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HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE
By JOHN MASEFIELD
WILLIAMS & NORGATE
HENRY HOLT & Co., New York
Canada : WM. BRIGGS, Toronto
HERBERT FISHER, M.A., F.B.A.
Prof. GILBERT MURRAY, D.LITT^
Prof. J. ARTHUR THOMSON, M.A.
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
AUTHOR OF "the TRAGEDY OF
POMPEY THE GREAT," "mULTI-
TUDE AND SOLITUDE," " LOST
ENDEAVOUR," " CAPTAIN MAR-
GARET," "the TRAGEDY OF
WILLIAMS AND NORGATE
HAZELIi, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
LONDON AND AYLESBURY.
This book is written partly for the use of
people who are reading Shakespeare, and
partly to encourage the study of the plays.
Though the plays are the greatest things
ever made by the English mind it cannot
be said that the English reverence their
poet. There is no theatre in London set
apart for the performance of Shakespeare.
There is no theatre in London built for the
right production of Shakespeare. There are
not in the empire enough lovers of Shake-
speare, or of the poetical drama, or of poetry,
to take the British stage from the hands of
ground landlords, and make it again glorious
with the vision of the pageant of man. These
are sad things; for art is the life. Art is the
thought of men with vision. When art is
scorned it is a sign that the men without
vision are in power. " Where there is no
vision the people perish."
Worldly Empire has always been gluttonous
and foolish. It has always been a monstrous
sentimental bubble blown out of something
dead that was once grand. Man's true empire
is not in continents nor over the sea, but
within himself, in his own soul. Here in
London, where a worldly empire is con-
trolled, there exists no theatre in which the
millions can see that other empire. They
pass from one grey street to another grey
street, to add up figures, or to swallow
patent medicines, with no thought that life
has been lived nobly, and burningly and
knightly, for great ends, and in great passions,
as the vision of our great mind declares.
I The Life of Shakespeare .
II The Elizabethan Theatres .
Ill The Plays .
Love's Labour's Lost
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Comedy of Errors
Titus Andronicus .
King Henry Y I, Part I .
n â€ž â€ž â€ž II .
>) if if >) ^^'â–
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Romeo and Juliet .
King John .
King Richard II .
King Richard III .
The Merchant of Venice
The Taming of the Shrew
King Henry IV, Part I
n â€ž â€ž â€ž II
King Henry V
The Merry Wives of Windsor
As You Like It .
The Plays (continued) â€”
Much Ado About Nothing
All's Well that Ends Well
Julius Caesar .
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure
Othello, the Moor of Venice
King Lear .
Antony and Cleopatra
Timon of Athens .
Pericles, Prince of Tyre .
The Winter's Tale .
King Henry YIII .
Work Attributed to Shakespeare
Venus and Adorns .
The Rape of Lucrece
The Passionate Pilgrim .
The Phoenix and the Turtle
Index â€¢ . . .
THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE
Stratford-on-Avon is cleaner, better paved,
and perhaps more populous than it was in
Shakespeare's time. Several streets of mean
red-brick houses have been built during the
last half century. Hotels, tea rooms, re-
freshment rooms, and the shops where the
tripper may buy things to remind him that
he has been where greatness lived, give the
place an air at once prosperous and parasitic.
The town contains a few comely old build-
ings. The Shakespeare house, a detached
double dwelling, once the home of the poet's
father, stands on the north side of Henley
Street. A room on the first floor, at the
western end, is shown to visitors as the room
10 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
in which the poet was born. There is not
the slightest evidence to show that he was
born there. One scanty scrap of fact exists
to suggest that he was born at the eastern
end. The two dwelhngs have now been
converted into one, which serves as a museum.
New Place, the house where Shakespeare
died, was pulled down in the middle of the
eighteenth century. For one museum the
less let us be duly thankful.
The church in which Shakespeare, his wife,
and little son are buried stands near the
river. It is a beautiful building of a type com-
mon in the Cotswold country. It is rather
larger and rather more profusely carved than
most. Damp, or some mildness in the stone,
has given much of the ornament a weathered
look. Shakespeare is buried seventeen feet
down near the north wall of the chancel.
