Philip Sidney:—
“You shall have Asia of the one side, and Africa of the other, and
so many other under-kingdoms, that the player when he comes in, must
ever begin with telling you where he is, or else the tale will not
be conceived. Now shall you have three ladies walk to gather
flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and
by we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place, then we are to
blame if we accept it not for a rock.”
Those who remember this well-known quotation too often forget that Sidney wrote before Shakespeare's plays were produced. We do not know whether Sidney was describing a private or a public stage, but the private theaters had the greater amount of scenery.
Modern research has shown that the manner of presenting plays did not remain stationary while the drama was rapidly evolving. Before Shakespeare died, there were such stage properties as beds, tables, chairs, dishes, fetters, shop wares, and perhaps also some artificial trees, mossy banks, and rocks. A theatrical manager in an inventory of stage properties (1598) mentions “the sittie of Rome,” which was perhaps a cloth so painted as to present a perspective of the city. He also speaks of a “cloth of the Sone and Mone.” The use of such painted cloths was an important step toward modern scenery. We may, however, conclude that the scenery of any Elizabethan theater would have seemed scant to one accustomed to the detailed setting of the modern stage.
The comparatively little scenery in Elizabethan theaters imposed strenuous imaginative exercise on the spectators. This effort was fortunate for all concerned—for the dramatist and for the actor, but especially for the spectator, who became accustomed to give an imaginative interpretation and setting to a play that would mean little to a modern theatergoer.
Actors.—Those who have seen some of the recent performances of plays under Elizabethan conditions, on a stage modeled after that of Shakespeare's time have been surprised at the increase of the actors' power. The stage projects far enough into the pit to bring the actors close to the audience. Their appeal thus becomes far more personal, direct, and forceful. The spectator more easily identifies himself with them and almost feels as if he were a part of the play. This has been the experience of those who have seen the old-time reproduction of plays as different as The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing. In the case of The Tempest, a very interesting act was presented when all the scenery consisted of a board on which was painted “Prospero Isle.”
In Shakespeare's times, the plays were probably well acted. While the fame of Elizabethan actors like Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage has come down to modern times, the success of plays did not depend on single stars. Shakespeare is said to have played in minor roles. The audience discouraged bad acting. The occupants of the pit would throw apples or worse missiles at an unsatisfactory player, and sometimes the disgusted spectators would suddenly leap on the stage and chase an incompetent actor off the boards.
Prior to the Restoration in 1660, the women's parts were taken by boys. While this must have hampered the presentation of characters like Lady Macbeth, it is now known to have been less of a handicap than was formerly thought. The twentieth century has seen feminine parts so well played by carefully trained boys that the most astute women spectators never detected the deception. Boys, especially those of the Chapel Royal, had for a long time acted masculine, as well as feminine, parts. As late as the beginning of the seventeenth century, the choir boys were presenting some of the great Elizabethan plays in a private theater connected with St. Paul's Cathedral. Rosencrantz in the second act of Hamlet bears witness to the popularity of these boy actors, when he calls them “little eyases, that cry on the top of question and are most tyrannically clapped for it.” Ben Jonson's touching lyrical epitaph on a boy actor, Salathiel Pavy, who had for “three fill'd zodiacs” been “the stage's jewel,” shows how highly the Elizabethans sometimes regarded boy actors. The regular theaters found the companies of boys such strong rivals that, in 1609, Shakespeare and other theatrical managers used modern business methods to suppress competition and agreed to pay the master of the boys of St. Paul's enough to cause him to withdraw them permanently from competing with the other theaters.
The “University Wits” and Thomas Kyd.—Five authors, John Lyly, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, and Thomas Nashe, all graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, were sufficiently versatile to be called “university wits.” Amid various other activities, all of them were impelled by the spirit of the age to write plays. These intellectual aristocrats hurled the keen shafts of their wit at those dramatists, who, without a university education, were arrogant enough to think that they could write plays. Because Shakespeare had never attended a university, Greene called him “an upstart Crow beautified with our feathers.”
On New Year's, 1584, John Lyly, the author of Euphues, presented in the first Blackfriars Theater his prose comedy, entitled Campaspe. This play relates the love story of Alexander the Great's fair Theban captive, Campaspe. The twenty-eight characters necessary to produce this play were obtained from the boys of the Chapel Royal and St. Paul's Cathedral. Two months later Lyly's Sapho and Phaowas given in the same theater with a cast of seventeen boys. It should be remembered that these plays, so important in the evolution of the drama, were acted by boys under royal patronage. Campaspe is little more than a series of episodes, divided into acts and scenes, but, unlike Gorboduc, Campaspe has many of the characteristics of an interesting modern play.
Lyly wrote eight comedies, all but one in prose. In the history of the drama, he is important for (1) finished style, (2) good dialogue, (3) considerable invention in the way he secured interest, by using classical matter in combination with contemporary life, (4) subtle comedy, and (5) influence on Shakespeare. It is doubtful whether Shakespeare could have produced such good early comedies, if he had not received suggestions from Lyly's work in this field.
The chapel boys also presented at Blackfriars in the same year George Peele's (1558-1597) The Arraignment of Paris, a pastoral drama in riming verse. In Juno's promise to Paris, Peele shows how the possibilities of the New World affected his imagination:—
“Xanthus shall run liquid gold for thee to wash thy hands;
And if thou like to tend thy flock and not from them to fly,
Their fleeces shall be curled gold to please their master's eye.”
While The Arraignment of Paris and his two other plays, David and Bathsabe and The Old Wives' Tale, are not good specimens of dramatic construction, the beauty of some of Peele's verse could hardly have failed to impress both Marlowe and Shakespeare with the poetic possibilities of the drama. Peele writes without effort—
“Of moss that sleeps with sound the waters make,”
and has David build—
”...a kingly bower,
Seated in hearing of a hundred streams.”
Robert Greene (1560-1592) showed much skill in (1) the construction of plots, (2) the revelation of simple and genuine human feeling, and (3) the weaving of an interesting story into a play. His best drama is the poetic comedy Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. In this play, he made the love story the central point of interest.
Thomas Lodge (1558-1625), author of the story Rosalynde, which Shakespeare used to such good advantage, wrote in collaboration with Greene, A Looking Glass for London and England, and an independent play, The Wounds of Civil War. Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), best known for his picaresque novel, The Unfortunate Traveler, wrote a play, Summer's Last Will and Testament, but he and Lodge had little dramatic ability.
Thomas Kyd (1558-1594), although lacking a university education, succeeded in writing, about 1586, the most popular early Elizabethan play, The Spanish Tragedy, a blank verse drama, in which blood flows profusely. Although this play is not free from classical influences, yet its excellence of construction, effective dramatic situations, vigor of movement, and romantic spirit helped to prepare the way for the tragedies of Marlowe and Shakespeare.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, 1564-1593
Life.—The year 1564 saw the birth of the two greatest geniuses in the English drama, Marlowe and Shakespeare. Marlowe, the son of a shoemaker, was born at Canterbury, and educated at Cambridge. When he was graduated, the dramatic profession was the only one that gave full scope to genius like his. He became both playwriter and actor. All his extant work was written in about six years. When he was only twenty-nine he was fatally stabbed in a tavern quarrel. Shakespeare had at that age not produced his greatest plays. Marlowe unwittingly wrote his own epitaph in that of Dr. Faustus:—
“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough.”
Works.—Marlowe's great tragedies are four in number Timberline, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward, II.. No careful student of English literature can afford to be unacquainted with any of them. Shakespeare's work appears less miraculous when we know that a predecessor at the age of twenty-four had written plays like Timberline and Dr. Faustus.
Timberline shows the supreme ambition for conquest, for controlling the world with physical force. It is such a play as might have been suggested to an Elizabethan by watching Napoleon's career. Dr. Faustus, on the other hand, shows the desire for knowledge that would give universal power, a desire born of the Renaissance. The Jew of Malta is the incarnation of the passion for the world's wealth, a passion that towers above common greed only by the magnificence of its immensity. In that play we see that Marlowe—
“Without control can pick his riches up,
And in his house heap pearl like pebble stones,
* * * * *
Infinite riches in a little room.”
Edward II. gives a pathetic picture of one of the weakest of kings. This shows more evenness and regularity of construction than any of Marlowe's other plays; but it is the one least characteristic of him. The others manifest more intensity of imagination, more of the spirit of the age.
Dr. Faustus shows Marlowe's peculiar genius at its best. The legend on which the play is based came from Germany, but Marlowe breathed his own imaginative spirit into the tragedy. Faustus is wearied with the barren philosophy of the past. He is impatient to secure at once the benefits of the New Learning, which seems to him to have all the powers of magic. If he can immediately enjoy the fruits of such knowledge, he says:—
“Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all.”
In order to acquire this knowledge and the resulting power for twenty-four years, he sells his soul to Mephistopheles. Faustus then proceeds to enjoy all that the new order of things promised. He commands Homer to come from the realm of shades to sing his entrancing songs. He summons Helen to appear before him in the morning of her beauty. The apostrophe to her shows the vividness and exuberance of his imagination:—
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
* * * * *
Oh! thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.”
