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That so did take Eliza and our James, as Ben Jonson has recorded, and as is confirmed by various authorities. Up to 1611, the whole of Shakspeare's plays (thirty-seven in number, according to the first folio edition) are supposed to have Shakspeare did not wait to brave the united puissance of a knight of the shire and a country attorney. * *
I now found myself among noble avenues of oaks and elms, whose vast size bespoke the growth of centuries. ** It was from wandering in early life among this rich scenery, and about the romantic solitudes of the adjoining park of Fulbroke, which then formed a part of the Lucy estate, that some of Shakspeare's commentators have supposed he derived his noble forest meditations of Jaques and the enchanting woodland pictures in "As You Like It." ** [The house] is a large building of brick, with stone quoins, and is in the Gothic style of Queen Elizabeth's day, having been built in the first year of her reign. The exterior remains very nearly in its original state, and may be considered a fair specimen of the residence of a wealthy country gentleman of those days.**The front of the house is completely in the old style-with stoneshafted casements, a great bow window of heavy stone-work,
and a portal with armorial bearings over it, carved in stone. **The Avon, which winds through the park, makes a bend just at the foot of a gently sloping bank, which sweeps round the rear of the house. Large herds of deer were reposing
nnon its borders.'
heen produced. With the nobles, the wits, and poets of his day, he was in familiar intercourse. The gentle Shakspeare,' as he was usually styled, was throned in all hearts. But notwithstanding his brilliant success in the metropolis, the poet early looked forward to a permanent retirement to the country. He visited Stratford once a-year; and when wealth flowed in upon him, he purchased property in his native town and its vicinity. He bought New Place, the principal house in Stratford; in 1602, he gave £320 for 107 acres of land adjoining to his purchase; and in 1605, he paid £440 for the lease of the tithes of Stratford. The latest entry of his name among the king's players is in 1604, but he was living in London in 1609. The year 1612 has been assigned as the date of his final retirement to the country. In the fulness of his fame, with a handsome competency, and before age had chilled the enjoyment of life, the poet returned to his native town to spend the remainder of his days among the quiet scenes and the friends of his youth. His parents were both dead, but their declining years had been gladdened by the prosperity of their illustrious son. Four years were spent by Shakspeare in this dignified retirement, and the history of literature scarcely presents another such picture of calm felicity and satisfied ambition. He died on the 23d of April 1616, having just completed his fifty-second year. His widow survived him seven years. His two daughters were both married (his only son Hamnet had died in 1596), and one of them had three sons; but all these died without issue, and there now remains no lineal representative of the great poet.
Shakspeare, it is believed, like his contemporary the works of others, and adapting them for the stage. dramatists, began his career as an author by altering The extract from Greene's Groat's Worth of Wit,' which we have given in the life of that unhappy author, shows that he had been engaged in this subordinate literary labour before 1592. Three years previous to this, Nash had published an address to the students of the two universities, in which there is a remarkable passage: It is,' he says, a common practice now-a-days, among a sort of shifting companions, that run through every art, and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint, whereto they were born, and busy themselves with the endeavours of art, that could scarce Latinise their neck verse if they should have need; yet English Seneca, read by candle-light, yields many good sentences, as blood is a beggar, and so forth; and if you intreat him far in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.' The term Noverint was applied to lawyers' clerks, so called from the first word of a Latin deed of those Know all men, &c. We have no doubt that Nash times, equivalent to the modern commencement of alluded to Shakspeare in this satirical glance, for Shakspeare was even then, as has been discovered, a shareholder in the theatre; and it appears from the title-page to the first edition of 'Hamlet,' in 1604, that, like Romeo and Juliet,' and the Merry Wives of Windsor,' it had been enlarged to almost twice its original size. It seems scarcely probable that the great dramatist should not have commenced writing before he was twenty-seven. Some of his first drafts, as we have seen, he subsequently enlarged and completed; others may have sunk into oblivion, as being judged unworthy of resuscitation or inprovement in his riper years. Pericles is supposed to be one of his earliest adaptations. Dryden, indeed, expressly states it to be the first birth of his muse; but two if not three styles are distinctly traceable in this play, and the two first acts look
magnificent conceptions which were afterwards embodied in the Lear, the Macbeth, Othello, and Tempest of his tragic muse.