His wife is buried in another grave a few
feet from him.
The country about Stratford is uninterest-
ing, pretty, and well watered. A few miles
away the Cotswold hills rise. They have a
LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE 11
bold beauty, very pleasant after the flatness
of the plain. The wolds towards Stratford
grow many oaks and beeches. Farther east,
they are wilder and barer. Little brooks
spring up among the hills. The nooks and
valleys are planted with orchards. Old, grey
Cotswold farmhouses, and little, grey, lovely
Cotswold villages show that in Shakespeare's
time the country was prosperous and alive.
It was sheep country then. The wolds were
sheep walks. Life took thought for Shake-
speare. She bred him, mind and bone, in
a two-fold district of hill and valley, where
country life was at its best and the beauty
of England at its bravest. Afterwards she
placed him where there was the most and the
best life of his time. Work so calm as his
can only have come from a happy nature,
happily fated. Life made a golden day for
her golden soul. The English blessed by that
soul have raised no theatre for the playing
of the soul's thanksgiving.
Legends about Shakespeare began to spring
up in Stratford as soon as there was a demand
12 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
for them. Legends are a stupid man's ex-
cuse for his want of understanding. They
are not evidence. Setting aside the legends,
the hes, the surmises and the imputations,
several uninteresting things are certainly
known about him.
We know that he was the first son and
third child of John Shakespeare, a country
trader settled at Stratford, and of Mary his
wife ; that he was baptised on the 26th
April, 1564; and that in 1582 he got with
child a woman named Anne or Agnes Hatha-
way, eight years older than himself. Her
relatives saw to it that he married her. A
daughter (Susanna) was born to him in May
1583, less than six months after the marriage.
In January 1585 twins were born to him,
a son (Hamnet, who died in 1596) and a
At this point he disappears. Legend, writ-
ten down from a hundred to a hundred and
sixty years after the event, says that he was
driven out of the county for poaching, that
he was a country school-master, that he made
LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE 13
a *' very bitter " ballad upon a landlord,
that he tramped to London, that he held
horses outside the theatre doors, and that at
last he was received into a theatrical com-
pany " in a very mean rank." This is all
legend, not evidence. That he was a lawyer's
clerk, a soldier in the Low Countries, a sea-
man, or a printer, as some have written
books to attempt to show, is not evidence,
nor legend, but wild surmise. It might be
urged, with as great likelihood, that he be-
came a king, an ancient Roman, a tapster or
a brothel keeper.
It is fairly certain that the company which
first received him was the Earl of Leicester's
company, then performing at The Theatre in
Shoreditch. The company changed its patron
and its theatre several times, but Shake-
speare, having been admitted to it, stayed
with it throughout his theatrical career.
He acted with it at The Theatre, at the Rose
and Globe Theatres, at the Court, at the
Inns of Court, and possibly on many stages
in the provinces. For many years he pro-
14 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
fessed the quality of actor. Legend says
that he acted well in what are called " char-
acter parts." Soon after his entrance into
the profession he began to show a talent for
improving the plays of others.
Nothing interesting is known of his sub-
sequent life, except that he wrote great
poetry and made money by it. It is plain
that he was a shrewd, careful, and capable
man of affairs, and that he cared, as all wise
men care, for rank and an honourable state.
He strove with a noble industry to obtain
these and succeeded. He prospered, he
bought New Place at Stratford, he invested
in land, in theatre shares and in houses.
During the last few years of his life he retired
to New Place, where he led the life of a country
gentleman. He died there on the 23rd April,
1616, aged fifty-two years. The cause of his
death is not known. His wife and daughters
Little is known of his human relationships.
He is described as " gentle." Had he been
not gentle we should know more of him.
LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE 15
Ben Jonson " loved the man," and says that
" he was, indeed, honest and of an open and
free nature." John Webster speaks of his
*' right happy and copious industry." An
actor who wrote more than thirty plays
during twenty years of rehearsing, acting,
and theatre management, can have had little
time for mixing with the world.
That we know little of his human relation-
ships is one of the blessed facts about him.