Marlowe left a fragment of a lyrical poem, entitled Hero and Leander, which is one of the finest productions of its kind in the language. Shakespeare accorded him the unusual honor of quoting from this poem.
In What Sense is Marlowe a Founder of the English Drama?—His success with blank verse showed Shakespeare that this was the proper versification for the drama. Before Marlowe, rime or prose had been chiefly employed in writing plays. Sackville had used blank verse in Gorboduc, but his verse and Marlowe's are as unlike as the movements of the ox and the flight of the swallow. The sentences of Gorboducgenerally end with the line, and the accents usually fall in the same place. Marlowe's blank verse shows great variety, and the major pause frequently does not come at the end of the line.
Marlowe cast the dramatic unities to the wind. The action in Dr. Faustus occupies twenty-four years, and the scene changes from country to country. He knew that he was speaking to a people whose imaginations could accompany him and interpret what he uttered. The other dramatists followed him in placing imaginative interpretation above measurements by the foot rule of the intellect. Symonds says of him: “It was he who irrevocably decided the destinies of the romantic drama; and the whole subsequent evolution of that species, including Shakespeare's work, can be regarded as the expansion, rectification, and artistic ennoblement of the type fixed by Marlowe's epoch-making tragedies. In very little more than fifty years from the publication of Tamburlaine, our drama had run its course of unparalleled energy and splendor.”
General Characteristics.—As we sum up Marlowe's general qualities, it is well to note that they exhibit in a striking way the characteristics of the time. In the morning of that youthful age the superlative was possible. Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and Dr. Faustus show in the superlative degree the love of conquest, of wealth, and of knowledge. Everything that Marlowe wrote is stamped with a love of beauty and of the impossible.
Tamburlaine speaks like one of the young Elizabethans—
“That in conceit bear empires on our spears,
Affecting thoughts co-equal with the clouds.”
Marlowe voices the new sense of worth of enfranchised man:—
“Thinkest thou heaven glorious thing?
I tell thee, 'tis not half so fair as thou,
Or any man that breathes on earth.
* * * * *
'Twas made for man, therefore is man more excellent.”
Marlowe's faults are the faults of youth and of his time. Exaggeration and lack of restraint are shown in almost all his work. In Tamburlaine, written when he was twenty-two, he is often bombastic. He has hardly any sense of humor. He does not draw fine distinctions between his characters.
On the other hand, using the words of Tamburlaine, we may say of all his dramatic contemporaries, excepting Shakespeare—
“If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,”
were gathered into one vial, it could not surpass the odor from patches of flowers in Marlowe's garden.
These seven lines represent better than pages of description the aspiring spirit of the new Elizabethan Renaissance.
“Our souls whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet's course
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all.”
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 1564-1616
Birthplace and Parents.—William Shakespeare, the greatest of the world's writers, was born in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire. The name originally meant one skilled in wielding a spear. The first William Shakespeare of whom mention is made in the records was hanged for robbery near Stratford; but it is only fair to state that in those days hanging was inflicted for stealing even a sheep.
The great dramatist's birthplace lies in the midst of England's fairest rural scenery. When two Englishmen were asked to name the finest walk in England, one chose the walk from Stratford to Coventry, the other, the walk from Coventry to Stratford. A short distance northeast of Stratford are Warwick with its castle, the home of the famous king-maker, and Kenilworth Castle, whose historic associations were romantic enough to stir the imagination of a boy like Shakespeare.
He was the son of John Shakespeare, an influential merchant, who in 1571 was elected chief alderman of Stratford. The poet's mother was the daughter of Robert Arden, a well-to-do farmer. We are told that she was her father's favorite among seven children. Perhaps it was due to her influence that he had a happy childhood. His references to plays and sports and his later desire to return to Stratford are indicative of pleasant boyhood days.
Probably his mother was the original of some of her son's noblest conceptions of women. His plays have more heroines than heroes. We may fancy that it was his mother who first pointed out to him—
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes.”
We may imagine that from her teaching, as she walked with him over the Stratford fields, he obtained suggestions which enabled him to hold captive the ear of the world, when he sang of the pearl in the cowslip's ear, of the bank where the wild thyme blows, of the greenwood tree and the merry note of the bird. Many of the references to nature in his plays are unsurpassed in English verse.
What He Learned at School.—In all probability Shakespeare entered the Stratford Grammar School at about the age of seven and continued there until he was nearly fourteen. The typical course in grammar schools of that period consisted principally of various Latin authors. One school in 1583 had twenty-five Latin books on its list of studies, while the only required works in English were the Catechism, Psalter, Book of Common Prayer, and New Testament. Children were required to study Lilly's Latin Grammar instead of their mother tongue. Among the works that Shakespeare probably read in Latin, AEsop's Fables and Ovid's Metamorphoses may be mentioned.
Although English was not taught, Shakespeare shows wonderful mastery in the use of his mother tongue. We have the testimony of the schoolmaster, Holofernes, in Love's Labor's Lost to show that the study of Latin led to facility in the use of English synonyms:—
“The deer was, as you know, sanguis, in blood, ripe as the
pomewater, who now hangeth like a jewel in the ear of caelo, the
sky, the welkin, the heaven; and anon falleth like a crab on the
face of terra, the soil, the land, the earth.”
Three English equivalents are here given for each of the Latin terms caelo and terra. The same schoolmaster uses seven synonyms in describing the “fashion” of speech of the ignorant constable, —“undressed, unpolished, uneducated, unpruned, untrained, or, rather unlettered, or, ratherest, unconfirmed, fashion.” When we remember that it was really Shakespeare who wrote this, we know that he had been led to study variety of expression. His large vocabulary could not have been acquired by any one without hard work.
A good translation of the English Bible was accessible to him. Scriptural phrases and references appear in his plays, and volumes have been written to show the influence of the Bible on his thought.
Financial Reverses of the Shakespeare Family.—It is probable that Shakespeare at about the age of fourteen was taken from school to assist his father in the store. The elder Shakespeare was then overtaken by financial reverses and compelled to mortgage his wife's land. His affairs went from bad to worse; he was sued for debt, but the court could not find any property to satisfy the claim. It is possible that he was for a short time even imprisoned for debt. Finally he was deprived of his alderman's gown.
These events must have made a deep impression on the sensitive boy, and they may have led him to an early determination to try to master fortune. In after years he showed a business sagacity very rare for a poet.
Marriage and Departure from Stratford.—The most famous lovers' walk in England is the footpath from Stratford, leading about one mile westward through meadows to the hamlet of Shottery. Perhaps William Shakespeare had this very walk in mind when he wrote the song:—
“Journeys end in lovers' meeting
Every wise man's son doth know.”
The end of his walk led to Anne Hathaway's home in Shottery. She was nearly eight years his senior, but in 1582 at the age of eighteen he married her.
There is a record that Shakespeare's twin children, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized in 1585. From this we know that before he was twenty-one Shakespeare had a wife and family to support.
We have no positive information to tell us what he did for the next seven years after the birth of his twins. Tradition says that he joined a group of hunters, killed some of the deer of Sir Thomas Lucy at Charlecote Park, and fled from Stratford to London in consequence of threatened prosecution. There is reason to doubt the truth of this story, and Shakespeare may have sought the metropolis merely because it offered him more scope to provide for his rapidly increasing family.
Connects Himself with the London Stage.—The next scene of Shakespeare's life is laid in London. In 1592 Robert Greene, a London poet, dramatist, and hack-writer, wrote:—
“There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with
his Tyger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide, supposes he is as
well able to bumbast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being
an absolute Iohannes fac-totum, is in his owne conceit the only
Shake-scene in a countrie.”
The best critics agree that the “upstart Crow” and “Shake-scene" refer to Shakespeare. The allusion to “Tyger's heart” is from the third part of King Henry VI. and is addressed by the Duke of York to Queen Margaret of Anjou:—
“O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide!”
Greene's satiric thrust shows that Shakespeare was becoming popular as a playwright. We can only imagine the steps by which he rose to his ascendancy as a dramatist. Perhaps he first served the theater in some menial capacity, then became an actor, and assisted others in revising or adapting plays before he acquired sufficient skill to write a play entirely by himself.
In 1593 he published the non-dramatic poem, Venus and Adonis, which he dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. This nobleman is said to have given Shakespeare, on one occasion, “a thousand pounds to enable him to make a purchase which he heard he had a mind to.” This would show that Shakespeare had a capacity for attracting people and making lasting friendships. In 1597 he purchased “New Place,” the stateliest house in Stratford, and we hear no more of his father's financial troubles.
Twentieth-century Discoveries.—In the first decade of the twentieth century, Professor C.W. Wallace discovered in the London Record Office a romantic story in which Shakespeare was an important figure. This story opens in the year 1598 in the London house of a French Huguenot, Christopher Mountjoy, wig-maker, with whom Shakespeare lived. Mountjoy took as apprentice for six years, Stephen Bellott, a young Frenchman. Beside him worked Mary Mountjoy, the proprietor's only daughter, who looked with favor upon the young apprentice. At the end of his apprenticeship Stephen left without proposing marriage to Mary; but on his return Mrs. Mountjoy asked Shakespeare to make a match between Stephen and Mary,—a task in which he was successful.
