صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

heralded by the landing of Columbus on American soil, and its actual advent came with Cortez. Three hundred and fifty years have rolled away since that event, and the disappearance of the Indians has been steadily progressing. The end is a mere question of time, and no one can seriously doubt that in less than a century it will be a matter of difficulty to find a pure-blooded "Indian” on this continent. Will this be a matter for regret ? Certainly not, for a more useless race of men never existed, and this characteristic is sufficient of itself to refute the theory of their descent from the highly-gifted Hebrews, who could boast of sages, prophets, warriors, poets. musicians, and skilled artisans, when the ancestors of the civilized nations of Europe were naked savages.

ART. II.—1. A Short View of Tragedy; its original excel

lency and corruption : with some reflections on Shakespeare and other Practitioners for the Stage. RYMER. 1693.

2. The Ground of Criticism in Tragedy. DRYDEN. 1679. 3. Enquiry into the Learning of Shakespeare. P. WHALLEY.

1748. 4. Letters on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare. J.

DENNIS. 1712.

From the twilight of English literary history loom four colossal and tremendous spectres, typically masters in the drama, in lyric poetry, in theology, and in philosophy-Shakespeare, Spencer, Hooker, and Bacon. Not only did these four men foreshadow the future of English literature and English scientific and religious thought, they determined the futureits peculiar bent, its literary and philosophical currents—being themselves determined by the century they represented

Four Atlases they, who carried four worlds of thought on their shoulders.

The popular conception of Shakespeare, the least known biographically of the four colossi, the best known intellectually, is that of a tremendous spider-brain cunningly ensconced in a human head, and, without progress, with little culture and less education, instinctively spinning, from abundant and abnormal inner consciousness, wierd webs of drama and poetry. “He was," say they, “a man indifferent to reputation and to the opinion of his contemporaries, producing, because it was in him and he must-a sun shooting athwart the sky at midnight.”

Ignoring accumulated evidences, documents in the record office, and other data, these panegyrists and panderers to a popular ideal paint a poet who, lacking both in culture and in opportunities for observation, by virtue of an almost supernatural insight, mastered all problems, solved all difficulties, penetrated all mysteries. “He owed nothing to art and learning,” says the Shakespeare-mad. “Natural inspiration," runs the myth " is responsible for those splendid masterpieces of of in vention in which critics have professed to find vestiges of the deepest philosophy, of the most acute biological investigation, of perfect insight into the laws of poetry in all its forms, of exact study of nature and of man."

How far this is true will appear presently, for it is proposed, in this paper, to apply the ordinary rules of induction to the literary biography of the creator of Hamlet—himself the Hamlet of his field, every monad-man having a dash of the Hamlet about him—and so to arrange the known and leading facts of his life as to indicate that evolution and progress were ruling elements in his career—that he grew-developed—was what he was partly by life-dream and native bent, partly by operation of the surrounding formative forces.

The state of scientific and philosophical thought incident to that age is summed up in the one word, Bacon—who did but cast and give form to the intense and intensely free speculative spirit of the century. The floating, somewhat empirical, yet popularly accepted speculative notions engendered by a century of full consciousness, such as the sixteenth was, are, however, seldom recorded by its reputed thinkers, but enter almost unlimitedly into its poetry and drama, for the primary reason that they minister directly to the vividness and realism of fiction. Jenner's happy medical hit-vaccination—was only the scientific form of a popular notion. Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood had probably a similar springhead. These masses of floating philosophic nebulæ, just in the dawn of formulation, still half myth, Shakespeare caught in that wondrous camera of his. In him the groping, instinctive, actinescent consciousness of his public was rendered self-conscious.

The thought-drift of the sixteenth century. is shored and stored in his dramas of the middle and later periods.

Born and bred in a country town-perhaps half a century behind London in civilization-where men by the ingle-nook still told stories of elves and goblins, of the battlefields of Tewksbury, of the terrible encounter when sad Severn hid its head with affright, of meek Henry the Sixth, of vindictive and basilisk Gloucester, of gracious Edward, of detested and detestable De la Pole. Shakespeare was popular with his public because he represented and interpreted his public, while university-cultured Peele, Greene, Marlowe, and Lilly, who drew less upon popular tradition for materials, and took less heed of traditional estimates, were foreign to the multitude. Being of the crowd, he drew the crowd. They, apparently more inventive in plot, were less realistic in execution.

