« ElőzőTovább »
And brought the Oak to this misery ;
Now stands the Breere like a lord alone,
O youths and virgins : O declining old:
Approach : behold this marble, know ye not
Inscription from a bust of Shakspeare.--Akenside.
This dramatic poet is justly esteemed by those who speak the English language, as the most interesting writer in the world. There are few so highly endowed as to be able to comprehend the wealth and magnitude of Shakspeare' genius in all its variety and comprehensiveness, but there are none perhaps within even the remotest influence of English literature, that have not felt the power of this mighty master in some of those numerous passages of his works which have passed into the popular mind. The best furnished and most profound intellects meet with congenial thoughts in Shakspeare; and all human experience, from the monarch's to the labourer's lot, is recorded and expressed by his immortal muse, so that every
may find its own feelings and circumstances somewhere illustrated by his inspiration.
From the accounts which are preserved of Shakspeare's early life it appears that he had few advantages of direct instruction, though the knowledge contained in books popular at that time in England, lent him its little light; and the talent " that Nature did him give," supplied in him every defect of human learning, and enabled him to leave an inheritance of thought to future ages, which nothing but the dissolution of “the great globe itself" can annihilate.
Dryden says of him, " He was a man who, of all modern and, perhaps, ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily. When he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. He needed not the spectacles of books to read nature ; he loooked inwards and found her there." But,
Civility not seen in other ; knowledge
As though it had been sown. Shakspeare was born at Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire, 1564. The documents of his life are very imperfect. Rowe, the poet, published a memoir of him a century after his death. From this it appears that Shakspeare removed himself to London, and that he was an actor as well as a writer of plays. Shakspeare however returned to Stratford. purchased a house there, and died in that town. In the church of Stratford, a monument to his memory still remains. The following inscription on this monument is engraved beneath a bust of Shakspeare:
"Stay, passenger, why goest thou so fast ?
Obit A. D. 1616— Ætatis 53. die 23 April." Shakspeare's thirty-five plays were first collected and published in 1623, in folio. The title page of this folio was embellished by an engraving, which was said to be a likeness of the author, and attached to it were these lines by Ben Johnson, addressed to the reader :
“ This figure that thou seest here put,
Not on his picture, but his book." From 1709, when Rowe published Shakspeare's plays, to the present time, (1842,) they have been often published, and are disseminated throughout the reading world of our language; and the more they are studied, the more are they admired and enjoy. ed. The fine arts have derived important aid from Shakspeare. The stage has been exalted, literature has been illustrated and adorned by him, his scenes have been delineated an infinite number of times by the pencil, and they embellish almost every house and every library.
Milton's Sonnet to Shakspeare is among the most interesting tributes to his memory :
“ What needs my Shakspeare for his honoured bones
English, Roman, and Grecian History, furnish part of the subjects of Shakspeare's plays; and some of his plots are taken from Italian romances that had been translated into English ; but
upon what foundation soever he built, the superstructure is original and beautiful.
Though Shakspeare's poetry is the delight and pride of all who speak our language, it is in general too abstruse and difficult for foreigners and young persons," says Mr. Edgworth, "It exhibits the most lively pictures of external nature, and the most perfect representations of human passions. But his language is frequently obscure, from its containing many words and phrases which are now out of common use ; besides, his writings relate so much to the passions of men, and the concerns of princes and politicians, that a person must have what is called a knowledge of the world, and must have had some experience of the effects of human passions, before he can perceive the beauties, or have a relish for the excellencies of Shakspeare." Parts of King John, of Henry IV. and of Cymbeline, are in some measure free from these difficulties ; and are selected for the purpose of introducing Shakspeare to young readers.
Shakspeare wrote dramatic pieces upon the history of England; they are now called plays, though formerly they were called histories ; each of them takes in several years; and they carry the imagination of the spectator from England to France, and back again, many times in the space of one night. King John is one of these dramas.
John, surnamed Sans Terre, or Lackland, was the fourth son of Henry II., King of England. John succeeded to the throne upon the death of his brother, Richard I. Arthur, Duke of Brittany, was the son of Geoffrey, John's elder brother ; and, according to the laws of England, the legal successor of his uncle Rich. ard. The unfortunate Arthur, it is supposed, was murdered by the command of John, but the manner of his death is unknown. Philip, King of France, was Arthur's maternal uncle, and publicly accused John of murdering his nephew ; but John declared that Arthur fell from the walls of a castle where he was confined, into a river which flowed beneath, and thus lost his life. Shakspeare has made a most affecting scene of John's cruelty to the poor youth. That and the subsequent passages from Shakspeare's play of King John which complete Arthur's history, follow in this place.
KING JOHN, ACT IV., SCENE I. Hubert, the assassin, employed to put out the young prince's eyes. Arthur, and attendants. Scene, a room in the Castle.
Hubert. Heat me these irons hot; and look thou stand
1. Attend. I hope your warrant will bear out the deed.
[Exeunt Attendants. Young lad, come forth ; I have to say with you.
Arth. As little prince (having so great a title