Seven and a half years later Shakespeare was called into court to testify to all the facts leading to the marriage. After a family quarrel, Mr. Mountjoy declared that he would never leave Stephen and Mary a groat, and the son-in-law brought suit for a dowry. Shakespeare's testimony shows that he remembered Mrs. Mountjoy's commission and the part that he played in mating the pair, but he forgot the amount of the dowry and when it was to be paid. The puzzled court turned the matter over for settlement to the French church in London, but it is not known what decision was reached.
The documents in the case show that Shakespeare was on familiar terms with tradesmen, that they thought well of him, that he was willing to undertake to try to make two people happy, and that he lived in the Mountjoy house at the corner of Silver and Monkwell streets. During the period of Stephen's apprenticeship (1598-1604), Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays, such as Hamlet and Othello. From its connection with Shakespeare, this is the most important corner in London for literary associations.
Wallace also found documents showing that Shakespeare owned at the time of his death a one-seventh interest in the Blackfriars Theater and a one-fourteenth interest in the Globe. The hitherto unknown fact that he continued to hold to the end of his life these important interests, requiring such skilled supervision, makes more doubtful the former assumption that he spent the last years of his life entirely at Stratford.
Last Years and Death.—Shakespeare probably bought New Place in Stratford as a residence for his family and a retreat for himself out of the theatrical season, but he doubtless continued to live in London for the greater part of his time until a few years before his death in 1616. The Mountjoy testimony proves that he was in London in May, 1612.
We are positive, however, that he was living in Stratford at the time of his death. He may for several years have taken only occasional trips to London to look after his interests in his theaters. It is not improbable that his health forced him to retire to Stratford, for it is difficult to see how any one could have produced nearly two Shakespearean plays a year for almost twenty years without breaking down under the strain. He had in addition almost certainly helped to manage the production of the plays, and tradition says that he was also an actor. Some of the parts which he is said to have played are the ghost inHamlet, Adam in As You Like It, and Old Knowell in Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humor.
In 1616, at the age of fifty-two, this master-singer of the world, who, in De Quincey's phrase, was “a little lower than the angels,” died and was buried in the parish church at Stratford. Shakespeare knew that in the course of time graves were often opened and the bones thrown into the charnel house. The world is thankful that he deliberately planned to have his resting place remain unmolested. His grave was dug seventeen feet deep and over it was placed the following inscription, intended to frighten those who might think of moving his bones:—
Publication of his Plays.—It is probable that Shakespeare himself published only two early poems. Sixteen of his plays appeared in print during his lifetime; but the chances are that they were taken either from notes or from stage copies, more or less imperfect and surreptitiously obtained. The twentieth century has seen one of these careless reprints of a single play sell for more than three times as much as it cost to build a leading Elizabethan theater. If Shakespeare himself had seen to the publication of his plays, succeeding generations would have been saved much trouble in puzzling over obscurities due to an imperfect text. We must remember, however, that publishing a play was thought to injure its success on the stage. One manager offered a printer a sum now equal to $100 not to publish a copy of a play that he had secured.
The First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works was published in 1623, seven years after his death, by two of his friends, John Heming and Henry Condell. In their dedication of the plays they say:—
“We have but collected them and done an office to the dead ...
without ambition either of self profit or fame, only to keep the
memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive, as was our
Shakespeare, by humble offer of his plays.”
If Shakespeare had not possessed the art of making friends, we might to-day be without such plays as Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth. These were printed for the first time in the 1623 Folio.
Amount and Classification of his Work.—The First Folio edition contained thirty-five plays, containing 100,120 lines. The Globe edition, one of the best modern texts of Shakespeare, has thirty-seven plays. Even if we give him no credit for the unknown dramas which he assisted in fashioning, and if we further deduct all doubtful plays from this number, the amount of dramatic work of which he is certainly the author is only less astonishing than its excellence. His non-dramatic poetry, comprising Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, 154 Sonnets, and some other short pieces, amounts to more than half as many lines as Milton's Paradise Lost.
Mere genius without wonderful self-control and a well-ordered use of time would not have enabled Shakespeare to leave such a legacy to the world. The pressure for fresh plays to meet exigencies is sufficient to explain why he did not always do his best work, even if we suppose that his health was never “out of joint.”
The First Folio gives the current contemporary classification of the plays into “Comedies,” “Histories,” and “Tragedies.” We indicate the following as some of the best in each class:—
Comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
Histories: Richard III., Henry IV., Henry V., Julius Caesar.
Tragedies: Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet.
Four Periods of his Life.—We may make another classification from a different point of view, according to the period of his development at the time of writing special plays. In order to study his growth and changing ideals, it will assist us to divide his work into four periods.
(1) There was the sanguine period, showing the exuberance of youthful love and imagination. Among the plays that are typical of these years are The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II., and Richard III. These were probably all composed before 1595.
(2) The second period, from 1595 to 1601, shows progress in dramatic art. There is less exaggeration, more real power, and a deeper insight into human nature. There appears in his philosophy a vein of sadness, such as we find in the sayings of Jaques in As You Like It, and more appreciation of the growth of character, typified by his treatment of Orlando and Adam in the same play. Among the plays of this period are The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV., Henry V., and As You Like It.
(3) We may characterize the third period, from 1601 to 1608, as one in which he felt that the time was out of joint, that life was a fitful fever. His father died in 1601, after great disappointments. His best friends suffered what he calls, in Hamlet, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” In 1601 Elizabeth executed the Earl of Essex for treason, and on the same charge threw the Earl of Southampton into the Tower. Even Shakespeare himself may have been suspected. The great plays of this period are tragedies, among which we may instance Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear.
(4) The plays of his fourth period, 1608-1613, are remarkable for calm strength and sweetness. The fierceness of Othello and Macbeth is left behind. In 1608 Shakespeare's mother died. Her death and the vivid recollection of her kindness and love may have been strong factors in causing him to look on life with kindlier eyes. The greatest plays of this period are Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
While the dates of the composition of these plays are not exactly known, the foregoing classification is probably approximately correct. It should be followed in studying the development and the changing phases of Shakespeare's mind. (See table, pp. 188 and 189.)
Development as a Dramatist.—It is possible to study some of Shakespeare's plays with increased interest, if we note the reasons for assigning them to certain periods of his life. We conclude that Love's Labor's Lost, for instance, is an early play, because of its form,—excess of rime, small proportion of blank verse, lack of mastery of poetic expression,—and also because it suffers from the puns, conceits, and overdrawn wit and imagery of his early work. Almost one half of the 2789 lines of Love's Labor's Lost rime, while there are only 579 lines of blank verse. Of the 2064 lines in The Tempest, one of the last of his plays, 1458 are in blank verse. The plays of his first period show less freedom in the use of verse. He dislikes to let his meaning run over into the next line without a pause, and he hesitates to introduce those extra syllables which give such wonderful variety to his later work. As he grows older, he also uses more prose. Romeo and Juliet has 405 lines of prose in a total of 3052 lines, while Hamlet, a tragedy of 3931 lines, has 1208 lines of prose.
His treatment of his characters is even a more significant index to his growth than the form of his dramas. In the earlier plays, his men and women are more engaged with external forces than with internal struggles. In as excellent an early tragedy as Romeo and Juliet, the hero fights more with outside obstacles than with himself. In the great later tragedies, the internal conflict is more emphasized, as in the cases of Hamlet and Macbeth. “See thou character” became in an increasing degree Shakespeare's watchword. He grew to care less for mere incident, for plots based on mistaken identity, as in The Comedy of Errors; but he became more and more interested in the delineation of character, in showing the effect of evil on Macbeth and his wife, of jealousy on Othello, of indecision on Hamlet, as well as in exploring the ineffectual attempts of many of his characters to escape the consequences of their acts.
Sources of his Plots.—We should have had fewer plays from Shakespeare, if he had been compelled to take the time to invent new plots. The sources of the plots of his plays may usually be found in some old chronicle, novel, biography, or older play. Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, published when Shakespeare was fourteen years old, gives the stories of Lear, Cymbeline, Macbeth, and of all the English kings who are the heroes of the historical plays. As Holinshed is very dry reading, if Shakespeare had followed him closely, for instance, in King Lear, the play would have lost its most impressive parts. There is not in Holinshed even a suggestion of the Falstaff of Henry IV., that veritable “comic Hamlet,” who holds a unique place among the humorous characters of the world.
North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, published when Shakespeare was fifteen years old, became his textbook of ancient history and furnished him the raw material for plays like Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.
