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English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage;' and he goes on to enumerate some of his tragedies and comedies. Omitting a few intervening facts relating to his family, the next thing of importance concerning the poet is his removal to Stratford about 1604. Here, occupying himself in agricultural pursuits, he lived in retirement until his death, which took place on the 23rd of April, 1616, at the age of 52. The record of his life, it will be seen, affords little or no information with regard to his personal character. But there is no reason to suppose that it was not in consonance with his literary eminence. Behind that 'livelong monument' which he has built for himself, to use Milton's words, 'in our wonder and astonishment,' the placid figure of the poet may be discerned dimly,—a kindly, noble, and equal-minded man. 'I lov'd him,' says his rival, Ben Jonson, and doe honour his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any. Hee was (indeed) honest, and of an open, and free nature: had an excellent phantsie; brave notions, and gentle expressions wherein hee flow'd with that facility, that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd. . But hee redeemed his vices [i.e. his literary vices], with his vertues. There was ever more in him to be praysed, then to be pardoned.'*
As a detailed list of the dramatic works of Shakespeare, with the approximate dates of their production, is given in the note to this chapter, it is not necessary to particularise them here. It may be stated, however, that QUARTO editions of the following plays were issued during the author's lifetime:-(1) Richard II., 1597; (2) Richard III., 1597; (3) Romeo and Juliet, 1597; (4) Love's Labour's Lost, 1598; (5) Henry IV., Part 1, 1599; (6) Henry IV., Part 2, 1600; (7) Much Ado About Nothing, 1600; (8) Henry V., 1600; (9) The Merchant of Venice, 1600; (10) Titus Andronicus, 1600; (11) Midsummer Night's Dream, 1600; (12) The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1602; (13) Hamlet, 1603; (14) King Lear, 1608; (15) Troilus and Cressida, 1609; and (16) Pericles, 1611. In 1622,
Othello was published; and in 1623 appeared the first complete FOLIO edition of the author's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published according to the True Originall Copies, which included all the foregoing plays (with the exception of Pericles) and twenty others. The collectors were John Heminge and Henry Condell, Shakespeare's fellow-actors and co-partners in the Globe Theatre; the printers were Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount, and the volume contained a portrait by Droeshout, with lines by
*Timber: De Shakespeare nostrat. 1641.
† See Appendix C; The Plays of Shakespeare.
Ben Jonson. The 'putters forth' claimed to have used the 'true originall copies,' but it is more than probable that their real sources were the above-mentioned quartos, or imperfect transcripts of the author's MSS. A second folio edition, memorable as containing Milton's first published English poem (see p. 82, s. 57), followed in 1632; and a third in 1664, to which the seven following plays were added:-(1) Pericles, Prince of Tyre; (2) The London Prodigall; (3) The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell; (4) Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham; (5) The Puritan Widow; (6) A York-shire Tragedy; and (7) The Tragedy of Locrine. Of these the first alone has been retained. The earliest annotated Edition of Shakespeare's plays was that of Nicholas Rowe, 1709-10. Since that date commentators have been innumerable.
Of Shakespeare's minor works, two have already been mentioned (see p. 63, s. 40). To the poems of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece must be added the collection entitled The Passionate Pilgrime, 1599, and the 'sugred sonnets' referred to by Meres, 1609. Beyond recording the opinion of Mr. Staunton 'that although these [lastmentioned] poems are written in the poet's own name, and are, apparently, grounded on actual incidents in his career, they are, for the most part, if not wholly, poetical fictions,' we cannot touch upon the vexed question of their intention or the person to whom they were addressed. For those curious upon this point, ample suggestion will be found in the works of Messrs. Brown, Boaden, Massey, and others.