That we conjecture much is the penalty a
nation pays for failing to know her genius
when he appears.
Three portraits â€” a bust, an engraving, and
a painting â€” have some claim to be considered
as genuine portraits of Shakespeare. The
first of these is the coloured half-length
bust on the chancel wall in Stratford Church.
This was made by one Gerard Janssen, a
stonemason of some repute. It was placed
in the church within seven years of the poet's
death. It is a crude work of art ; but it
shows plainly that the artist had before him
(in vision or in the flesh) a man of unusual
16 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
vivacity of mind. The face is that of an
aloof and sunny spirit, full of energy and
effectiveness. Another portrait is that en-
graved for the title page of the first folio,
published in 1623. The engraving is by
Martin Droeshout, who was fifteen years old
when Shakespeare died, and (perhaps) about
twenty-two when he made the engraving. It
is a crude work of art, but it shows plainly
that the artist had before him the repre-
sentation of an unusual man.
It is possible that the representation from
which he engraved his plate was a painting
on panel, now at Stratford. This painting
(discovered in 1840) is now called " the
Droeshout portrait." It is supposed to re-
present the Shakespeare of the year 1609.
In the absence of proof, all that can be said
of it is that it is certainly a work of the
early seventeenth century, and that it looks as
though it were the original of the engraving.
No other " portrait of Shakespeare " has any
claim to be considered as even a doubtful
LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE IT
There are, unfortunately, many graven
images of Shakespeare. They are perhaps
passable portraits of the languid, half-witted,
hydrocephalic creatures who made them. As
representations of a bustling, brilliant, pro-
found, vivacious being, alive to the finger
tips, and quick with an energy never since
granted to man, they are as false as water.
THE ELIZABETHAN THEATRES
The Elizabethan theatres were square,
circular, or octagonal structures, built of
wood, lath and plaster, on stone or brick
foundations. They stood about forty or
forty-five feet high. They were built with
three storeys, tiers, or galleries of seats
which ran round three sides of the stage and
part of the fourth. On the fourth side, at
the back of the stage, was a tiring house in
w^hich the actors robed. The upper storeys
of the tiring house could be used in the action,
for a balcony, the upper storeys of a house,
etc., according to the needs of the scene.
It is possible, but not certain, that the tiring
house itself was used in some plays to repre-
sent an inner chamber. The three storeys
of seats were divided by partitions into
THE THEATRES 19
" gentlemen's roomes " and " Twoe pennie
roomes." The top storey was roofed in, either
with thatch or tiles. The stage was roofed
over in the same way. The space or yard
between the stage and the galleries which
surrounded it, was open to the sky. It
contained no seats, but it held many spec-
tators who stood. " Standing room " cost
a penny. Those who stood could press right
up to the stage, which was a platform four
or five feet high projecting well out from
the back of the house " to the middle of the
yarde." It was possible to see the actors
" in the round," instead of, as at present,
like people in a picture. The audience got
their emotions from the thing done and the
thing said; not, as with us, from the situation.
It was the custom of gallant gentlemen to
hire stools placed on the stage itself. They
sat and took tobacco there during the per-
formance. Rank had then a greater privilege
of impertinence than it has to-day. The
performances took place by daylight. They
were announced by the blowing of a trumpet.
20 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
During a performance, a banner was hung
from the theatre roof. The plays were played
straight through, without waits. The only
waits necessary in a theatre are (a) those
which rest the actors and (6) those which give
variety to the moods of the spectators. The
double construction of Shakespeare's plays
provided a sub-plot which held or amused the
audience while the actors of the main plot
rested. It is possible, but not certain, that
the scenes were played on alternate halves of
the stage, and that when one half of the stage
was being cleared of its properties, or fitted
with them, the play continued on the other
half. It is not possible to speak of the
general quality of the acting. Acting, like
other dependent art, can only be good when
it has good art to interpret. The acting was
probably as good and as bad as the plays.
Careful and impressive speaking and thought-
ful, restrained gesture were qualities which
Shakespeare and Ben Jonson praised. It is
likely that the acting of the time was much
quicker than modern acting. The plays were
THE THEATRES 21
played very swiftly, without hesitation or
dawdling over " business."