TABLE OF SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS
Play Total Prose Blank Penta-Rimes, Songs Publ-Supp-
of meter Short ished osed
Lines Rimes Lines Date
I.—PLAYS OF FIRST (RIMING) PERIOD
Love's Labor's 2789 1086 579 1028 54 32 1598 1588-9
Lost Comedy of 1778 240 1150 380 ——— 1623 1589-91
Errors  Midsummer 2174 441 878 731 138 63 1600 1590-1
Night's Dream Two Gentlemen 2294 409 1510 116 —- 15 1623 1590-2
of Verona Romeo and 3052 405 2111 486 ——— 1597 1591-3
Juliet Richard II. 2756 —- 2107 537 ——— 1597 ? 1593 Richard III. 3619 55? 3374 170 ——— 1597 ? 1594-5
II.—HISTORIES AND COMEDIES OF SECOND PERIOD
King John 2570 —- 2403 150 ——— 1623 1594-5 Merchant of 2660 673 1896 93 34 9 1600? 1595-6
Venice 1 Henry IV. 3176 1464 1622 84 ——— 1598 1596-7 2 Henry IV. 3446 1860 1417 74 7 15 1600 1598-9 Henry V. 3380 1531 1678 101 2 8 1600 1599 Merry Wives 3018 2703 227 69 —- 19 1602 1599 Much Ado, &c. 2826 2106 643 40 18 16 1600 1599-1600 As You Like It 2857 1681 925 71 130 97 1623 1599-1600 Twelfth Night 2690 1741 763 120 —- 60 1623 1601 All's Well 2966 1453 1234 280 2 12 1623 1601-2
(Love's Labor's Won, 1590)
III.—TRAGEDIES AND COMEDY OF THIRD PERIOD
Julius Caesar 2478 165 2241 34 ——— 1623 1601 Hamlet 3931 1208 2490 81 —- 60 16031602-3 Measure for 2821 1134 1574 73 22 6 1623 ? 1603
Measure Othello 3316 541 2672 86 —- 25 1622 ? 1604 Macbeth 2108 158 1588 118 129 —- 1623 1605-6 King Lear 3334 903 2238 74 —- 83 16081605-6 Antony and 3063 255 2761 42 —- 6 1623 1606-7
Cleopatra Coriolanus 3410 829 2521 42 ——— 1623 ? 1607-8
IV.—PLAYS OF FOURTH PERIOD
Tempest 2064 458 1458 2 —- 96 1623 1609-10 Cymbeline 3339 638 2585 107 —- 32 1623 1609-10 Winter's Tale 3075 844 1825 —- —- 57 1623 ? 1611
Titus 2523 43 2338 144 ——— 1594 1588-90
Andronicus 1 Henry VI. 2677 —- 2379 314 ——— 1623 1592-4 2 Henry VI. 3162 448 2562 122 ——— 1623 1592-4 3 Henry VI. 2904 —-2749 155 ——— 1623 1592-4 Contention 1952 381 1571 44 ——— 1594 1586-8 True Tragedy 2101 —- 2035 66 ——— 1595 1586-8
VI.—PLAYS IN WHICH SHAKESPEARE WAS NOT SOLE AUTHOR
Taming of the 2649 516 1971 169 15 —- 1623 1596-7
Shrew Troilus and 3496 1186 2025 196 —- 16 1609 1603
Cressida Timon of 2373 596 1560 184 18 —- 1623 1607-8
Athens Pericles 2389 418 1436 225 89 —- 16091608-9 Henry VIII. 2822 67? 2613 16 —- 12 1623 1610-12
Poems published.—Venus and Adonis, 1593; Lucrece, 1594; Passionate Pilgrim, 1599; Phoenix and Turtle in Chester's Loves Martyr, 1601; Sonnets, 1609, with A Lover's Complaint.
Shakespeare recognized the greatness of North's Plutarch and paid it the compliment of following its thought more closely than that of any other of his sources.
Shakespeare found suggestions for As You Like It in Thomas Lodge's contemporary novel Rosalynde, but Touchstone and Adam are original creations.
Our astonishment is often increased to find that the merest hint led to an imperishable creation, such as the character of Lady Macbeth, the reference to whom in Holinshed is confined to these twenty-eight words, ”...specially his wife lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she that was very ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen.” His plays are almost as different from the old chronicles or tales as the rose from the soil which nourished it.
Sympathy.—-His most pronounced characteristic is the broadest sympathy ever shown by an author. He seems to have been able to sympathize with every kind of human soul in every emergency. He plays with the simple rustics in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The portrait of the serving man Adam, in As You Like It, is as kindly and as discriminating as that of king or nobleman. Though he is the scholar and philosopher in Hamlet, he can afterward roam the country with the tramp Autolycus in The Winter's Tale. Women have marveled at the ease with which his sympathy crosses the barriers of sex, at his portraits of Portia, Rosalind, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Miranda, Cleopatra, and Cordelia. Great actresses have testified to their amazement at his discovery of feminine secrets which they had thought no man could ever divine.
Universality.—Shakespeare's sympathy might have been broad enough to include all the people of his own time and their peculiar interests, but might have lacked the power to project itself into the universal heart of humanity. Sometimes a writer voices the ideals and aspirations of his own day so effectively that he is called the spokesman of his age, but he makes slight appeal to future generations. Shakespeare was the spokesman of his own time, but he had the genius also to speak to all ages. He loved to present the eternal truths of the human heart and to invest them with such a touch of nature as to reveal the kinship of the entire world.
His contemporary, the dramatist, Ben Jonson, had the penetration to say of Shakespeare:—
“He was not of an age but for all time.”
He meant that Shakespeare does not exhibit some popular conceit, folly, or phase of thought, which is merely the fashion of the hour and for which succeeding generations would care nothing; but that he voices those truths which appeal to the people of all ages. The grief of Lear over the dead Cordelia, the ambition of Lady Macbeth, the loves of Rosalind and Juliet, the questionings of Hamlet, interest us as much today as they did the Elizabethans. Fashions in literature may come and go, but Shakespeare's work remains.
Humor.—Shakespeare had the most comprehensive sense of humor of any of the world's great writers,—a humor that was closely related to his sympathy. It has been said that he saved his tragedies from the fatal disease of absurdity, by inoculating them with his comic virus, and that his sense of humor kept him from ever becoming shrill. This faculty enabled him to detect incongruity, to keep from overstressing a situation, to enter into the personality of others, to recover quickly from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” and in one of his last plays, The Tempest, to welcome the “brave young world” as if he would like to play the game of life again. It was largely because of his humor that the tragedies and pain of life did not sour and subdue Shakespeare.
He soon wearies of a vacant laugh. He has only one strictly farcical play, The Comedy of Errors. There are few intellects keen enough to extract all the humor from Shakespeare. For literal minds the full comprehension of even a slight display of his humor, such as the following dialogue affords, is better exercise than the solution of an algebraic problem. Dogberry, a constable in Much Ado About Nothing, thus instructs the Watch:—
“Dogberry. You shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are to bid
any man stand in the prince's name.
“Watch. How if a' will not stand?
“Dogberry. Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go, and
presently call the rest of the watch together, and thank God you are
rid of a knave.”
Of all Shakespeare's qualities, his humor is the hardest to describe because of its protean forms. Falstaff is his greatest humorous creation. So resourceful is he that even defeat enables him to rise like Antaeus after a fall. His humor is almost a philosophy of existence for those who love to use wit and ingenuity in trying to evade the laws of sober, orderly living. Perhaps it was for this very reason that Shakespeare consented to send so early to “Arthur's bosom" a character who had not a little of the complexity of Hamlet.
Much of Shakespeare's humor is delicately suffused through his plays. Many of them either ripple with the laughter of his characters or are lighted with their smiles. We may pass pleasant hours in the company of his joyous creations, such as Rosalind in As You Like It, or Portia in The Merchant of Venice, or Puck as the spokesman for A Midsummer Night's Dream, who good naturedly exclaims:—
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
or Viola and her companions in Twelfth Night, or Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, or Ariel in The Tempest playing pranks on the bewildered mariners and singing of the joys of life which come as a reward for service:—
“Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
Shakespeare is also the one English author who is equally successful in depicting the highest type of both comedy and tragedy. He has the power to describe even a deathbed scene so as to invest it with both humor and pathos. Dame Quickly's lines in Henry V., on the death of Falstaff, show this capacity.
The next greatest English writer is lacking in this sense of humor. John Milton could write the tragedies of a Paradise Lost and a Samson Agonistes, but he could not give us the humor of A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Comedy of Errors, or As You Like It. We have seen that the next greatest dramatic genius, Marlowe, has little sense of humor. Mrs. Browning correctly describes the plays of Shakespeare as filled—
“With tears and laughters for all time.”
Moral Ideals.—To show the moral consequences of acts was the work which most appealed to him. Banquo voiced the comprehensiveness of moral law when he said, “In the great hand of God I stand.” There is here great divergence between the views of Shakespeare and of Bacon. Dowden says:—
“While Bacon's sense of the presence of physical law in the universe
was for his time extraordinarily developed, he seems practically to
have acted upon the theory that the moral laws of the world are not
inexorable, but rather by tactics and dexterity may be cleverly
evaded. Their supremacy was acknowledged by Shakespeare in the
minutest as well as in the greatest concerns of human life.”