The chronology of Shakspeare's plays has been arbitrarily fixed by Malone and others, without adequate authority. Mr Collier has shown its incorrectness in various particulars. He has proved, for example, that 'Othello' was on the stage in 1602, though Malone assigns its first appearance to 1604. Macbeth' is put down to 1606, though we only know that it existed in 1610. Henry VIII. is assigned to 1603, yet it is mentioned by Sir Henry Wotton as a new play in 1613, and we know that it was produced with unusual scenic decoration and splendour in that year. The Roman plays were undoubtedly among his latest works. The Tempest' has been usually considered the last, but on no decisive authority. Adopting this popular belief, Mr Campbell has remarked, that the Tempest' has a sort of sacredness' as the last drama of the great poet, who, as if conscious that this was to be the case, has been inspired to typify himself as a wise, potent, and benevolent magician.'
like the work of Greene or Peele. Titus Andronicus resembles the style of Marlow, and if written by Shakspeare, as distinct contemporary testimony affirms, it must have been a very youthful production. The Taming of the Shrew is greatly indebted to an old play on the same subject, and must also be referred to the same period. It is doubtful whether Shakspeare wrote any of the first part of Henry VI. The second and third parts are modelled on two older plays, the Contention of York and Lancaster,' and the True Tragedy of the Duke of York.' Whether these old dramas were early sketches of Shakspeare's own, or the labours of some obscure and forgotten playwright, cannot now be ascertained: they contain the death-scene of Cardinal Beaufort, the last speech of the Duke of York, and the germs of that vigorous delineation of character and passion completed in 'Richard III.' We know no other dramatist of that early period, excepting Marlow, who could have written those powerful sketches. From the old plays, Shakspeare borrowed no less than 1771 entire lines, and nearly double that number are merely alterations. Such wholesale appropriation of the labours of others is There seems no good reason for believing that found in none of his other historical plays (as King Shakspeare did not continue writing on to the period John, Richard III., &c., modelled on old dramas), of his death in 1616; and such a supposition is counand we therefore incline to the opinion, that the tenanced by a tradition thus recorded in the diary Contention and the True Tragedy were early pro- of the Rev. John Ward, A.M., vicar of Stratfordductions of the poet, afterwards enlarged and im-on-Avon, extending from 1648 to 1679. 'I have proved by him, as part of his English historical series, and then named Henry VI.
heard,' says the careless and incurious vicar, who might have added largely to our stock of Shakspearian facts, had he possessed taste, acuteness, or industry- I have heard that Mr Shakspeare was a
The gradual progress of Shakspeare's genius is supposed to have been not unobserved by Spenser. In 1594, or 1595, the venerable poet wrote his pas-natural wit, without any art at all. He frequented toral, entitled 'Colin Clout's Come Home Again,' in which he commemorates his brother poets under feigned names. The gallant Raleigh is the Shepherd of the Ocean, Sir Philip Sidney is Astrophel, and other living authors are characterised by fictitious appellations. He concludes as follows:
And then, though last not least, is Aëtion,
tion, that he attained to the highest pitch of dramatic art, and the most accurate philosophy of the human mind, and that he was, as Schlegel has happily remarked, a profound artist, and not a blind and wildly-luxuriant genius.**
*Coleridge boasted of being the first in time who publicly demonstrated, to the full extent of the position, that the supposed irregularity and extravagances of Shakspeare were 'the mere dreams of a pedantry that arraigned the eagle because it
the plays all his younger time, but in his elder days lived at Stratford, and supplied the stage with two plays every year, and for it had an allowance so large, that he spent at the rate of £1000 a-year, as I have heard. Shakspeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson, had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakspeare died of a fever there contracted.' We place no great reliance on this testimony, either as to facts literary or personal. Those who have studied the works of the great dramatist, and marked his successive approaches to perfection, must see that The sonorous and chivalrous-like name of Shak-he united the closest study to the keenest observaspeare seems here designated. The poet had then published his two classical poems, and probably most of his English historical plays had been acted. The supposition that Shakspeare was meant, is at least a