There was little or no scenery to most
plays. The properties, i.e. chairs, beds, etc.,
were simple and few. The play was the
thing. The aim of the play was to give
not a picture of life, but a glorified vision of
Hfe. The object was not realism but illusion.
The costumes were of great splendour. In
some productions (as in Henry VIII) they
were of an excessive splendour. Music and
singing added much to the beauty of many
Women were not then allowed upon the
stage. Women's parts were played by boys.
Some have thought that this must have taken
from the excellence of the performances.
It is highly likely that it added much to
it. Nearly all boys can act extremely well.
Very few men and women can.
The playing of women's parts by boys
may have limited Shakespeare's art. His
women are kept within the range of thought
and emotion likely to be understood by boys.
22 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
This may account for their wholesome,
animal robustness. There is no trace of the
modern heroine, the common woman over-
strained, or the idle woman in her megrims,
in any Shakespearean play. The people of
the plays are alive and hearty. They lead
a vigorous life and go to bed tired. They
never forget that they are animals. They
never let any one else forget that they are
Three plays belong to Shakespeare's first
period of original creative writing. It is
fair to suppose that the least dramatically
sound of the three was the one first written.
We therefore take Lovers Labour's Lost as his
first play. It is commonly said by critics
that Love's Labour's Lost is " the work of a
young man." It might more justly be said
of it that it is the work of a new kind of young
man. The young man knows all the trick
of the theatre and uses it, as a master always
uses technique, for the statement of some-
thing new to the human soul. The play no
longer speaks to the human soul ; for though
it is the work of a master, it is the work of
a master not yet alive to the depths and still
doubtful among the temptations to which
24 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
intellect is subject. It is one of those works
of art which remind us of Blake's saying, that
'' the best water is the newest." When it
came out, with all the glitter of newness on
it, the mind of man was flattered by a new
possession. To us, the persons of the play
are not much more than Time's toys, who
never really lived, but only glittered a little.
Lovers Labour^ s Lost
Written, Between 1589 and 1592.
Published, after correction and augmentation, from a
badly corrected copy, 1598.
Source of the Plot, It is thought that Shakespeare
created the plot. The names of some of the characters were
taken from people then living. The incident in Act V,
scene ii (the entrance of the King of Navarre and his
men, in Russian habits), was perhaps suggested by the
visit of some Russians to Queen Elizabeth in 1584.
The Fable. The King of Navarre and his three courtiers,
Biron, Dumaine and Longaville, have sworn to study
for three years under the usual collegiate conditions of
watching, fasting, and keeping from the sight and speech
of women. They are forced to break this vow. The
Princess of France comes with her Court to discuss State
At the discussion, the King falls in love with the
Princess, his three courtiers fall in love with the ladies
of her train.
The lovers send vows of love to their ladies. They
THE PLAYS 25
plot to visit them in disguises of masks and Russian
clothes. The ladies, hearing of this plot in time, mask
themselves. The men fail to recognise them. Each
disguised lover makes love-vows to the wrong woman.
The ladies twit the men with a double perjury : that
they have broken their vow to study, and their love vows.
The play is kept within the bounds of fantastic comedy
by the members of the sub -plot, who intrude with their
fun whenever the action tends to become real. They
intrude here, to impersonate the Nine Worthies before
the two Courts. The farce of their performance is height-
ened by ragging from the courtiers. When it is at its
height, two of the members of the sub -plot begin to
quarrel. One blow would ruin the play by making it
real. At the crisis the violence is avoided; the reality
is brought unexpectedly, by beauty. A messenger enters
to tell the Princess that her father is dead.
The ladies bid the men test their love by waiting for
twelve months. The trifling of the earlier acts is shown at
its moral value against a background of tragic happening.
Accomplishments are compared with life.
The members of the sub-plot enter. They end the play
with the singing of a lyric.
The play gives the reader the uncanny
feehng that something real inside the piece
is trying to get out of the fantasy. The lip-
love rattles like a skeleton's bones. The love
of Biron for Rosaline is real passion. The
conflict throughout is the conflict of the unreal
with the real.
