« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CAMBRIDGE ANTHOLOGIES are intended for the general reader, who, whilst he is familiar Mal
with the greater masters, has little leisure, and, it may be, little inclination, to become a professed student of literature. They seek to provide such a reader with first-hand knowledge of the literary atmosphere and social conditions in which these masterpieces were created. At present, this need is satisfied only by reference to histories of literature, which have too many preoccupations to deal justly with it, or to authorities even less accessible.
It is the object of this series to let each age speak for itself, and to give coherence and prominence to what seem to be its significant features. Thus, the thought, temper, manners and activities of the period of Shakespeare, which is the theme of the first two volumes, are exemplified in selections from contemporary poetry and prose. The former illustrates the literary interests, models and aspirations, as well as the lyrical and rhetorical quality of the time; the latter gives a picture of the Elizabethan Englishman, painted by himself, in pursuit of his business, sport or roguery.
Volumes dealing in like manner with other periods will follow, and the series will include a history of English literature for general readers.
REFERENCE to the table of contents will acquaint the reader with the plan of this book. That meagre framework of facts which we call the life of Shakespeare has been made its basis, and the various extracts are so arranged as to illustrate the social atmosphere which surrounded our greatest poet at different periods of his career. The country lay at his door in infancy, with its shepherds and milkmaids, its witches and fairies. Stratford had its grammar-school, which he probably attended, and, though he did not proceed to college nor as far as we know ever leave the kingdom, sections on the university and travel have been added to complete the picture of an average Elizabethan gentleman's education. With the youth of twenty-two we then journey to London, noting on our way the vileness of the roads and the comfort of the inns, we see the chief sights of the capital, we stand amazed at its turbulence and gaiety, we catch glimpses of the temptations that beckoned the future dramatist to enter that "primrose way to the everlasting bonfire" down which his predecessors Marlowe and Greene had wandered to their undoing. Next we pass to the conditions which surrounded Shakespeare as author, actor and playwright, concluding this stage of our itinerary with a visit to the court, which was the constant supporter of the theatre against a puritanical
civic government and the true centre, though not always the kindly patron, of all literary activity. In the last three chapters of the book we follow the dramatist, now crowned with fame and prosperity, to the retirement at Stratford which terminated with his death. William Harrison and others give our fancy the entry to his house, his garden and his orchard, and even allow us to picture him at his table or in his bedchamber. Moreover since this was the period when Shakespeare's dramatic genius played around the landrogues and water-rogues which add so much that is splendid and picturesque to Elizabethan life, it seemed proper to insert here chapters on vagabondage and seafaring. Finally the varied activities of the age are summarized in a charming and little known passage from Breton, giving an account of a single Elizabethan day. It will be noticed that from this list of topics one, the greatest and to Englishmen of that day the most engrossing of all, has been omitted-I mean religion. The omission, it might be said, is really Shakespeare's. Nothing is more remarkable in his work than its silence concerning the religious life and violent theological controversy of his time. And since this collection professes to deal with Shakespeare's England and not Elizabeth's, it is at least excusable if religion finds no special treatment in it. In point of fact the subject deserves a prose anthology to itself, and I hope some day to undertake one.
With this striking exception, the life of sixteenth century England pulses through all Shakespeare's plays, not excluding those whose scene is laid in Italy or ancient Rome. This book, therefore, is intended as a commentary on the work as well as the life of Shakespeare. The section on roads, for example,