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look at life dispassionately, expressing the judgment of the intellect in polished verse. It is the glory of Shakspere that passion and sanity are delicately balanced; his sanity enabled him to see the “God of things as they are," and his passion penetrated into the deepest sorrows and rose to the highest aspirations of the human heart. This combination of power is rarer than the chastity and clearness of his diction, finer than the variety of his melodious verse, greater than the reach of his imagination.
The Poems and Sonnets. - The Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece, together with the Sonnets, comprise the nondramatic writings of this poet. Of course, there are songs in the plays and a few disputed fragments, but those named are the ones worth considering. The Venus and Adonis was written, it
. is presumed from his dedication to the Earl of Southampton, where he calls it the "first heir of my invention," before any of his dramatic works. It was printed when the poet was twentynine, by Richard Field, and contains the author's name on the title page. The story is a classical tale of love, told by the poet at times in a manner objectionable to present-day taste. The poem shows the influence of Ovid; its charm consists in its power of description, its “ beautiful imagery and metrical sweetness.” A year later appeared the Rape of Lucrece, a poem more mature in dignity and thought. It is significant that of his early work these two publications brought the most approval from his contemporaries. It was fashionable for gentlemanly courtiers to write
poems; the common playwright was an associate of actors and strolling companies. During the eight years that followed its appearance no fewer than seven editions of the Venus and Adonis were printed.
Of the sonnets there are 154. They first appeared in complete form in 1609, having been printed by Thomas Thorpe, without Shakspere's consent. We do not know whether the arrangement or sequence is Shakspere's or Thorpe's. The first sequence of 126 poems celebrates the affection of an elder for a younger man; the remaining sonnets seem to be addressed to or written about a woman of ill-omen, the dark lady of the sonnets.”
Like everything else connected with Shakspere, the sonnets have been the subject of endless controversy. To whom were they dedicated? Who is the young man of the first series? Who is the dark lady? When were they written? Are the sonnets a revelation of the inner life of the poet, or is he only amusing himself with a fashionable form of composition? These are some of the questions that have never been definitely answered.
Professor Raleigh, in writing of the attempts to unravel the mystery of the sonnets, has wittily said:
“There are many footprints around the cave of this mystery, none of them pointing in the outward direction. No one has ever attempted a solution of the problem without leaving a book behind him; and the shrine of Shakespeare is thickly hung with these votive offerings, all withered and dusty. No one has ever sought to gain access to this heaven of poetry by a privileged and secret stairway, without being blown ten thousand leagues awry, over the backside of the world, into the Paradise of Fools.”
We must not forget that the sonnets themselves are the most valuable possession, not the mystery connected with them. They, as might be expected, are of uneven quality. The best are among the finest in the realm of literature. Where can be found nobler expression on friendship and love than in these two sonnets?
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Or bends with the remover to remove :
If this be error and upon me proved,
Classification of the Plays. — The plays are usually divided into Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories. This is not a strictly logical division, for a history may have the nature of a comedy or of a tragedy; Richard III is fiercely tragic, while in i Henry IV the comic element predominates. Including only the principal plays, we have:
Comedies. — Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
Tragedies. - Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
Histories. - Richard III, Henry V, Julius Caesar, I and 2 Henry IV.
The student of literature should have a reading acquaintance with all these plays; everybody ought to be familiar with The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othetio, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. The ten English historical plays, as a rule, are not so widely read, but no one who wishes to get a vivid impression of English history in the times of the wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster can afford to miss Shakspere's historical dramas."Shakspere has probably done more,” says Hudson, “to diffuse a knowledge of English history than all the historians together."Schlegel, the German critic, writes of them as “This mirror of kings should be the manual of princes."
The plays should be read in this order: King John,
Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1, 2, and 3 Henry VI, Richard III, and Henry VIII.
The Order of Composition. — When we study the poetry of Wordsworth or the fiction of George Eliot, we can trace the development of their minds by a study of the exact chronological order in which their writings appeared. With Shakspere we can do likewise, but not with the same assurance that we have our data correct. Shakspere never saw a complete edition of his plays, and when his friends, Heming and Condell, after the death of the dramatist, gathered into one volume thirty-six of the thirty-seven plays now attributed to him, they did not try to arrange the plays in the order in which they were written. However, by means of tests and facts and inferences, we have the approximate order, which at present is as follows: Love's Labour's Lost
1590-1591 The Comedy of Errors
1590-1591 2 and 3 Henry VI
1590-1592 Richard III.
1592-1593 ✓ Two Gentlemen of Verona
1592 King John
1592-1593 Richard II
1593-1594 Titus Andronicus
1593-1594 V A Midsummer Night's Dream
1593-1595 ✓ Romeo and Juliet .
1591, revised 1597 The Merchant of Venice
1594-1596 The Taming of the Shrew
1596-1597 I Henry IV
1597 2 Henry IV
1598 Henry V..
1599 Merry Wives of Windsor
1599 Much Ado About Nothing
1599 As You Like It
1599-1600 Julius Caesar
1599-1601 ✓ Twelfth Night
1601 ✓ Troitus and Cressida
1602 All's Well That Ends Well
1602 ✓ Hamlet (two versions)
1602, 1603-1604 Measure for Measure
1603 Othello .
1604 King Lear
1605-1606 Antong and Cleopatra
1607-1608 Timon of Athens
1608 ✓ Coriolanus
1609 Gymbeline ..
1610 Y: The Winter's Tale
1610-1611 The Tempest V.
1611 King Henry viii.
1612-1613 External and Internal Evidence. - There are two kinds of evidence by which we determine the date of a play- external and internal. External evidence is any record or fact outside of the play itself; internal, such matter as can be found within the play. When Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, names plays such as Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice, along with ten more attributed to Shakspere, we have external evidence that all the named plays were written before 1598. So, too, when we find a play entered on the Stationers' Register in a certain year, we have external evidence. Internal evidence is of various kinds and degrees. In Henry V we have a familiar illustration of one kind of internal evidence, when in the prologue of the Fifth Act we read,
“Were now the general of our gracious empress,
we conclude that this must have been written in 1599, for Lord Essex went to Ireland in April and returned to England in September of that year. This date, of course, is not positively proved by this reference, but it is very likely the correct one. Familiar internal tests are the rhyme and the “end-stopped” tests. First, as to the rhyme test, we note that some plays have many rhyming lines, while others have very few. When an early play-one known to be written before 1598 — is compared with one written at a later time, we find that plays like Richard II, the Comedy of Errors, and Two Gentlemen of Verona have many more rhyming lines than plays like Macbeth and Hamlet. If one were to discover a new play by Shakspere, and