To select a suitable testimony to Shakespeare's genius is far more difficult than to find one. His prime and all-inclusive characteristic was the perfection of his imaginative faculty :-' He was of imagination all compact,' as he says of his own poet. He had a complete imagination-in this his genius lay,' says M. Taine; and the definition might content us. But a few words at hand may be quoted, because they carry this idea a little further. His great merit is, that he had no peculiar or prominent merit. His mind was so well constituted, so justly and admirably balanced, that it had nothing in excess. It was the harmonious combination, the well-adjusted powers, aiding and answering to each other, as occasion required, that produced bis completeness, and constituted the secret of his great intellectual strength.' '*
As regards his work (we here borrow the words of a master of literary style), 'In the gravest sense it may be affirmed of Shakespeare, that he is among the modern luxuries of life; that life, in
* Memoir of Jonson, by Barry Cornwall, in Moxon's Edn. 1842, p. xxxv.
fact, is a new thing, and one more to be coveted, since Shakespeare has extended the domains of human consciousness, and pushed its dark frontiers into regions not so much as dimly descried or even suspected before his time, far less illuminated (as now they are) by beauty and tropical luxuriance of life. . . . In Shakespeare all is presented in the concrete; that is to say, not brought forward in relief, or by some effort of an anatomical artist, but embodied and imbedded, so to speak, as by the force of a creative nature, in the complex system of a human life; a life in which all the elements move and play simultaneously, and with something more than mere simultaneity or co-existence, acting and re-acting each upon the other,―nay, even acting by each other and through each other. In Shakespeare's characters is felt for ever a real organic life, where each is for the whole and in the whole, and where the whole is for each and in each. They only are real incarnations . . . . From his works alone might be gathered a golden bead-roll of thoughts the deepest, subtlest, most pathetic, and yet most catholic and universally intelligible; the most characteristic, also, and appropriate to the particular person, the situation, and the case; yet, at the same time, applicable to the circumstances of every human being, under all the accidents of life, and all vicissitudes of fortune.'*
41. The Contemporaries of Shakespeare.—The dramatist with whom we propose to head this class is generally admitted to hold the second place in the Elizabethan School. If Shakespeare had little learning, his contemporary, Ben Jonson (1574– 1637), was perhaps unwieldily equipped with erudition, although— to use Mr. Campbell's figure-it does not impair his activity. Expanding this, M. Taine compares him to 'the war elephants which used to bear towers, men, weapons, machines, on their backs, and ran as swiftly under the freight as a nimble steed.' Jonson, like the scholar he was, sought his models among the ancients, and endeavoured to construct his pieces in accordance with classical precepts. Unfortunately, it is the defect of Sejanus, 1603, and Cataline, 1611, that these labored and understanding works' can claim no loftier praise than that of being excellent mosaic. Upon his Comedies of Manners and Character (or rather characteristics-for he does not so much depict character as personify abstract qualities), † upon Every Man in his Humour, Volpone, The Silent Woman, and the Alchemist, his reputation principally rests. Nevertheless, in Cynthia's Revels and other Masques (of which class of composition De Quincey, Works, 1862-3, xv. 71, 72, 82. + Hallam, Taine.
he has been called the creator), in the beautiful pastoral of the Sad Shepherd, and in numerous exquisite lyrics, he exhibits a delicate vein of poetry distinct from, and of a higher rank than classic reproduction or the portraiture of humours. From the literary notebook which he quaintly entitled Timber; or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, a quotation has already been made (see p. 64, s. 40). His life was a chequered one. He began as a bricklayer,-turned soldier, actor, and dramatist successively,-became laureate and pensioner under James and Charles, died poor, like most of his brethren, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, under the simple epitaph, 'O rare Ben Jonson!' cut-so runs the story-at the instance and charges of a passer-by.