By employing “tactics” in sending Hamlet on a voyage to England, the king hoped to avoid the consequences of his crime. Macbeth in vain tried every stratagem to “trammel up the consequence.” Goneril and Regan drive their white-haired father out into the storm; but even in King Lear, where the forces of evil seem to run riot, let us note the result:—
“Throughout that stupendous Third Act the good are seen growing
better through suffering, and the bad worse through success. The
warm castle is a room in hell, the storm-swept heath a sanctuary...
The only real thing in the world is the soul with its courage,
patience, devotion. And nothing outward can touch that.”
Shakespeare makes no pessimists. He shows how misfortune crowns life with new moral glory. We rise from the gloom of King Lear, feeling that we would rather be like Cordelia than like either of her sisters or any other selfish character who apparently triumphs until life's close. And yet Cordelia lost everything, her portion of her father's kingdom and her own life. When we realize that Shakespeare found one hundred and ten lines in King Lear sufficient not only to confer immortality on Cordelia, but also to make us all eager to pay homage to her, in spite of the fact that the ordinary standard of the world has not ceased to declare such a life a failure, we may the better understand that his greatest power consisted in revealing the moral victories possible for this rough-hewn human life.
Shakespeare made a mistake about the seacoast of Bohemia and the location of Milan with reference to the sea, but he was always sure of the relative position of right and wrong and of the ultimate failure of evil. In his greatest plays, for instance, in Macbeth, he sought to impress the incalculable danger of meddling with evil, the impossibility of forecasting the tragedy that might thereby result, the certainty that retribution would follow, either here or beyond “this bank and shoal of time.”
Mastery of his Mother Tongue.—His wealth of expression is another striking characteristic. In a poem on Shakespeare, Ben Jonson wrote:—
“Thou had'st small Latin and less Greek.”
Shakespeare is, however, the mightiest master of the English tongue. He uses 15,000 different words, while the second greatest writer in our language employs only 7000. A great novelist like Thackeray has a vocabulary of about 5000 words, while many uneducated laborers do not use over 600 words. The combinations that Shakespeare has made with these 15,000 words are far more striking than their mere number.
Variety of Style.—The style of Milton, Addison, Dr. Johnson, and Macaulay has some definite peculiarities, which can easily be classified. Shakespeare, on the contrary, in holding the mirror up to nature, has different styles for his sailors, soldiers, courtiers, kings, and shepherds,—for Juliet, the lover; for Mistress Quickly, the alewife; for Hamlet, the philosopher; and for Bottom, the weaver. To employ so many styles requires genius of a peculiar kind. In the case of most of us, our style would soon betray our individuality. When Dr. Samuel Johnson tried to write a drama, he made all his little fishes talk like whales, as Goldsmith wittily remarked.
In the same play Shakespeare's style varies from the dainty lyric touch of Ariel's song about the cowslip's bell and the blossoming bough, to a style unsurpassed for grandeur:—
“The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.”
In the same passage his note immediately changes to the soft vox humana of—
“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
His Influence on Thought.—With the exception of the Scriptures, Shakespeare's dramas have surpassed all other works in molding modern English thought. If a person should master Shakespeare and theBible, he would find most that is greatest in human thought, outside of the realm of science.
Even when we do not read him, we cannot escape the influence of others who have been swayed by him. For generations, certain modes of thought have crystallized about his phrases. We may instance such expressions as these: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” “What's in a name?” “The wish was father to the thought.” “The time is out of joint.” “There's the rub.” “There's a divinity that shapes our ends.” “Comparisons are odorous.” It would, perhaps, not be too much to say that the play of Hamlet has affected the thought of the majority of the English-speaking race. His grip on Anglo-Saxon thought has been increasing for more than three hundred years.
Shakespeare's influence on the thought of any individual has only two circumscribing factors,—the extent of Shakespearean study and the capacity of interpreting the facts of life. No intelligent person can study Shakespeare without becoming a deeper and more varied thinker, without securing a broader comprehension of human existence,—its struggles, failures, and successes. If we have before viewed humanity through a glass darkly, Shakespeare will gradually lead us where we can see face to face the beauty and the grandeur of the mystery of existence. His most valuable influence often consists in rendering his students sympathetic and in making them feel a sense of kinship with life. Shakespeare's readers more quickly realize that human nature shows the shaping touch of divinity. They have the rare joy of discovering the world anew and of exclaiming with Miranda:—
“How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!”
When we have really become acquainted with Shakespeare, our lives will be less prosaic and restricted. After intimate companionship with him, there will be, in the words of Ariel, hardly any common thing in life—
“But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”
BEN JONSON, 1573?-1637
Life.—About nine years after the birth of Shakespeare his greatest successor in the English drama was born in London. Jonson outlived Shakespeare twenty-one years and helped to usher in the decline of the drama.
Ben Jonson, the son of a clergyman and the stepson of a master bricklayer, received a good education at Westminster School. Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson learned much Latin and Greek. In one respect Jonson's training was unfortunate for a poet. He was taught to write prose exercises first and then to turn them into poetry. In this way he acquired the habit of trying to express unpoetical ideas in verse. Art could change the prose into metrical riming lines, but art could not breathe into them the living soul of poetry. In after times Jonson said that Shakespeare lacked art, but Jonson recognized that the author ofHamlet had the magic touch of nature. Jonson's pen rarely felt her all-embracing touch.
If Jonson served an apprenticeship as a bricklayer, as his enemies afterward said, he did not continue long at such work. He crossed the Channel and enlisted for a brief time as a soldier in the Netherlands. He soon returned to London and became a writer for the theater, and thenceforth lived the life of an author and a student. He loved to study and translate the classics. In fact, what a novice might think original in Jonson's plays was often borrowed from the classics. Of his relations to the classical writers, Dryden says, “You track him everywhere in their snow.” Jonson was known as the most learned poet of the age, because, if his plays demanded any special knowledge, no subject was too hard, dry, or remote from common life for him to attempt to master it. He knew the boundaries of Bohemia, and he took pleasure in saying to a friend: “Shakespeare in a play brought in a number of men saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near, by some hundred miles.”
Jonson's personal characteristics partly explain why he placed himself in opposition to the spirit of the age. He was extremely combative. It was almost a necessity for him to quarrel with some person or with some opinion. He killed two men in duels, and he would probably have been hanged, if he had not pleaded benefit of clergy. For the greater part of his life, he was often occupied with pen and ink quarrels.
When James I. ascended the throne in 1603, Jonson soon became a royal favorite. He was often employed to write masques, a peculiar species of drama which called for magnificent scenery and dress, and gave the nobility the opportunity of acting the part of some distinguished or supernatural character. Such work brought Jonson into intimate association with the leading men of the day.
It is pleasant to think that he was a friend of Shakespeare. Jonson's pithy volume of prose, known as Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, contains his famous criticism on Shakespeare, noteworthy because it shows how a great contemporary regarded him, “I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any.” Few English writers have received from a great rival author such convincing testimony in regard to lovable personality.
In 1616, the year in which Shakespeare died, Jonson was made poet laureate. When he died in 1637, he was buried in an upright position in Westminster Abbey. A plain stone with the unique inscription, “O Rare Ben Jonson,” marks his grave.
Plays.—Ben Jonson's comedies are his best dramatic work. From all his plays we may select three that will best repay reading: Volpone, The Alchemist, and The Silent Woman. Volpone is the story of an old, childless, Venetian nobleman whose ruling passion is avarice. Everything else in the play is made tributary to this passion. The first three lines in the first act strike the keynote of the entire play. Volpone says:—
“Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!—
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world's soul and mine!”
The Alchemist makes a strong presentation of certain forms of credulity in human nature and of the special tricks which the alchemists and impostors of that day adopted. One character wants to buy the secret of the helpful influence of the stars; another parts with his wealth to learn the alchemist's secret of turning everything into gold and jewels. The way in which these characters are deceived is very amusing. A study of this play adds to our knowledge of a certain phase of the times. In point of artistic construction of plot, The Alchemist is nowhere excelled in the English drama; but the intrusion of Jonson's learning often makes the play tedious reading, as when he introduces the technical terms of the so-called science of alchemy to show that he has studied it thoroughly. One character speaks to the alchemist of—
“Your lato, azoch, zernich, chibrit, heautarit,”
and another asks:—
“Can you sublime and dulcify? calcine?
Know you the sapor pontic? sapor stiptic,
Or what is homogene, or heterogene?”
Lines like the following show that Jonson's acute mind had grasped something of the principle of evolution:—
To think that nature in the earth bred gold
Perfect in the instant: something went before.
There must be remote matter.”
The Silent Woman is in lighter vein than either of the plays just mentioned. The leading character is called Morose, and his special whim or “humor” is a horror of noise. His home is on a street “so narrow at both ends that it will receive no coaches nor carts, nor any of these common noises.” He has mattresses on the stairs, and he dismisses the footman for wearing squeaking shoes. For a long time Morose does not marry, fearing the noise of a wife's tongue. Finally he commissions his nephew to find him a silent woman for a wife, and the author uses to good advantage the opportunity for comic situations which this turn in the action affords. Dryden preferred The Silent Woman to any of the other plays.
