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found many rhyming lines, the presumption would be that it was one of the early plays. The “end-stopped” lines are those which come to a complete or partial pause at the end of the line. The lines about England which we have already quoted illustrate this early practice. When the poet had acquired greater mastery over the verse form, he varied his style by frequently carrying the meaning so that the pause occurs within the line instead of at the end. Examples can readily be found in Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, and the other later plays.
The best internal test is the thought test. By this is meant the maturity and vigor of thought found in the play. As the poet grew in years he grew in power. Even genius grows, and Shakspere is no exception. If we find a play in which the poet seems to play with an idea, to turn the thought into a variety of expressions, to indulge in the exuberant expression of fancy merely as a rhetorical feat, we may be sure that this is one of the early plays. As he advances in technique, in power to make his plot and characters conform to the demands of the stage, he also advances in his comprehensive insight into the heart of man and nature. He wastes no time in verbal conceits and rhetorical play. He condenses the twenty-eight lines on sleep in 2 Henry IV to the six lines in Macbeth, and gains by the condensation. It would be contrary to all the laws of psychology and the experience of man to assume that Shakspere began his dramatic career with The Tempest, and King Lear, and Hamlet, and ended with Love's Labour's Lost and Richard III.
The Four Periods. — The dramatist's writings have been divided into four groups, or periods. This is an arbitrary but helpful division in the study of the development of his art and thought. The First Period. — We might call this the Period of Experi
. mentation, for during this time Shakspere is trying his hand upon histories and comedies. He takes old plays and re-writes them, and invents comedies in which the fantastic and farcical element plays a large part. The period extends from the time he came to London to 1594 inclusive. The best plays of this
period are Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet. Richard III shows the influence of Marlowe, who was prone to portray life in excess. The inferior delineation of feminine character, the rhyming lines, the bombastic villainy of the hero, are marks of the youthful Shakspere. The subtle villainy of the complex Iago shows how far the dramatist had advanced in his interpretation of wickedness when thirteen or fourteen years later he wrote Othello. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a wonderful creation, and is worthy of the dramatist at any stage of his development. Romeo and Juliet is a passionate lyrical drama, the drama of adolescence. It could have been written only by a youth. These two plays may mark the transition from the first period of experimentation into the second period of fulfilment.
The Second Period. - The Period of Fulfilment may be given as a name for the second stage in the growth of Shakspere's art. It extends from 1595 to 1600. The plays that eminently characterize this period are the two parts of Henry IV, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It. In the King Henry plays we have the jolly Falstaff, as great in his way as Hamlet is in his. The one in comedy, the other in tragedy, Falstaff and Hamlet are the supreme achievement of the dramatist in the creation of character. The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It mark a great advance from the early Love's Labour's Lost and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Shylock and Portia, Rosalind and Touchstone are among the immortals. Nor has he grown only in the ability to portray varied human character; his ability to weave the various threads of his story into the single strand of plot unity is also apparent, although he has not yet attained the mastery he displays in Othello.
The Third Period.- The Period of Stress and Gloom would not be an inappropriate title for the time during which his great tragedies appeared. However, it is dangerous to infer that because Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth appeared during this third period, from 1599 or 1600 to 1608, that Shakspere himself was undergoing terrible mental strain and was
steeped in melancholy. It is commonly said that the sending to the block of Essex, the imprisonment in the Tower of London of Southampton, the death of his father in 1601, and loss of other friends, causing the poet to see the sadder side of life, led him to tragedy. This may be true, but one may ask why when his only son, Hamnet, the boy upon whom Shakspere must have looked as the only hope of perpetuating the family name and estate, died in 1596, Shakspere could write The Taming of the Shrew, create Falstaff, write Much Ado, and frolic with Touchstone in the Forest of Arden.|| It may be that in this third period Shakspere is writing tragedy because the public taste had tired of comedy. At any rate, we have the tragedies, the most colossal achievement of English literature, perhaps of all literatures. Hamlet is discursive and loose in plot, but rich in variety and philosophic insight — to many it is the greatest of all plays; Othello is considered his masterpiece in plot structure; King Lear has an elemental largeness that makes it the most severe test of an actor's power; Macbeth is terrific with concentrated energy.