pleasing one. We love to figure Spenser and Raleigh sitting under the shady alders' on the banks of Mulla, reading the manuscript of the 'Faery Queen; but it is not less interesting to consider the great poet watching the dawn of that mighty mind which was to eclipse all its contemporaries. A few years afterwards, in 1598, we meet with an important notice of Shakspeare by Francis Meres, a contemporary author. As Plautus and Seneca,' he says, are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakspeare, among the English, is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love's Labour Lost, his Love's Labour Won (or All's Well that Ends Well), his Midsummer Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy, his Richard II., Richard III., Henry IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet.' This was indeed a brilliant contribution to the English drama, throwing Greene, Peele, and Marlow immeasurably into shade, and far transcending all the previous productions of the English stage. The harvest, however, was not yet half reaped-the glorious intellect of Shakspeare was still forming, and his imagination nursing those
had not the dimensions of the swan.' He maintains, with his
usual fine poetical appreciation and feeling, that that law of
Eleven of the dramas were printed during Shak-guage (like 'light from heaven')—his imagery and speare's life, probably from copies piratically ob- versification. tained. It was the interest of the managers that new and popular pieces should not be published; but we entertain the most perfect conviction, that the poet intended all his original works, as he had revised some, for publication. The Merry Wives of Windsor' is said to have been written in fourteen days, by command of Queen Elizabeth, who wished to see Falstaff in love. Shakspeare, however, was anxious for his fame, as well as eager to gratify the queen; when the temporary occasion was served, he returned to his play, filled up his first imperfect outline, and heightened the humour of the dialogue and character. Let not the example of this greatest name in English literature be ever quoted to support the false opinion, that excellence can be attained without study and labour!
In 1623 appeared the first collected edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works-seven years after his own death, and six months after that of his widow, who, we suspect, had a life-interest in the plays. The whole were contained in one folio volume, and a preface and dedication were supplied by the poet's fellow comedians, Hemming and Condell.
That Shakspeare deviated from the dramatic unities of time, place, and action, laid down by the ancients, and adopted by the French theatre, is wellknown, and needs no defence. In his tragedies, he amply fulfils what Aristotle admits to be the end and object of tragedy, to beget admiration, terror, or sympathy. His mixture of comic with tragic scenes is sometimes a blemish, but it was the fault of his age; and if he had lived to edit his works, some of these incongruities would doubtless have been expunged. But, on the whole, such blending of opposite qualities and characters is accordant with the actual experience and vicissitudes of life. No course of events, however tragic in its results, moves on in measured, unvaried solemnity, nor would the English taste tolerate this stately French style. The great preceptress of Shakspeare was Nature: he spoke from her inspired dictates, 'warm from the heart and faithful to its fires;' and in his disregard of classic rules, pursued at will his winged way through all the labyrinths of fancy and of the human heart. These celestial flights, however, were regulated, as we have said, by knowledge and taste. Mere poetiThe plots of Shakspeare's dramas were nearly all cal imagination might have created a Caliban, or borrowed, some from novels and romances, others evoked the airy spirits of the enchanted island and from legendary tales, and some from older plays. the Midsummer Dream; but to delineate a DesdeIn his Roman subjects, he followed North's translamona or Imogen, a Miranda or Viola, the influence tion of Plutarch's Lives; his English historical plays of a pure and refined spirit, cultivated and disciare chiefly taken from Holinshed's Chronicle. From plined by 'gentle arts,' and familiar by habit, thought, the latter source he also derived the plot of Mac- and example, with the better parts of wisdom and beth,' perhaps the most transcendent of all his works. humanity, were indispensably requisite. Peele or A very cursory perusal will display the gradual pro- Marlow might have drawn the forest of Arden, with gress and elevation of his art. In the Two Gentle- its woodland glades, but who but Shakspeare could men of Verona,' and the earlier comedies, we see the have supplied the moral beauty of the scene?