After Ben Jonson, the leading contemporaries of Shakespeare are Middleton, Marston, Chapman, Heywood, and Dekker, who began to write plays in the latter years of Elizabeth; and Webster, Ford, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, who belong more exclusively to the reign of James. The Witch is the chief work of Thomas Middleton (d. 1627), but it probably owes its vitality more to its alleged affinity to Macbeth than to any intrinsic merit of its own. Eight plays are assigned to John Marston (xvii. cent.), a collaborator of Jonson and Chapman; but The Scourge of Villainy―a collection of vigorous ‘Juvenalian Satires'-shows him to most advantage. George Chapman (1557-1634), who, with Marston and Jonson, wrote the lively comedy of Eastward Hoe! (said by Hazlitt to contain the first idea of Hogarth's Idle and Industrious Apprentices'), is better remembered in connection with the translations already mentioned (see p. 57, s. 36). His chief tragedy is Bussy d'Ambois. Of the pieces of untiring, indefatigable Thomas Heywood (xvi. and xvii. cent.), who had, by his own showing, an ‘entire hand, or at least a main finger,' in some two hundred plays-whom Charles Lamb styles' a sort of prose Shakespeare,' and Professor Craik, 'a poetical Richardson,'-the Woman Killed with Kindness alone endures; while Thomas Dekker (d. 1639), a writer of facile and pleasing fancy, is chiefly remembered by Fortunatus, or the Wishing-Cap and The Honest Whore, written with Middleton (v. supra). In his Satiro-mastix, Dekker entered the lists with Jonson, as one of the poets attacked in the latter's Poetaster; and he was also the author of The Seven Deadly Sins of London, 1606, and The Gull's Horn-book, 1609, the latter a curious repertory of seventeenth-century middle-class manners, which is said to have assisted Scott in the Fortunes of Nigel.
The remaining dramatists-i.e. those assigned above more exclusively
to James' reign-rose to a far greater height than their contemporaries of the preceding paragraph. In his own walk, the sombre, sepulchre-haunting genius of John Webster (XVIIth century) has not an equal; and The Duchess of Malfy and Vittoria Corombona afford ample evidence of that 'power of moving a horror skilfully-of touching a soul to the quick' * with which he could inform and energise the 'perilous incidents' of Italian crime. John Ford (1586-1639), author, with Dekker and another, of the Witch of Edmonton, had a mind of a cast as melancholy as Webster's, and in The Brother and Sister, the Broken Heart, and Love's Sacrifice, worked upon themes as gloomy and painful. But he had a pathos especially his own, and a verse singularly fluent and beautiful. The colleagues Francis Beaumont (1586-1616) and John Fletcher (1576-1625)—the first a lawyer's, the second a bishop's son, deserve, perhaps, the next place to Jonson. Taking them all in all, they have left us the richest and most magnificent drama we possess after that of Shakespeare; the most instinct and alive both with the true dramatic spirit, and with that of general poetic beauty and power, [and] the most brilliantly lighted up with wit and hu't It is difficult to make a selection from their fiftytwo plays:-The Maid's Tragedy, Bonduca, The Two Noble Kinsmen (in the composition of which last tradition has associated Shakespeare); and Fletcher's comedies of Rule a Wife and have a Wife, The Spanish Curate, Beggar's Bush, and the Elder Brother, are some of the best known of their productions. To Fletcher's pen alone belongs also the pastoral of the Faithful Shepherdess, by which Jonson's Sad Shepherd was excelled and Milton's Comus anticipated. After Beaumont and Fletcher comes Philip Massinger (1584-1640), an eloquent and musical writer. For tragic power, Hallam ranks him next to Shakespeare, and in the higher comedy near to Jonson; but he was deficient in wit. His biographer, Hartley Coleridge, has defined his excellence as consisting in the expression of virtue in its probation, its strife, [and] its victory.' His chief plays are The Virgin Martyr (with Dekker), and the comedies of The City Madam, and A New Way to Pay Old Debts,-the last conspicuous for its popular character of Sir Giles Overreach.' Massinger closes our list of the Elizabethan dramatists for the present.§ *Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of Shakespeare, 1854, i. 196.
+ Craik, Eng. Lit. and Language, 1871, i. 603.
The beautiful song of Roses, their sharp spines being gone, in this play, is certainly Shakespearean.
§ For Lodge, Chettle, Taylor, Wilson, Rowley, Munday, Cyril Tourneur, and some other playwrights of this period (1550-1625), the reader is referred to the Dictionary Appendix (E).