Besides the plays mentioned in this section, Jonson wrote during his long life many other comedies and masques as well as some tragedies.
Marks of Decline.—A study of the decline of the drama, as shown in Jonson's plays, will give us a better appreciation of the genius of Shakespeare. We may change Jonson's line so that it will state one reason for his not maintaining Shakespearean excellence:—
“He was not for all time, but of an age.”
His first play, Every Man in his Humor, paints, not the universal emotions of men, but some special humor. He thus defines the sense in which he uses humor:—
“As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a Humor.”
Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson gives a distorted or incomplete picture of life. In Volpone everything is subsidiary to the humor of avarice, which receives unnatural emphasis. In The Alchemist there is little to relieve the picture of credibility and hypocrisy, while The Silent Woman has for its leading character a man whose principal “humor” or aim in life is to avoid noise.
No drama which fails to paint the nobler side of womanhood can be called complete. In Jonson's plays we do not find a single woman worthy to come near the Shakespearean characters, Cordelia, Imogen, and Desdemona. His limitations are nowhere more marked than in his inability to portray a noble woman.
Another reason why he fails to present life completely is shown in these lines, in which he defines his mission:—
“My strict hand
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe
Squeeze out the humor of such spongy souls
As lick up every idle vanity.”
Since the world needs building up rather than tearing down, a remedy for an ailment rather than fault-finding, the greatest of men cannot be mere satirists. Shakespeare displays some fellow feeling for the object of his satire, but Jonson's satire is cold and devoid of sympathy.
Jonson deliberately took his stand in opposition to the romantic spirit of the age. Marlowe and Shakespeare had disregarded the classical unities and had developed the drama on romantic lines. Jonson resolved to follow classical traditions and to adhere to unity of time and place in the construction of his plots. The action in the play of The Silent Woman, for instance, occupies only twelve hours.
General Characteristics.—Jonson's plays show the touch of a conscientious artist with great intellectual ability. His vast erudition is constantly apparent. He is the satiric historian of his time, and he exhibits the follies and the humors of the age under a powerful lens. He is also the author of dainty lyrics, and forcible prose criticism.
Among the shortcomings of his plays, we may specially note lack of feeling and of universality. He fails to comprehend the nature of woman. He is not a sympathetic observer of manifold life, but presents only what is perceived through the frosted glass of intellect. His art is self-conscious. He defiantly opposed the romantic spirit of the age and weakened the drama by making it bear the burden of the classical unities.
Beaumont and Fletcher.—Next to Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, the two most influential dramatists were Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625). They are usually mentioned together because they collaborated in writing plays. Fletcher had the great advantage of working with Shakespeare in producing Henry VIII. Beaumont died nine years before Fletcher, and it is doubtful whether he collaborated with Fletcher in more than fifteen of the fifty plays published under their joint names.
Two of their greatest plays, Philaster and The Maid's Tragedy, are probably their joint production. The Faithful Shepherdess and Bonduca are among the best of about eighteen plays supposed to have been written by Fletcher alone. After Beaumont's death, Fletcher sometimes collaborated with other dramatists.
Almost all the so-called Beaumont and Fletcher plays are well constructed. These dramatists also have, in common with the majority of their associates, the ability to produce occasional passages of exquisite poetry. A character in Philaster speaks of death in lines that suggest Hamlet:—
“'Tis less than to be born; a lasting sleep,
A quiet resting from all jealousy;
A thing we all pursue; I know besides
It is but giving over of a game
That must be lost.”
Beaumont and Fletcher's work is noteworthy for its pictures of contemporary life and manners, for wealth of incident, rapidity of movement, and variety of characters.
Not long after the beginning of the seventeenth century there was a change in the taste of the patrons of the theater. Shakespeare declined in popularity. The playwrights tried to solve the problem of interesting audiences that wished only to be entertained. This attempt led to a change in dramatic methods.
Changed Moral Ideals.—Under Elizabeth's successors the Puritan spirit increased and the most religious part of the community seldom attended the theater. The later dramatists pay little attention to the moral development of character and its self-revelation through action. They often merely describe character and paint it from the outside. We have seen that Shakespeare's great plays are almost a demonstration in moral geometry, but Beaumont and Fletcher are not much concerned over the moral consequences of an action. The gravest charge against them is that they “unknit the sequence of moral cause and effect.” After reading such plays, we do not rise with the feeling that there is a divinity that shapes our ends.
Coleridge says, “Shakespeare never renders that amiable which religion and reason alike teach us to detest, or clothes impurity in the garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher.” Much of the work of their contemporary dramatists is marred by such blemishes. Unpleasant as are numbers of these plays, they are less insidious than many which have appeared on the stage in modern times.
Love of Surprises.—The dramatists racked their inventive powers to introduce surprises to interest the audience. Here was a marked departure from Shakespeare's later method. He plans Macbeth so as to have his audience forecast the logical result. Consequences of the most tremendous import, beside which Beaumont and Fletcher's surprises seem trivial, follow naturally from Macbeth's actions. In his greatest plays, Shakespeare, unlike the later dramatists, never relies on illogical surprises to sustain the interest. The witch queen in one of the plays of Thomas Middleton (1570-1627) suddenly exclaims:—
”...fetch three ounces of the red-haired girl
I kill'd last midnight.”
Shakespeare's witches suggest only enough of the weird and the horrible to transfix the attention and make the beholder realize the force of the temptation that assails Macbeth. Charles Lamb truly observes that Middleton's witches “can harm the body,” but Shakespeare's “have power over the soul.”
Middleton could, however, write a passage like the following, which probably suggested to Milton one of the finest lines in Lycidas :—
“Upon those lips, the sweet fresh buds of youth,
The holy dew of prayer lies, like pearl
Dropt from the opening eyelids of the morn
Upon a bashful rose.”
Large Number of Playwrights.—Beaumont and Fletcher were only two of a large number of dramatists who were born in the age of Elizabeth, and who, with few exceptions, lived into the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Their work was the result of earlier Elizabethan impulses, and it is rightly considered a part of the great dramatic movement of the Elizabethan age. The popularity of the drama continued to attract many authors who in a different age might have produced other forms of literature.
George Chapman (1559?-1634), who is best known for his fine translation of Homer's Iliad, turned dramatist in middle life, but found it difficult to enter into the feelings of characters unlike himself. His best two plays, Bussy D'Ambois and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, are tragedies founded on French history. Thomas Middleton, gifted in dramatic technique and dialogue and noted for his comedy of domestic manners, was the author of Michaelmas Term, A Trick to Catch the Old One, The Changeling (in collaboration with William Rowley, 1585?-1640?). John Marston (1576?-1634) wrote Antonio and Mellida, a blood and thunder tragedy, and collaborated with Jonson and Chapman to produce Eastward Hoe, an excellent comic picture of contemporary life. The Shoemaker's Holiday of Thomas Dekker (1570?-1640) is also a good comedy of London life and manners. Philip Massinger (1584-1640), a later collaborator with Fletcher, wrote A New Way to Pay Old Debts, a play very popular in after times. Thomas Heywood (1572?-1650), one of the most prolific dramatists, claimed to have had “either an entire hand or at the least a main finger,” in two hundred and twenty plays. His best work is A Woman Killed with Kindness, a domestic drama that appealed to the middle classes.
A Tragic Group.—Three dramatists: John Webster (1602-1624), Cyril Tourneur (1575?-1626), and John Ford (1586-1640?), had a love for the most somber tragedy. In tragic power, Webster approaches nearest to Shakespeare. Webster's greatest play, The Duchess of Malfi (acted in 1616), and The White Devil, which ranks second, show the working of a master hand, but Webster's genius comes to a focus only in depicting the horrible. He loves such gloomy metaphors as the following:—
“You speak as if a man
Should know what fowl is coffined in a baked meat
Afore you cut it open.”
Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedy is in Webster's vein, but far inferior to The Duchess of Malfi.
Ford's The Broken Heart is a strong, but unpleasant, tragedy. He is so fascinated with the horrible that he introduces it even when it is not the logical outcome of a situation. His best but least characteristic play is Perkin Warbeck, which is worthy of ranking second only to Shakespeare's historical plays.
End of the Elizabethan Drama.—James Shirley (1596-1666), “the last of the Elizabethans,” endeavored to the best of his ability to continue the work of the earlier dramatists. The Traitor and The Cardinalare two of the best of his many productions. He was hard at work writing new plays in 1642, when the Puritans closed the theaters. He was thus forced to abandon the profession that he enjoyed and compelled to teach in order to earn a livelihood.
The drama has never since regained its Elizabethan ascendancy. The coarse plays of the Restoration (1660) flourished for a while, but the treatment of the later drama forms but a minor part of the history of the best English literature. Few plays produced during the next two hundred years are much read or acted to-day. She Stoops to Conquer (1773), by Oliver Goldsmith, and The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777), by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, are the chief exceptions before 1890.