—the timidity and immaturity of youthful genius; a half- refined simplicity and gaiety of Rosalind, the philoformed style, bearing frequent traces of that of his sophic meditations of Jaques, the true wisdom, tenpredecessors; fantastic quibbles and conceits (which derness, and grace, diffused over the whole of that he never wholly abandoned); only a partial develop- antique half-courtly and half-pastoral drama. These ment of character; a romantic and playful fancy; and similar personations, such as Benedict and Beabut no great strength of imagination, energy, or pas- trice, Mercutio, &c., seem to us even more wondersion. In Richard II. and III., the creative and masterful than the loftier characters of Shakspeare. No mind are visible in the delineation of character. In types of them could have existed but in his own the Midsummer Night's Dream,' the Merchant of mind. The old drama and the chroniclers furnished Venice,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' &c., we find the ripened the outlines of his historical personages, though poetical imagination, prodigality of invention, and a destitute of the heroic ardour and elevation which searching, meditative spirit. These qualities, with he breathed into them. Plutarch and the poets a finer vein of morality and contemplative philo- kindled his classic enthusiasm and taste; old Chapsophy, pervade As You Like It,' and the Twelfth man's Homer perhaps rolled its majestic cadences Night.' In 'Henry IV.,' the 'Merry Wives,' and 'Mea- over his ear and imagination; but characters in sure for Measure,' we see his inimitable powers of which polished manners and easy grace are as precomedy, full formed, revelling in an atmosphere of dominant as wit, reflection, or fancy, were then unjoyous life, and fresh as if from the hand of nature. known to the stage, as to actual life. They are He took a loftier flight in his classical dramas, con- among the most perfect creations of his genius, and, ceived and finished with consummate taste and free-in reference to his taste and habits, they are valuable dom. In his later tragedies, Lear,' 'Hamlet' (in its improved form), 'Othello,' 'Macbeth,' and the Tem- In judgment, Shakspeare excels his contemporary pest,' all his wonderful faculties and acquirements are dramatists as much as in genius, but at the same found combined-his wit, pathos, passion, and sub- time it must be confessed that he also partakes of limity-his profound knowledge and observation of their errors. To be unwilling to acknowledge any mankind, mellowed by a refined humanity and bene- faults in his plays, is, as Hallam remarks, an exvolence-his imagination richer from skilful culture travagance rather derogatory to the critic than and added stores of information-his unrivalled lan-honourable to the poet.' Fresh from the perusal of
materials for his biography.
any of his works, and under the immediate effects of of character or passion, we conceive Shakspeare to have laboured his inspirations-walking, as it were, in a world of for ultimate and lasting fame, not immediate theatrical effect. his creating, with beings familiar to us almost from His audiences must often have been unable to follow his philo-infancy-it seems like sacrilege to breathe one word sophy, his subtle distinctions, and his imagery. The actors of censure. Yet truth must admit that some of his must have been equally unable to give effect to many of his personations. He was apparently indifferent to both-at least plays are hastily and ill-constructed as to plot; that in his great works-and wrote for the mind of the universe. his proneness to quibble and play with words is There was, however, always enough of ordinary nature, of brought forward in scenes where this peculiarity pomp, or variety of action, for the multitude; and the English constitutes a positive defect; that he is sometimes historical plays, connected with national pride and glory, must indelicate where indelicacy is least pardonable, and have rendered their author popular. where it jars most painfully with the associations of
the scene; and that his style is occasionally stiff, turgid, and obscure, chiefly because it is at once highly figurative and condensed in expression. Ben Jonson has touched freely, but with manliness and fairness, on these defects.
'I remember,' he says, 'the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted, and to justify mine own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped, sufflimandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too! Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter, as when he said, in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him, "Cæsar, thou dost me wrong," he replied, "Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause," and such like, which were ridiculous.* But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.'