But these men and their works had a genetic relation to Shakespeare and his, which is quite understated by modern writers. They were Shakespeare-formatives. It was they who dipped in the classical, settled the style and type of the Elizabethan drama, and trimmed it into external symmetry. They had developed to a considerable extent the poetic capacity of the English language before he appeared on the stage. To them was due the creation of that majestic blank verse which Shakespeare so deftly used, the full and flexible rhythm of which Pope afterwards converted into rhymed mathematics, but which has never since lost its hold on English composition. They manufactured the tools with which he carved his dramas from the ivory bone of crude observation, when they rescued poetry and the drama from Latin. In short, from the disjointed patois of the herd they evolved what may be termed structural English, and did thus a work which he, lacking somewhat in philological culture, must inadequately have done for himself. More than this, they laid the corner-stone of the new dramatic structure in breaking loose from the Moralities which had satisfied the dramatic taste of the age preceding, and from the dumb-show drama--parent of the modern spec-. tacular--which once delighted the virgin queen at Kenilworth, and had so often at Windsor. Greene, in his “Never too Late," has preserved a few titles of these once popular Moralities. Very

Very odd now, it would seem, to see titles on a play-bill like the “ Twelve Labors of Hercules,” the “Highway to Heaven,” the “Moral of Man's Wit,” and the “Dialogue of Dives," nor are the dramas of the myriad-minded as far removed from those of his forerunners as are theirs from the mysteries and moralities that preceded them.

The age was one of dramatic transformation in England, quite analogous to that which developed Dumas and Hugo in France. Between it and the background lethargy of the Middle Ages intervenes a stormy and self-assertive period of about one hundred and fifty years; a period of national quickening, of rcalism, of struggle for liberty. The new age in England, as afterwards in France—the age of quickening, as it may be termed-gives rise to new art-impulses in harmony with itself; and, within the brief interval of a generation, a sudden and complete transformation of the drama results : a transformation presented by no other period in English history, in which the regularity of form, the didactic sermons, and philosophical musings of the mysteries and moralities, lose all hold on the popular fancy.

This complete transformation Shakespeare represents in its highest type, but he no more originated it than Dumas and Hugo originated the Romantic type in France. It was in the air, in the consciousness of the people, waiting to find a tongue. Indeed, it is curious that it has occurred to nobody to term

this type of drama the Tudor Gothic—for it represents the same metamorphosis in letters that the so-called Tudor Gothic represents in building.

When Shakespeare appeared in London, then, the stage was passing through the shaking and sifting process of a revolution. He did not set it on foot. No proof is there that he controlled or even comprehended it. He simply, with a dramatic instinct akin to the intuitive, interpreted and embodied it in creations, from which, were all formal history of the Elizabethan age to be smitten from the record, a pretty correct intellectual aud moral map of it might be reconstructed. The century was Bacon and Shakespeare producing: the one built up a Tudor Gothic structure in philosophy, the other in drama, working hard and systematically; somewhat the same did Spencer in lyric poetry. The trouble is that the dramatist has been mistaken for the century, the work of which he reflected. The age was reason for the dramatist, not the dramatist for the age. The exact year of Shakespeare's advent in London cannot now be ascertained; the motive he had for going there is equally uncertain. A story Walker attributed to the parish clerk of Stratford, in 1693, states that he was first taken into the playhouse as a servitor, and by this means had an opportunity to be what he proved afterwards. There is a myth current also, to the effect that, pricked with a twilight sense of his mission, he ran away to London, leaving his family-consisting of his wife, a daughter named Susannah, and twins respectively named Hammet and Judith-dependent on the occasional contributions of benevolent townsmen; but it is far more likely that he was taken to London by the Cloptons or the Catesbys, who hated the Lucys as cordially as he did, and who were impressed with his poetic talent, or that he joined a strolling company of actors at Stratford, and thus worked his way to the great culture centre of England. To say the least, Rowe's myth, repeated by so many biographers, has no support in facts. “ He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill-company,” says Rowe; “and amongst them some that made a frequent practice of deerstealing, engaged him more than once in robbing a park that

« السابقةمتابعة »