The Elizabethan age was a period of expansion in knowledge, commerce, religious freedom, and human opportunities. The defeat of the Armada freed England from fear of Spanish domination and made her mistress of the sea.
England was vivified by the combined influence of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Knowledge was expanding in every direction and promising to crown human effort with universal mastery. The greater feeling of individuality was partly due to the Reformation, which emphasized the direct responsibility of each individual for all acts affecting the welfare of his soul.
Elizabethans were noted for their resourcefulness, their initiative, their craving for new experiences, and their desire to realize the utmost out of life. As they cared little for ideas that could not be translated into action, they were particularly interested in the drama.
Although the prose covers a wide field, it is far inferior to the poetry. Lyly's Euphues suffers from overwrought conceits and forced antitheses, but it influenced writers to pay more attention to the manner in which thought was expressed. The flowery prose of Sidney's Arcadia presents a pastoral world of romance. His Apologie for Poetrie is a meritorious piece of early criticism. While Hooker indicates advance in solidity of matter and dignity of style, yet a comparison of his heavy religious prose with the prayer of the king in Hamlet or with Portia's words about mercy in The Merchant of Venice will show the vast superiority of the poetry in dealing with spiritual ideas. Bacon's Essays, celebrated for pithy condensation of striking thoughts, is the only prose work that has stood the test of time well enough to claim many readers to-day.
Poetry, both lyric and dramatic, is the crowning glory of the Elizabethan age. The lyric verse is remarkable for its wide range and for beauty of form and sentiment. The lyrics include love sonnets, pastorals, and miscellaneous verse. Shakespeare's Sonnets and the songs in his dramas are the best in this field, but many poets wrote exquisite artistic lyrics.
Edmund Spenser is the only great poet who was not also a dramatist. His Faerie Queene fashions an ideal world dominated by a love of beauty and high endeavor.
The greatest literary successes of the age were won in writing plays for the stage. In England the drama had for centuries slowly developed through Miracle plays, Moralities, and Interludes to the plays of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson. These three are the greatest Elizabethan dramatists, but they are only the central figures of a group.
The English drama in the hands of Sackville imitated Seneca and followed the rules of the classic stage. Marlowe and Shakespeare threw off the restraints of the classical unities; and the romantic drama, rejoicing in its freedom, speedily told the story of all life.
The innyards were used for the public presentation of plays before the erection of theaters in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The theaters were a great educational force in Shakespeare's time. They not only furnished amusement, but they also took the place of periodicals, lectures, and books. The actors, coming into close contact with their audience and unable to rely on elaborate scenery as an offset to poor acting, were equal to the task of so presenting Shakespeare's great plays as to make them popular.
Shakespeare's plays, the greatest ever written, reveal wonderful sympathy, universality, humor, delineation of character, high moral ideals, mastery of expression, and strength, beauty, and variety of poetic form.
Great as is Ben Jonson, he hampered himself by observing the classical unities and by stressing accidental qualities. He lacks Shakespeare's universality, broad sympathy, and emotional appeal.
Other minor dramatists, like Beaumont and Fletcher show further decline, because they constructed their plays more from the outside, showed less development of character in strict accordance with moral law, and relied more for effect on sensational scenes. The drama has never since taken up the wand that dropped from Shakespeare's hands.
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER STUDY
In addition to the chapters on the time in the histories of Gardiner, Green, Lingard, Walker, and Traill, see Stephenson's The Elizabethan People, Creighton's Queen Elizabeth, Wilson's Life in Shakespeare's England, Stephenson's Shakespeare's London, Warner's English History in Shakespeare's plays.
General and Non-Dramatic
The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vols. IV., V., and VI.
Courthope's A History of English Poetry, Vol. II.
Schelling's English Literature during the Lifetime of Shakespeare.
Seecombe and Allen's The Age of Shakespeare, 2 vols.
Saintsbury's A History of Elizabethan Literature.
Dictionary of National Biography for lives of Lyly, Sidney, Hooker.
Bacon, Spenser, and the minor dramatists.
Walton's Life of Hooker.
Church's Life of Bacon. (E.M.L.)
Church's Life of Spenser. (E.M.L.)
Mackail's The Springs of Helicon (Spenser).
Dowden's Transcripts and Studies (Spenser).
Lowell's Among My Books (Spenser).
Erskine's The Elizabethan Lyric.
Schelling's Elizabethan Drama, 1558-1642, 2 vols. Ward's A History of English Dramatic Literature, 3 vols.
Brooke's The Tudor Drama.
Chambers's The Mediaeval Stage.
Allbright's The Shakespearean Stage.
Lawrence's Elizabethan Playhouse and Other Studies.
Smith's York Plays (Clarendon Press).
Symonds's Shakespeare's Predecessors in the English Drama.
Bates's The English Religious Drama.
Manly's Specimens of the Pre-Shakespearean Drama.
Wallace's The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare.
Ingram's Christopher Marlowe and his Associates.
Dowden's Transcripts and Studies (Marlowe).
Symonds's Ben Jonson.
Swinburne's A Study of Ben Jonson.
Lee's A Life of William Shakespeare.
Furnivall and Munro's Shakespeare: Life and Work.
Harris's The Man Shakespeare and his Tragic Life Story.
Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare.
Baker's The Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist.
MacCracken, Pierce, and Durham's An Introduction to Shakespeare.
Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy (excellent).
Bradley's Oxford Lectures on Poetry.
Dowden's Shakespeare, His Mind and Art.
Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare (pp. 21-58 of Beers's Selections from the Prose writings of Coleridge).
Lowell's Shakespeare Once More, in Among My Books.
Wallace's Shakespeare, the Globe, and Blackfriars.
How Shakespeare's Senses were Trained, Chap. X. in Halleck's Education of the Central Nervous System.
Rolfe's Shakespeare the Boy.
Boswell-Stone's Shakespeare's Holinshed.
Brooke's Shakespeare's Plutarch, 2 vols.
Madden's The Diary of Master William Silence: A Study of Shakespeare and of Elizabethan Sport.
Winter's Shakespeare on the Stage.
SUGGESTED READINGS WITH QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
Elizabethan Prose.—Good selections from Ascham, Hakluyt, Raleigh, Holinshed, Stow, Camden, North, Sidney, Foxe, Hooker, Lyly, Greene, Lodge, and Nashe are given in Craik, I. Chambers, I. and Manly, II. also give a number of selections. Deloney's The Gentle Craft may be found in the Clarendon Press edition of his Works. For Bacon, see Craik, II.
These selections will give the student a broader grasp of the Elizabethan age. The style and subject matter of Lyly's Euphues, Sidney's Arcadia, Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, and Bacon'sEssays should be specially noted. Which one of these authors exerted the strongest influence on his own age? Which one makes the strongest appeal to modern times? In what respects does the style of any Elizabethan prose writer show an improvement over that of Mandeville and Malory?
Lyrics.—For specimens of love sonnets, read Nos. 18, 33, 73, 104, 111, and 116 of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Compare them with any of Sidney's Spenser's sonnets. Other love lyrics which should be read are Spenser's Prothalamion, Lodge's Love in My Bosom Like a Bee and Ben Jonson's To Celia. Among pastoral lyrics, read from Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar for August, 1579, Perigo and Willie's duet, beginning:—
“It fell upon a holy eve,”
and Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. The best pastoral lyrics from the modern point of view are Shakespeare's two songs: “Under the Greenwood Tree” (As you like it) and “When Icicles Hang by the Wall” (Love's Labor's Lost). The best miscellaneous lyrics are the songs in Shakespeare's Cymbeline, The Tempest, and As You Like It. Drayton's Ballad of Agincourt and Sonnet 61 are his best lyrical verse. Read Ben Jonson's An Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy and, from his Pindaric Ode, the stanza beginning:—
“It is not growing like a tree.”
From John Donne, read either The Funeral, The Canonization, or The Dream.
Good selections from all varieties of Elizabethan lyrics may be found in Bronson, II., Ward. I., Oxford, Century, Manly, I. Nearly all the lyrics referred to in this list, including the best songs from the dramatists, are given in Schelling's Elizabethan Lyrics (327 pp., 75 cents). This work, together with Erskine's The Elizabethan Lyric and Reed's English Lyrical Poetry from its Origins to the Present Time, will serve for a more exhaustive study of this fascinating subject.
From your reading, select from each class the lyric that pleases you most, and give reasons for your choice. Which lyric seems the most spontaneous? the most artistic? the most inspired? the most modern? the most quaint? the most and the least instinct with feeling?
Edmund Spenser.—The Faerie Queene, Book I., Canto I., should be read. Maynard's English Classic Series, No. 27 (12 cents) contains the first two cantos and the Prothalamion. Kitchin's edition of Book I. (Clarendon Press. 60 cents) is an excellent volume. The Globe edition furnishes a good complete text of Spenser's work. Ample selections are given in Bronson, II., Ward, I., and briefer ones in Manly, I., and Century.