The first edition of Shakspeare was published, as already stated, in 1623. A second edition was published in 1632, the same as the first, excepting that it was more disfigured with errors of the press. A third edition was published in 1644, and fourth in 1685. The public admiration of this grea English classic now demanded that he should receive the honours of a commentary; and Rowe, the poet, gave an improved edition in 1709. Pope, Warbur ton, Johnson, Chalmers, Steevens, and others, successively published editions of the poet, with copious notes. The best of the whole is the voluminous edition by Malone and Boswell, published in twentyone volumes, in 1821. The critics of the great poet are innumerable, and they bid fair, like Banquo's progeny, to stretch to the crack of doom.' The scholars of Germany have distinguished themselves by their philosophical and critical dissertations on the genius of Shakspeare. There never was an author, ancient or modern, whose works have been so carefully analysed and illustrated, so eloquently expounded, or so universally admired.
He so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie,
'Since the beginning of the present century,' says a writer in the Edinburgh Review (1840), Shakspeare's influence on our literature has been very great; and the recognition of his supremacy not only more unqualified, but more intelligent than ever. In many instances, indeed, and particularly by reason of the exaggerated emphasis which is so apt to infect periodical writing, the veneration for the greatest of all poets has risen to a height which amounts literally to idolatry. But the error is the safest which can be committed in judging the works of genius; and the risk of any evil consequences is
* Jonson's allusion is to the following line in the third act of Julius Cæsar
Know Cæsar doth not wrong, nor without cause
The passage was probably altered by Ben's suggestion, or still more likely it was corrupted by the blunder of the player.
excluded by that inquiring temper, which is as characteristic of literature in our times, as is its appearance of comparative animation.'
The difficulty of making selections from Shakspeare must be obvious. If of character, his characters are as numerous and diversified as those in human life; if of style, he has exhausted all styles, and has one for each description of poetry and action; if of wit, humour, satire, or pathos, where shall our choice fall, where all are so abundant? We have felt our task to be something like being deputed to search in some magnificent forest for a handful of the finest leaves or plants, and as if we were diligently exploring the world of woodland beauty to accomplish faithfully this hopeless adventure. Happily, Shakspeare is in all hands, and a single leaf will recall the fertile and majestic scenes of his inspiration.
[Murder of King Duncan.]
[Macbeth, prompted by ambition, and pushed on by his savage wife, resolves to murder the king, then his guest, and seize the crown.]
MACBETH and a Servant.
Macb. Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed. [Exit Servant Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain! I see thee yet, in form as palpable
Thou marshal'st me the way that I was going;
As this which now I draw.
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still;
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me:
Lady. Alack! I am afraid they have awak'd;
Macb. I've done the deed-didst thou not hear a
Enter Lady Macbeth.
Lady. My hands are of your colour; but I shame
Hath left you unattended. [Knocking.] Hark, more
Lady. I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry. Get on your night-gown, lest occasion call us,
Did not you speak!
Macb. As I descended?
But they did say their prayers, and address'd them
Lady. There are two lodg'd together.
Macb. One cried, God bless us! and Amen! the
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands,
Lady. Consider it not so deeply.
Macb. But wherefore could not I pronounce Amen?
Lady. These deeds must not be thought,
Macb. Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no
Macb. I'll go no more.
I am afraid to think what I have done ;
Lady. Infirm of purpose:
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
For it must seem their guilt.
And show us to be watchers. Be not lost
Macb. To know my deed, 'twere best not know
Wake, Duncan, with this knocking. Ay, 'would thou couldst !
[Love Scene by Night in a Garden.]
Romeo. He jests at scars, that never felt a wound-
[Juliet appears above at a window.
She speaks, yet she says nothing. What of that!
I am too bold; 'tis not to me she speaks:
Rom. She speaks.
Oh, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
Jul. O Romeo, Romeo- wherefore art thou Romeo!
Rom. Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at
Jul. "Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Macb. Whence is that knocking!
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
The multitudinous seas incarnardine,
Rom. I take thee at thy word:
Jul. What man art thou, that thus, bescreen'd in night,