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The first of these groups contains three comedies of a distinctly experimental character, and a number of chronicle-histories, some of which, like the three parts of Henry VI., were almost certainly written in collaboration with other playwrights. The comedies are light, full of ingenious plays on words, and the verse is often rhymed. The first of them, at least, shows the influence of Lyly. The histories also betray a considerable delight in language for its own sake, and the Marlowesque blank verse, at its best eloquent and highly poetical, not infrequently becomes ranting, while the pause at the end of each line tends to become monotonous. No copy of Romeo and Juliet in its earliest form is known to be in existence, and the extent of Shakspere's share in Titus Andronicus is still debated.
The second period contains a group of comedies marked by brilliance in the dialogue; wholesomeness, capacity, and high spirits in the main characters, and a pervading feeling of good-humor. The histories contain a larger comic element than in the first period, and are no longer suggestive of Marlowe. Rhymes have become less frequent, and the blank verse has freed itself from the bondage of the end-stopped line.
The plays of the third period are tragedies, or comedies with a prevailing tragic tone. Shaks- · pere here turned his attention to those elements in life which produce perplexity and disaster, and
in this series of masterpieces we have his most magnificent achievement. His power of perfect adaptation of language to thought and feeling had now reached its height, and his verse had become thoroughly flexible without having lost strength.
In the fourth period Shakspere returned to comedy. These plays, written during his last years in London, are again romantic in subject and treatment, and technically seem to show the influence of the earlier successes of Beaumont and Fletcher. But in place of the high spirits which characterized the comedies of the earlier periods we have a placid optimism, and a recurrence of situations which are more ingenious than plausible, and which are marked externally by reunions and reconciliations and internally by repentance and forgiveness. The verse is singularly sweet and highly poetical; and the departure from the end-stopped line has now gone so far that we see clearly the beginnings of that tendency which went to such an extreme in some of Shakspere's successors that it at times became hard to distinguish the metre at all.
In Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII., Shakspere again worked in partnership, the collaborator being, in all probability, John Fletcher.
Nothing that we know of Shakspere’s life from external sources justifies us in saying, as has frequently been said, that the changes of mood in
his work from period to period corresponded to changes in the man Shakspere. As an artist he certainly seems to have viewed life now in this light, now in that; but it is worth noting that the period of his gloomiest plays coincides with the period of his greatest worldly prosperity. It has already been hinted, too, that much of his change of manner and subject was dictated by the variations of theatrical fashion and the example of successful contemporaries.
Throughout nearly the whole of these marvelously fertile years Shakspere seems to have stayed
in London; but from 1610 to 1612 Shakspore's
he was making Stratford more and
more his place of abode, and at the same time he was beginning to write less. After 1611 he wrote only in collaboration; and having spent about five years in peaceful retirement in the town from which he had set out a penniless youth, and to which he returned a man of reputation and fortune, he died on April 23, 1616. His only son, Hamnet, having died in boyhood, of his immediate family there survived him his wife and his two daughters, Susanna and Judith, both of whom were well married. He lies buried in the parish church of Stratford.
On July 26th, 1602, "a booke called the Revenge of Hamlett” was entered in the Station
. ers' Register, and in the following
year a Hamlet ascribed on the titlepage to Shakspere was published (Q). In 1604 a second Quarto appeared, “newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie.” A comparison of these two editions shows (1) that Q, is an attempt to present an earlier and much shorter form of the play; (2) that the text of Q1 is so corrupt as to force the inference that it was unauthorized and was printed probably from & manuscript concocted from notes taken at the theatre, possibly with the assistance of the written parts of one or two minor actors; (3) that Q, represents a version of the play revised and greatly enlarged. Thus it is not possible to give a single date of composition, but it may be said that Shakspere probably wrote his first version about 1601-2, and his second in 1603-4. This places it in the order of the tragedies immediately after Julius Caesar and before Othello and Macbeth, while the serious comedies of Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure are almost contemporary. It is the earliest of that tremendous