The Best Volumes of Selections.—The least expensive volume to cover nearly the entire field with brief selections is Vol. II. of The Oxford Treasury of English Literature, entitled Growth of the Drama(Clarendon Press, 412 pp., 90 cents). Pollard's English Miracle Plays, Moralities, and Interludes (Clarendon Press, 250 pp., $1.90) is the best single volume of selections from this branch of the drama.Everyman and Other Miracle Plays (Everyman's Library, 35 cents) is a good inexpensive volume. Manly's' Specimens of the Pre-Shakespearean Drama (three volumes, $1.25 each) covers this field more fully. Morley's English Plays (published as Vol. III. of Cassell's Library of English Literature, at eleven and one half shillings) contains good selections from nearly all the plays mentioned below, except those by Shakespeare and Jonson. Williams's Specimens of the Elizabethan Drama, from Lyly to Shirley, 1580-1642 (Clarendon Press, 576 pp., $1.90) is excellent for a comprehensive survey of the field covered. Lamb's Specimens of English Poets Who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare (Bohn's Library, 552 pp.) contains a large number of good selections.
Miracle Plays.—Read the Chester Play of Noah's Flood, Pollard, 8-20, and the Towneley Play of the Shepherds, Pollard, 31-43; Manly's Specimens, I, 94-119; Morley's English Plays, 12-18. These two plays best show the germs of English comedy.
Moralities.—The best Morality is that known as Everyman, Pollard, 76-96; also in Everyman's Library. If Everyman is not accessible, Hycke-Scorner may be substituted, Morley; 12-18; Manly'sSpecimens, I., 386-420.
Court Plays, Early Comedies, and Gorboduc.—The best Interlude is The Four P's. Adequate selections are given in Morley, 18-20, and in Symonds's Shakespeare's Predecessors in the English Drama, 188-201. Pollard and Manly give several good selections from other Interludes.
Ralph Royster Doyster may be found in Arber's Reprints ; in Morley's English Plays, pp. 22-46; in Manly's Specimens, II., 5-92; in Oxford Treasury, II., 161-174, and in Temple Dramatists (35 cents).
Gorboduc is given in Oxford Treasury, II. pp., 40-54 (selections); Morley's English Plays, pp. 51-64; and, under the title of Ferrex and Porrex, in Dodsley's Old Plays.
What were some of the purposes for which Interludes were written? How did they aid in the development of the drama?
In what different forms are The Four-P's, Ralph Royster Doyster, and Gorboduc written? Why would Shakespeare's plays have been impossible if the evolution of the drama had stopped with Gorboduc ?
Pre-Shakespearean Dramatists.—Selections from Lyly, Peele, Green, Lodge, Nashe, and Kyd may be found in Williams's Specimens. Morley and Oxford Treasury also contain a number of selections. Peele's The Arraignment of Paris and Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy are in Temple Dramatists. Greene's best plays are in Mermaid Series.
What are the merits of Lyly's dialogue and comedy? What might Shakespeare have learned from Lyly, Peele, Greene, and Kyd? In what different form did these dramatists write? What progress do they show?
Marlowe.—Read Dr. Faustus, in Masterpieces of the English Drama (American Book Company) or in Everyman's Library. This play may also be found in Morley's English Plays, pp. 116-128, or in Morley's Universal Library. Selections from various plays of Marlowe may be found in Oxford Treasury, 61-85, 330-356; and in Williams's Specimens, 25-34.
Does Dr. Faustus observe the classical unities? In what way does it show the spirit of the Elizabethan age? Was the poetic form of the play the regular vehicle of dramatic expression? In what does the greatness of the play consist? What are its defects? Why do young people sometimes think Marlowe the greatest of all the Elizabethan dramatists?
Shakespeare.—The student should read in sequence one or more of the plays in each of Shakespeare's four periods of development (pp. 185, 188), such as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet, for the first period; As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice, for the second; Hamlet and King Lear or Macbeth or Julius Caesar, for the third; and The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, for the fourth.
Among the many good annotated editions of separate plays are the Clarke and Wright, Rolfe, Hudson, Arden, Temple, and Tudor editions. Furness's Variorum Shakespeare is the best for exhaustive study. The best portable single volume edition is Craig's Oxford Shakespeare, India paper, 1350 pages.
The student cannot do better than follow the advice of Dr. Johnson: “Let him who is unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play, from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators... Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness and read the commentators.”
Shakespeare's three greatest tragedies, Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, should be read several times. After becoming familiar with the story, the student should next determine the general aim of the play and analyze the personality and philosophy of each of the leading characters.
After reading some of all classes of Shakespeare's plays, point out his (a) breadth of sympathy, (b) humor, (c) moral ideals, (d) mastery of English and variety of style, and (e ) universality. What idea of his personality can you form from his plays? If you have read them in sequence, point out some of the characteristics of each of his four periods. Why is Shakespeare often called a great dramatic artist? How did his audience and manner of presentation of his plays modify his treatment of a dramatic theme?
Ben Jonson and Minor Dramatists.—The best plays of Ben Jonson, Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Massinger, Webster, and Tourneur may be found in Masterpieces of the English Dramaedited by Schellinq (American Book Company). Selections from all the minor dramatists mentioned may be found in Williams's Specimens. The teacher will need to exercise care in assigning readings. Most of the minor dramatists are better suited to advanced students.
Read Jonson's The Alchemist or the selection in Williams's Specimens. A sufficient selection from Philaster may be found in Vol. II. of The Oxford Treasury, in Morley, and in Williams's Specimens.
What points of difference between Shakespeare and Jonson do you notice? What is his object in The Alchemist? Why is its plot called unusually fine? Wherein does Jonson show a decline in the drama?
Who were Beaumont and Fletcher? What movement in the drama do they illustrate? What are the characteristics of some other minor dramatists? What are the chief reasons why the minor dramatists fail to equal Shakespeare? When and why did this period of the drama close?
FOOTNOTES TO CHAPTER IV:
[Footnote 1: For additional mention of Elizabethan novelists, see p. 317.]
[Footnote 2: For references to selections from all these prose writers, see p. 215.]
[Footnote 3: Of Youth and Age.]
[Footnote 4: Thomas Heywood's Matin Song.]
[Footnote 5: Suggestions for additional study of Elizabethan lyrics are given on p. 215.]
[Footnote 6: riding.]
[Footnote 7: An Hymne in Honour of Beautie.]
[Footnote 8: Faerie Queene, Book III., Canto 4.]
[Footnote 9: Ibid., Book I., Canto 3.]
[Footnote 10: Smith's York Plays.]
[Footnote 11: C.W. Wallace's The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare.]
[Footnote 12: Wallace, op. cit., p.37.]
[Footnote 13: What We Know of the Elizabethan Stage.]
[Footnote 14: Performances were often given at night in private theaters. From the records in a lawsuit over the second Blackfriars Theater, we learn that there were in 1608 only three private theaters in London,—Blackfriars, Whitefriars, and a St. Paul's Cathedral playhouse, in which boys acted.]
[Footnote 15: This drawing of the Swan Theater, London, was probably made near the end of the sixteenth century by van Buchell, a Dutchman, from a description by his friend, J. de Witt. The drawing, found at the University of Utrecht, although perhaps not accurate in details, is valuable as a rough contemporary record of an impression communicated to a draftsman by one who had seen an Elizabethan play.]
[Footnote 16: The lease of the building for the first Blackfriars Theater, on Ludgate Hill, London, was taken in 1576 by Richard Farrant, master of the boys of Windsor Chapel, and canceled in 1584. In 1595 James Burbage bought a building for the second Blackfriars Theater, near the site of the first. This was a private theater, competing with the Globe, with which Shakespeare was connected. The chief dramatists for the second Blackfriars were Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston. James I. suppressed the second Blackfriars in 1608 because its actors satirized him and the French king. A few months later, Shakespeare and his associates assumed the management of the Blackfriars and gave performances there as well as at the Globe.
These facts explain Wallace's discovery that Shakespeare at the time of his death owned a one-seventh interest in the second Blackfriars, a theater that had formerly been a rival to the Globe.]
[Footnote 17: Dr. Faustus, Scene 6.]
[Footnote 18: Tamburlaine, Act II., Scene 7.]
[Footnote 19: The Winter's Tale, Act IV., Scene 4.]
[Footnote 20: Tradition says that Shakespeare occupied the desk in the farthest corner.]
[Footnote 21: Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, Grosart's edition of Greene's Works, Vol. XII., p. 144.]
[Footnote 22: The contract price for building the Fortune Theater was L440.]
[Footnote 23: Adapted from Furnivall.]
[Footnote 24: Entered one year before at Stationers' Hall.]
[Footnote 25: May be looked on as fairly certain.]
[Footnote 26: Henry V., Act II., Scene 3, line 10.]
[Footnote 27: Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 327.]
[Footnote 28: The Tempest, Act V., Scene 1.]
[Footnote 29: Ibid., Act I., Scene 2.]
[Footnote 30: For a list of books of selections from the drama, see p. 216.]
[Footnote 31: For full titles, see p. 6.]
[Footnote 32: For full titles of books of dramatic selections, see the preceding paragraph.]