William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's history of King John online

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Mrs. Helen rianney

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Rev. henry N. HUDSON, LL.D.



Enforcd according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by

Henry N. Hudson,
in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

J. S. CisHiNC & Co.. Printers, Boston.




S I have long been in frequent receipt of letters asking
for advice or suggestions as to the best way of using
Shakespeare in class, I have concluded to write out and
print some of my thoughts on that subject. On one or two
previous occasions, I have indeed moved the theme, but
only, for the most part, incidentally, and in subordinate con-
nection with other topics, never with any thing like a round
Q * and full exposition of it.

And in the first place I am to remark, that in such a mat-
M ter no one can make uj) or describe, in detail, a method of
Q\ teaching for another : in many points every teacher must
^ strike out his or her own method : for a method that works
"i very well in one person's hands may nevertheless fail entirely

in another's. Some general reasons or principles of method,
>^ together with a few practical liints of detail, is about all that
z. I can undertake to give ; this too rather with a view to setting
; teachers' own minds at work in devising ways, than to mark-
J ing out any formal course of procedure.
* In the second place, here, as elsewhere, the method of

1 teaching is to be shaped and suited to the i)articular purpose
in hand ; on the general principle, of course, that the end
is to point out and prescribe the means. So, if the purpose



be to make the pupils in our public schools Shakespcarians
in any proper sense of the term, I can mark out no i)racli-
cable method for the case, because I hold the purpose itself
to be utterly impracticable ; one that cannot possibly be
carried out, and ought not to be, if it could. I find divers
people talking and writing as if our boys and girls were to
make a knowledge of Shakespeare the chief business of their
life, and were to gain their living thereby. These have a
sort of cant phrase current among them, about " knowing
Shakespeare in an eminent sense " ; and they are instructing
us that, in order to this, we must study the English language
historically, and acquire a technical mastery of Elizabethan

Now, to know Shakespeare in an eminent sense, if it means
any thing, must mean, I take it, to become Shakespearians,
or become eminent in the knowledge of Shakespeare ; that
is to say, we must have such a knowledge of Shakespeare
as can be gained only by making a special and continuous,
or at least very frequent, study of him through many long
years. So the people in question seem intent upon some
j)lan or program of teaching whereby the pupils in our
schools shall come out full-grown Shakespearians ; this too
when half-a-dozen, or perhaps a dozen, of the Poet's plays
is all they can possibly find time for studying through. And
to this end, they would have them study the Poet's language
historically, and so draw out largely into his social, moral,
and mental surroundings, and ransack the literature of his
time ; therewithal they would have their Shakespeare Gram-
mars and Shakespeare Lexicofis, and all the apparatus for
training the pupils in a sort of learned verbalism, and in
analyzing and parsing the Poet's sentences.

Now I know of but three persons in the whole United


States who have any just claim to be called Shakespearians,
or who can be truly said to know Shakespeare in an eminent
sense. Those are, of course, Mr. Grant White, Mr. Howard
Fumess, and Mr. Joseph Crosby. Beyond this goodly trio,
I cannot name a single person in the land who is able to go
alone, or even to stand alone, in any question of textual
criticism or textual correction. For that is what it is to
be a Shakespearian. And these three have become Shake -
spearians, not by the help of any labour-saving machinery,
such as special grammars and lexicons, but by spending many
years of close study and hard brain-work in and around theif
author. Before reaching that point, they have ngt only had
to study all through the Poet himself, and this a great many
times, but also to make many excursions and sojournings in
the popular, and even the erudite aulhorshij) of his period.
And the work has been almost, if not altogether, a pure
labour of love with them. They have pursued it with im-
passioned earnestness, as if they could find no rest for their
souls without it.

Well, and what do you suppose the result of all this has
done or is doing for them in the way of making a living?
Do you suppose they can begin to purchase their bread and
butter, or even so much as the bread without the butter, with
the proceeds of their great learning and accomplishments in
that kind ? No, not a bit of it ! For the necessaries of life,
every man of them has to depend mostly, if not entirely, on
other means. If they had nothing to feed upon but what
their Shakesjjcare knowledge brings them, they would have
mighty little use for their teeth. If you do not believe this,
ask the men themselves : and if they tell you it is not so,
then I will frankly own myself a naughty boy, and will do
penance publicly for my naughtiness. For my own poor


]iart, I know right well that I have no claim to be called a
Shakespearian, albeit I may, i)erchance, have had some fool-
ish aspirations that way. Nevertheless I will venture to say
that Shakespeare work does more towards procuring a liveli-
hood for me than for either of the gentlemen named. This
is doubtless because I am far inferior to them in Shake-
spearian acquirement and culture. Yet, if I had nothing but
the returns of my labour in that kind to live upon, I should
have to live a good deal more cheaply than I do. And there
would probably be no difficulty in finding persons that were
not born till some time after my study of Shakespeare began,
who, notwithstanding, can now outbid me altogether in any
auction of bread-buying ]:)opularity. This, no doubt, is be-
cause their natural gifts and fitness for the business are so
superior to mine, that they might readily be extemporized
into what no length of time and study could possibly educate

In all this the three gentlemen aforesaid are, I presume,
far from thinking they have any thing to complain of, or from
having any disposition to complain ; and I am certainly as
far from this as they are. It is all in course, and all just
right, except that I have a good deal better than I deserve.
And both they and I know very well that nothing but a love
of the thing can carry any one through such a work ; that in
the nature of things such pursuits have to be their own re-
ward ; and that here, as elsewhere, " love's not love when it
is mingled with regards that stand aloof from th' entire