26 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
The play seems to have been written in a
hterary or sentimental mood, and revised
in a real mood. There is little in the early
version that is not fantastic. The situation
is fantastic, the people are fantastic, the
language is fantastic with all a brilliant
young master's delight in the play and glitter
of cunning writing. The later version was
written during the passionate years of Shake-
speare's growth, after something had altered
the world to him. The two versions are
carelessly stuck together, with the effect of
a rose-bush growing out of bones.
The Biron scenes, as we have them, seem
to be the fruit of the mood that caused the
sonnets. We do not know what caused that
mood. The sonnets, like the plays, are as
likely to be symbol as confession. The
sonnets suggest that he loved an unworthy
woman who robbed him of a beloved friend.
Lovers Labour's Lost and several other early
plays suggest that he knew too well how love
for the unworthy woman smirches honour,
wakens, but holds captive, the reason, and
THE PLAYS 27
wastes the spiritual gift in the praise of a
form of death.
The dramatic method is dual. He presents
in the plot something eternal in human life, and
in the sub-plot something temporal in human
fashion. In the plot of this play, his inten-
tion seems to have been this â€” to show intellect
turned from a high resolve, from a consecration
to mental labour, by the coming of women, who
represent, perhaps, untutored, natural intelli-
gence. Later in the play the high resolve of
intellect is betrayed again, indirectly by
women; but more by the sexual emotions
which distort the vision till even the
falsest, loosest woman appears beautiful and
" celestial," and worth the sacrifice of in-
tellect. The end of the play is not so much
an end as a clearing of the road of life.
It often happens that the setting down of
a doubt in careful words resolves it. This
play seems to free Shakespeare's mind from
doubts as to the right use and preparation
of intellect. He presents with extreme care
the different types of literary intellect : the
28 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
man who shuts himself up to study, the man
who sparkles in society, the man whom books
have made stupid and the man whom style
has made mad.
The play is full of the problem of what to
do with the mind. Shall it be filled with
study, or spent in society, or burnt in a
passion, or tortured by strivings for style, or
left as it is ? Intellect is a problem to itself.
Something of the problem seems (it would
be wrong to be more certain) to have made
this play not quite impersonal, as good art
The problems are settled wisely, though
not without a feeling of sacrifice. The
beauty and the worth of learning are baits
by which many intellects are lured from
wisdom. The knowledge that life is the book
to study, life at its liveliest, in the wits of
Above the sense of sense,"
and that style is a poor thing beside the
THE PLAYS 29
" honest plain words " which pierce, only
comes with a sense of loss. Youth desires
all the powers. A man with great gifts
desires all the mental gifts. Youth with
nothing but great gifts is never sure that the
gifts will be sufficient. When this play was
written, the stage was supplied with plays
by men of trained intellects, who set more
store upon the training than upon the intel-
lect itself, The society of well-taught men,
who know and quote and criticise, always
makes the untaught uncertain and ill at ease.
Shakespeare seems to have risen from the
writing of this play, certain that poetry is
not given to the trained mind, nor to the
untrained mind, but to the quick and noble
nature, earnest with the passion which stands
the touchstone of death. " Subtlety," so
Cromwell wrote, " may deceive you, integrity
never will." The mind is her own armour.
She will not fail for the want of a little learning
or a little grace.
In the sub-plot, among much low comedy,
this truth is emphasised by the triumph of
30 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Costard, a natural mind, in an encounter
with Armado, an artificial mind. At the end
of the play the " learned men " are made to
compile a dialogue " in praise of the owl and
the cuckoo." The dialogue is of a kind not
usual among learned men, but the choice of
the birds is significant. The last speech of
the play : " The words of Mercury are harsh
after the songs of Apollo," seems to refer to
Marlowe, as though Shakespeare found it
hard to justify an art so unlike his master's.
Marlowe climbs the peaks in the sun, his bow
never off his shoulders. I walk the roads of
the earth among men.
There is little character drawing in the
piece. The Princess is a gracious figure;