The Fourth Period. - This is the last period, and includes the plays written after 1608–1609. The Tempest, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale are the plays that mark this period as the Period of Reconciliation. The story no longer moves onward to an inevitable catastrophe; the gentle spirit of forgiveness averts the tragic end. There is lacking the rollicking fun of the earlier comedies; in its stead we have the refined tenderness of a more mature dramatist. Pericles and Henry VIII also belong to this period, but they are partly the work of hands other than Shakspere's.
The Tempest is the most popular of the plays of this period. Its poetic imagery, philosophic insight, inventiveness, and subtle delineation of character show that the mature poet had lost none of his power. He was never more original than in his creation of the characters of Ariel, Caliban, Prospero, and Miranda. Some read in the following lines of the play Shakspere's personal abdication of the throne of dramatic writing:
But this rough magic
I'll break my staff,
I'll drown my book.” The Bacon Controversy. - In 1856 Miss Delia Bacon wrote an article for Putnam's Monthly, in which she tried to prove that the plays were written by Francis Bacon. The idea was not altogether new, but she gave the skepticism greater publicity. Since then the field of controversy has been entered by doubters and enthusiasts of all grades of intelligence and scholarship, neither side having exclusive possession of the unfair and hot-headed.
The doubters no longer believe that Bacon was the author of the plays, for they have been driven from their original contention to the more general statement that it was a person other than Shakspere. This is a more wary position to occupy, but it is unsatisfying. As Judge Webb, professor of law in the University of Dublin, one of the advocates of this theory, confessed, “But the only thing that will satisfy the world that he was not the author of the plays is a demonstration that another was." When Spedding, the eminent biographer of Bacon, was asked by Judge Holmes, who had written a book trying to prove the claims of the Baconians, as to his opinion, he replied:
“I have read your book on the authorship of Shakespeare to the end, and ... I must declare myself not only unconvinced but undisturbed. To ask me to believe that Bacon was the author of these dramas is like asking me to believe that Lord Brougham was the author of not only Dickens' novels, but of Thackeray's also, and of Tennyson's poems besides. I deny that a prima facie case is made out of questioning Shakespeare's title. But if there were any reason for supposing that somebody else was the real author, I think I am in a condition to say that whoever it was, it was not Bacon."
One of the commonest arguments is that based on the supposed erudition displayed in the plays. It is said the plays display much learning; Shakspere was not a learned man, there
fore the plays could not have been written by Shakspere. But modern scholars do not say that the plays contain evidences of scholarship. Judge Allen, of the Supreme Bench of Massachusetts, has shown that Shakspere's knowledge of law was inaccurate. Any reader of Shakspere's sources, such as Holinshed, can readily understand where Shakspere got his knowledge of history. His plays are not learned in the sense in which Paradise Lost and the plays of Jonson are learned. In his Roman plays his characters are men and women with English customs. He makes many mistakes in allusion, in history, in geography, in classical reference. Had he been a scholar like Bacon or Jonson, he would
“not have introduced clocks into the Rome of Julius Caesar, nor would he have made Hector quote Aristotle, nor Hamlet study at the University of Wittenberg, founded five hundred years after Hamlet's time; nor would he have put pistols into the age of Henry IV, nor cannon into the age of King John."
On this point Dr. Hiram Corson strikingly writes in his An Introduction to Shakespeare:
* Learning indeed! If Shakespeare hadn't possessed something infinitely better than learning (and, I would add, something infinitely better than a great analytic, inductive, deductive, and classifying intellect, such as that possessed by Lord Bacon), we should not now be enjoying such a noble dramatic heritage as we are. The plays bear more emphatic testimony than do any other masterpieces of genius, to the fact that great creative power may be triumphantly exercised without learning (I mean the learning of the Schools). But the knowledge and the wisdom with which they are gloriously illuminated, are the greatest possible which man has yet, in his whole history, shown himself capable of possessing—just that kind of knowledge and wisdom which Shakespeare, assuming. the requisite constitutional receptivity, was most favorably circumstanced to acquire."
Shakspere is one of the wisest and profoundest of men, but he is not learned. )
The literature on this subject is already large; some of it is a striking illustration of misused ability and wasted energy.