« ForrigeFortsæt »
with a Million of Repentance. He characterises him as
an upstart crow, beautified in our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shakes-scene in a country.” But this passage affords proof that at this time Shakspere was a successful man, and not only a poet and actor, but a man of business. He had undertaken the regulation of the theatre, and was absolute in more than one department.
In the year in which he was engaged on The Second Part of IIenry VI., Shakspere caused his Venus and Adonis to be published, which poem, in the dedication, he calls, as we have said, “the first heir of his invention.” Probably the poem had been composed at Stratford, previous to his Hegira; and we may see in it how Shakspere had exerted and trained his poetical faculty before he aimed at dramatic production. The poem soon acquired popularity; for next year, 1594, it arrived at a second edition; and the poem of Lucrece was also published. The same year the Globe Theatre was built.
Shakspere was now, it is evident, recognised at least as a poet; and in 1595 we find Spenser expressing himself more reconciled with Shakspere's having forsaken Thalia for a more dolorous muse. In his poem, Colin Clout's come again, he writes:
" And there, though last not least, is Ætion;
159 His name, too, now occurs with that of other poets in other publications, and particularly in a University play, called The Returne from Pernassus, in which allusion is made to some quarrel between Ben Jonson and Shakspere. Our poet is said to have had not only the best of the contest, but the right on his side. A greater trouble, however, than a quarrel with a brother artist befel him in 1596—that of the death of his son Hamnet, who died on August 11th.
The reputation of Venus and Adonis increased, for in the same year a third edition was published.
It had evidently been the ambition of Shakspere to entitle himself to the rank and title of a gentleman; and at this time it would appear that he was desirous of authoritatively assuming both. He seems, therefore, to have prompted his father to apply to the Heralds' College for a grant of arms; and a draft of such grant (1596) is still preserved in the College of Arms.
The tragedy of King John is admirable in structure, and capable of being placed on the stage without alteration. It is, indeed, almost as classical for its regularity, as it is for the genius displayed in it. We may judge from it not only the merits of Shakspere, but those of the playwrights capable of assisting him. The art of historical tragedy, when that of The Troublesome Raigne was published, had far advanced. Shakspere found the skeleton complete ; he clothed it with flesh and blood, and added to it beauty. He quickened the body with a soul, and inspired it with an idea ; but its mechanism had already been mastered by inferior minds. Our poet was an artist among artists. He could measure himself by others. If among the giants of that elder time he seems a giant, we may judge more accurately of his actual stature than if we measured him by himself alone. But not only may he be compared with his predecessors and contemporaries advantageously, but in many points he presents a perfect contrast to them. It is, for instance, as a politician and philosopher that Shakspere shines in this magnificent tragedy; as the latter, manifesting an equality with Bacon—in certain aspects, indeed, a superiority. In the transcendental elements of metaphysical science he was far in advance of the learned chancellor, and anticipated the most important discoveries of modern thinkers. And he was all this without ostentation : bearing, in the garden of his mind, philosophy and poetry as naturally as the tree bears fruit; and improving as gradually in power and abundance, as, in more earthly gardens, the most excellent fruit-trees may be made to do, by the aid of cultivation, and the application of diligence and skill.
Fancy and Memory—“The Merchant of Venice”—The characters of
Shylock and Portia —“Midsummer-Night's Dream” - Shakspere's theory of poetic creation.
I SEEM to see clearly that with Richard III. and King John Shakspere's dramatic education was completed. He had now only to apply the results. In the first instance he had exercised his Imagination, which, in his elementary and impulsive period, was naturally predominant, and, it may be added, somewhat self-nourished. As yet the material in which to embody his teeming ideas was deficient. He was, however, not wanting in such classical learning as he had leisure to attain; and had made excursions into the more popular pleasure-grounds of romance, which offered to him greater freedom of movement, and permitted him to reincarnate in novel forms old feelings, old sentiments, and old ideas. Even his earlier, more mechanical works, therefore, have a flexibility of form, not attainable by minds exclusively cultivated in classical studies. It is clear, too, that he consulted men as well as books; and sought to make use of his personal experiences, as well as of his derived learning, in his successive compositions. And thus there grew up within himself and them an individual life, which became more and more distinctive at every
step that he took in his progress as an artist, and marked his improvement as a dramatic poet.
Imagination, however, works rather monotonously, unless fed from without at a variety of sources. It needs the means and the results of association, for the formation of a diction ample enough to express adequately the infinite ideas which, though few in themselves, originate a greater number of conceptions that are ready at once to emerge in a really countless multitude of sensible intuitions. Appeal, therefore, must be made to two faculties of the mind, nearly allied, Fancy and Memory. Of these it has been rightly said, that Fancy is merely memory absolved from the order of time; whereas Memory proper is exclusively chronological. Shakspere, in his second period of development, consulted these with diligence and judgment, and has left the results. Memory brought for him from the old chronicles those historical events which he has immortalised in so many of his dramas; and Fancy provided him with materials which he might combine as he pleased, in any order of position or succession, either according to his judgment or caprice.
Of the latter we have an instance in his charming comedy, The Merchant of Venice. Two stories, united with singular skill, form the basis of this production. Both stories are to be found among the Gesta Romanorum, and that of the Jew in the Pecorone of Giovanni Fiorentino. Shakspere may also