Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

popular tragedy called Hieronymo, the Spanish Tragedy; Thomas Nash and ROBERT GREENE, who wrote satirical plays, but who would have abused anybody, if paid to do so; and Thomas LODGE, who, with Greene's help, wrote a play defending the stage from the attacks of the Puritans, for they heartily hated the theatre and everybody connected with it.

CHAPTER VI.

SHAKESPEARE AND THE DRAMATISTS OF HIS AGE.

A.D. 1558-1660.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS—Ben Jonson

Beaumont and Fletcher—Massinger-Other Dramatic Poets. We have now to consider the life, writings, and leading characteristics of the greatest of all poets. William Shakespeare was born on the 23rd of April, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon, a town in Warwickshire. His father, John Shakespeare, was a respectable shopkeeper, and dealt in wool, skins, leather gloves, &c.; but his mother, Isabella Arden, was a lady born, and an heiress to boot. For many a year John and his wife lived happily, and things prospered with them; and we learn that he was made alderman, and afterwards mayor of his native town. Then he seems to have taken to farming, about which he knew little or nothing, and the consequence was that in his later days he was so poor that his son William had to support him. The poet was born during the prosperous part of his father's life, but, by the time he was fifteen, there was poverty in the household. William got little or no instruction from his parents, for neither of them could read or write; but he was sent to the Free Grammar School, where he received a very plain education, and where, also, he sometimes acted as monitor to the junior boys. On leaving school he is supposed to

[blocks in formation]

have been, for some time at least, in a lawyer's office, because he uses so many law words in his writings. After this he seems to have been a wild young fellow; for there are stories of his having stolen deer from Sir Thomas Lucy's park, at Charlecote, near Stafford, and of his having been severely punished by that knight for so doing. In revenge, he wrote verses befooling Sir Thomas, and stuck them on the park gate, where everybody read and laughed at them. The indignant knight so tormented the life of Shakespeare, that he was obliged to leave Stratford altogether. But there was another reason for his going away. When only eighteen years old he had foolishly married a farmer's daughter called Anne Hathaway a woman nearly eight years older than himself—and the ill-matched pair seem to have been very unhappy, for after leaving her he came but seldom to see her; and, when he died, he left her only “his second best bed with the hangings.”

Shakespeare went to London, and was probably invited by two Warwickshire actors to join the company at the Globe Theatre. His duties were to prepare old plays for the stage, and to act occasionally when required. By and bye, he became one of the partners in the concern, wrote splendid plays of his own, and became part proprietor of a new theatre (the Blackfriars) on the north side of the river, and built on the very spot where the Times' office now stands. From this it will be seen that Shakespeare was unlike the other actors and play writers of his time, in that he saved his money, instead of spending it in the wild way these men usually did. Soon he became a wealthy man, and was able to buy an estate called New Place, near his native town, where he spent the remainder of his days, and where he died in the year 1616. He was buried in the parish church of Stratford. Shakespeare's private character seems to have been that of an "amiable, gentle, and generous man, beloved by everybody, except the very few who were jealous of his greatness.”

He wrote thirty-seven plays, which may be divided into three classes— Tragedies, Historical plays, and Comedies. Among his principal tragedies may be named Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, and King Lear. The first of these contains the story of an ambitious Scottish Thane (Macbeth) who is urged by his more wicked and more ambitious wife (Lady Macbeth) to kill the King (Duncan) and others, in order to gain the crown; but, haunted by the ghosts of those he has slain, he lives a wretched life, and is finally killed in battle by an Earl (Macduff) whose wife and children he had cruelly put to death. The story of Othello is that of a Moor of Venice who marries a senator's daughter (Desdemona), and is speedily thereafter made madly jealous of her by an evil minded wretch (Iago), who so works upon the feelings of the Moor that, unable longer to endure this state of things, he kills his wife, and in the end, stabs himself when he finds that she was innocent of the crimes imputed to her. Hamlet is the most thoughtful of all Shakespeare's plays. It tells the story of a Danish Prince (Hamlet) who is displeased because his mother, the Queen, has married his uncle (Claudius) so soon after his father's death. At midnight, the ghost of his father rises, tells him that murder has been done, that his uncle is the murderer, and calls

