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yet a young man, and there led a life of the most diversified literary activity, varied with bouts of the wildest debauchery. He was a writer of satirical and controversial pamphlets, of romantic tales, of elegiac, pastoral, and lyric poetry, a translator, a dramatist,-in fact, a literary jackof-all-trades. The society in which he lived consisted in part of “University Wits” like himself, in part of the low men and women who haunted the vile taverns of the slums to prey upon such as he. “A world of blackguardism dashed with genius,” it has been called, and the phrase is fit enough. Among such surroundings Greene lived, and among them he died, bankrupt in body and estate, the victim of his own ill-governed passions.
In conjunction with such men as this Shaksperé began his life-work. His first dramatic efforts were made in revising the plays of his predecessors with a view to their revival on the stage; and in Titus Andronicus and the first part of Henry VI. we have examples of this kind of work. The next step was probably the production of plays in collaboration with other writers, and to this practice, which he almost abandoned in the middle of his career, he seems to have returned in his later years in such plays as Pericles, Henry VIII., and The Two Noble Kinsmen. How far Shakspere was of this dissolute set to which his fellow-workers belonged it is impossible to tell; but we know that by and by, as he gained mastery
over his art and became more and more independent in work and in fortune, he left this sordid life behind him, and aimed at the establishment of a family. In half a dozen years from the time of Greene's attack, he had reached the top of his profession, was a sharer in the profits of his theatre, and had invested his savings in land and houses in his native town. The youth who ten years before had left Stratford poor and burdened with a wife and three children, had now become “William Shakspere, Gentleman.”
During these years Shakspere's literary work was not confined to the drama, which, indeed, was then hardly regarded as a form of literature. In 1593 he published Venus and Adonis, and in
1594, Lucrece, two poems belonging to a class of "highly wrought versions of classical legends which was then fashionable, and of which Marlowe's Hero and Leander is the other most famous example. For several years, too, in the last decade of the sixteenth century and the first few years of the seventeenth, he was composing a series of sonnets on love and friendship, in this, too, following a literary fashion of the time. Yet these give us more in the way of self-revelation than anything else he has left. From them we seem to be able to catch glimpses of his attitude towards his profession, and one of them makes us realize so vividly his perception of the tragic risks of his surroundings that it is set down here:
O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds, That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds. Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renewed; Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection; No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance to correct correction. Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure yo
Even that your pity is enough to cure me. It does not seem possible to avoid the inferences lying on the surface in this poem; but whatever confessions it may imply, it serves, too, to give us the assurance that Shakspere did not easily and blindly yield to the temptations that surrounded the life of the theatre of his time.
For the theatre of Shakspere’s day was no very reputable affair. Externally it appears to us now The Eliza a very meagre apparatus-almost bethan . absurdly so, when we reflect on the Theatre.
grandeur of the compositions for which it gave occasion. A roughly circular wooden building, with a roof over the stage and over the galleries, but with the pit often open to the wind and weather, having very little scenery and practically no attempt at the achievement of stage-illusion,—such was the scene of the production of some of the greatest
imaginative works the world has seen. Nor was the audience very choice. The more respectable citizens of Puritan tendencies frowned on the theatre to such an extent that it was found advisable to place the buildings outside the city limits, and beyond the jurisdiction of the city fathers. The pit was thronged with a motley crowd of petty tradesfolk and the dregs of the town; the gallants of the time sat on stools on the stage, “drinking” tobacco and chaffing the actors, their efforts divided between displaying their wit and their clothes. The actors were all male, the women's parts being taken by boys whose voices were not yet broken. The costumes, frequently the cast-off clothing of the gallants, were often gorgeous, but seldom appropriate. Thus the success of the performance had to depend upon the excellence of the piece, the merit of the acting, and the readiness of appreciation of the audience.
This last point, however, was more to be relied upon than a modern student might imagine. Despite their dubious respectability, the Elizabethan play-goers must have been of wonderfully keen intellectual susceptibilities. For clever feats in the manipulation of language, for puns, happy alliterations, delicate melody such as we find in the lyrics of the times, for the thunder of the pentameter as it rolls through the tragedies of Marlowe, they had a practiced taste. Qualities which we now expect to appeal chiefly to the
closet student were keenly relished by men who could neither read nor write, and who at the same time enjoyed jokes which would be too broad, and stage massacres which would be too bloody, for a modern audience of sensibilities much less acute in these other directions. In it all we see how far-reaching was the wonderful vitality of the time.
This audience Shakspere knew thoroughly, and in his writing he showed himself always, with Shakspere's whatever growth in permanent arDramatic tistic qualities, the clever man of
pmont. business with his eye on the market. Thus we can trace throughout the course of his production two main lines: one indicative of the changes of theatrical fashions; one, more subtle and more liable to misinterpretation, showing the progress of his own spiritual growth.
The chronology of Shakspere's plays will probably never be made out with complete assurance, but already much has been ascertained (1) from external evidence such as dates of acting or publication, and allusions in other works, and (2) from internal evidence such as references to books or events of known date, and considerations of metre and language. The following arrangement represents what is probably an approximately correct view of the chronological sequence of his works, though scholars are far from being agreed upon many of the details.