upon his father's cruel death. To this task Hamlet devotes himself, casting aside the lady of his love (Ophelia), who becomes a maniac and is ultimately drowned. The last scene closes with the death of the King and his wretched Queen, although Hamlet also dies through the wicked designs of his uncle. In King Lear we have the story of a poor old King who was turned out of house and home, and exposed to the fury of a tempest by his ungrateful daughters (Gonerill and Regan), between whom he had divided his kingdom, foolishly believing that they loved him too dearly to be unkind to him. At length he becomes

crazy

in

consequence of all he has to endure, and is finally rescued by his youngest daughter (Cordelia), who, he had thought, loved him least of all.

The two wicked daughters died by violent deaths, and the third and only good one fell a victim to a heartless wretch

him to revenge

[blocks in formation]

who caused her to be killed in prison. This was more than the King could bear, and he laid himself down to die beside the body of the daughter who had loved him so fondly.

The most famous historical plays are King John, Richard III., Henry V., Henry VIII., Julius Cæsar, and Coriolanus, although some of these might more correctly be included among the tragedies.

The most notable of the comedies are The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. The Merchant of Venice contains two stories, but so delightfully blended together as to seem like one. The first is about a Christian merchant (Antonio) who has need of a sum of money, which he borrows from a Jew (Shylock), who hates all Christians in general, and this merchant in particular. The agreement is drawn out, and the Jew adds, “ in a merry jest," that if the money be not paid in three months the Christian shall forfeit a pound of his flesh to the Jew. The merchant, who expects his ships to arrive in time with plenty of money, agrees to the bond; but, as bad luck will have it, the ships are said to be wrecked, and when the three months are past, he cannot pay the Jew, who demands his pound of flesh. The second story is that of a rich heiress (Portia), whose father's will declares that she shall marry the man who chooses the right one of three casquets made respectively of gold, silver, and lead. In making these two stories one, Shakespeare causes the merchant to borrow the money from the Jew, in order to oblige his friend (Bassanio), who wishes to get a chance of becoming Portia's husband. He luckily chooses the right casquet, and is about to be married, when news arrives that the merchant has fallen into the clutches of the Jew. A trial takes place, and Portia, disguised as a young lawyer, is the means of rescuing Antonio from the knife of the merciless creditor, who is in turn deprived of his property, and threatened with death, for his attempt on the life of the Merchant of Venice. The Midsummer Night's Dream contains just such a story as a

poet would dream on a summer night. It is half real, half fanciful. The love tale of two young Athenians (Lysander and Demetrius), and two young ladies (Hermia and Helena), gets delightfully mixed up with a fairy tale, in which Oberon and Titania, the fairy King and Queen, have a quarrel, and in which Puck, the spirit of mischief, causes the most amusing and ridiculous mistakes to occur. The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night or What You Will, are both about members of families who were twins, and so like as to be continually mistaken the one for the other. In this way many very laughable incidents take place.

It would be vain to try to enumerate all the characteristics of Shakespeare's poetry, or to tell in how many respects he excels all other poets. He loved nature, and his poetry contains the most exquisite pictures; he studied the looks, the words, the actions of the men and women he met, and his plays reflect them as in a mirror; he thought deeply about the lessons we all need to learn, and his works are so full of them that they are thought to be-next to the Bible—the most instructive we have; he knew better than any other poet how to make us laugh and how to make us weep; his fancy creates fairies, ghosts, and strange monsters so life-like that we wonder we do not meet them in the world we live in; not one of his hundreds of characters is twice drawn; and, most wonderful of all, he is able to introduce scenes and characters belonging to Egypt, Rome, Venice, &c., and to make the latter speak and act just as such persons, very likely, would have spoken and acted, not only at the particular place, but at the particular period to which the poet means his play to belong.

FROM MARK ANTONY'S ORATION.
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

You all do know this mantle. I remember
The first time ever Cæsar put it on;
'Twas on a summer's evening in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii.
Look! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through ;

« AnteriorContinuar »