Such, then, is the course and process by which, and by
which alone, men can come to know Shakespeare in any
sense deserving to be called eminent. It is a process of
close, continuous, life-long study. And, in order to know


the Poet in this eminent sense, one must know a good deal
more of him tlian of any thing else ; that is to say, the pur-
suit must be something of a specialty with him ; unless his
mind be by nature far more encyclopedic than most men's
are. Then too, in the case of those who have reached this
point, the process had its beginning in a deep and strong
love of the subject : Shakespeare has been a passion with
them, perhaps I should say the master-passion of their life :
this was both the initiative impulse that set them a-going,
and also the sustaining force that kept them going, in the
work. Now such a love can hardly be wooed into life or
made to sprout by a technical, parsing, gerund-grinding
course of study. The proper genesis and growth of love
are not apt to proceed in that way. A long and loving
study may indeed produce, or go to seed in, a gi-ammar or
a lexicon ; but surely the grammar or the lexicon is not the
thing to prompt or inaugurate the long and loving study.
Or, if the study begin in that way, it will not be a study of
the workmanshij) as poetry, but only, or chiefly, as the raw-
material of lingual science ; that is to say, as a subject for
verbal dissection and surgery.

If, then, any teacher would have his pupils go forth from
school knowing Shakespeare in an eminent sense, he must
shajje and order his methods accordingly. What those
methods may be, or should be, I cannot say ; but I sliould
think they must be (juite in the high-i)ressure line, and I
more than suspect they will prove abortive, after all. And
here I cannot forbear to remark that some few of us are so
stuck in old-fogyism, or so ff>ssilized, as to hold that the
main business of people in this world is to gain an honest
living ; and tluil they ought l(; be educated with a con-
stant eye to that purpose. These, to be sure, look very like


self-evident propositions ; axioms, or mere truisms, wliich,
nevertlielcss, our education seems determined to ignore
entirely, and a due application of wliich would totally revo-
lutionize our whole educational system.

Now knowing Shakespeare in an eminent sense docs not
appear to be exactly the thing for gaining an honest living.
All people but a few, a very few indeed, have, ought to
have, must have, other things to do. I suspect that one
Shakespearian in about five millions is enough. And a vast
majority are to get their living by hand-work, not by head-
work ; and even witli those wiio li\c by head-work Shake-
speare can very seldom be a leading interest. He can nowise
be the substance or body of their mental food, but only, at
the most, as a grateful seasoning thereof. Thinking of his
poetry may be a pleasant and helpful companion for them in
their business, but cannot be the business itself. His divine
voice may be a sweetening tone, yet can be but a single tone,
and an undertone at that, in the chorus of a well-ordered
life and a daily round of honourable toil. Of the students
in our colleges not one in a thousand, of the pupils in our
high schools not one in a hundred thousand, can think, or
ought to think, of becoming Shake.spearians. But most of
them, it may be hoped, can become men and women of right
intellectual tastes and loves, and so be capable of a pure and
elevating pleasure in the converse of books. Surely, then,
in the little time that can be found for studying Shakespeare,
the teaching should be shaped to the end, not of making
the i)upils Shakespearians, but only of doing somewhat — it
cannot be much — towards making them wiser, better, hap-
pier men and women.

So, in reference to school study, what is the use of this
cant about knowing Shakespeare in an eminent sense ? Why


talk of doing what no sane person can ever, for a moment,
possibly think of attempting? The thing might well be
passed by as one of the silliest cants that ever were canted,
but that, as now often urged, it is of a very misleading and mis-
chievous tendency ; like that other common folly of telling
all our boys that they may become President of the United
States. This is the plain and simple truth of the matter, and
as such I am for speaking it without any sort of mincing or
disguise. In ray vocabulary, indeed, on most occasions I
choose that a spade be simply "a spade," and not "an
instrument for removing earth."

This brings me to the main point, to what may be called
the heart of my message. Since any thing worthy to be
termed an eminent knowledge of Shakespeare cannot possi-
bly be gained or given in school, and could not be, even if
ten times as many hours were spent in the study as can be,
Drought to be, so spent, the question comes next. What, then,
can be done ? And my answer, in the fewest words, is this :
The most and the best that we can hope to do, is to plant
in the pupils, and to nurse up as for as may be, a genuine
taste and love for Shakespeare's poetry. The planting and
nursing of this taste is purely a matter of c:ulture, and not of
acquirement : it is not properly giving the pupils knowledge ;
it is but opening the road, and starting them on the way to
knowledge. .And such a taste, once well set in the mind,
will be, or at least stand a good chance of being, an abiding
principle, a prolific germ of wholesome and improving
study : moreover it will naturally proceed till, in time, it
comes to act as a strong elective instinct, causing the mind
to gravitate towards what is good, and to recoil from what is
bad : it may end in bringing, say, one in two millions to
"know Shakespeare in an eminent sense" ; but it can hardly


fail to be a precious and fruitful gain to many, perhaps to
most, possibly to all.

This I believe to be a thoroughly practicable aim. And
as the aim itself is practicable, so there are practicable ways
for attaining it or working towards it. What these ways are
or may be, I can best set forth by tracing, as literally and
distinctly as I know how, my own course of procedure in

In tlie first place, I never have had, never will have, any
recitations whatever ; but only what I call, simply, exercises,
the pupils reading the author under my direction, correction,
and explanation ; the teacher and the taught thus commun-
ing together in the author's pages for the time being. Nor
do I ever require, though I commonly advise, that the
matter to be read in class be read over by the pupils in pri-
vate before coming to the exercise. Such preparation is
indeed well, but not necessary. I am very well satisfied by
having the pupils live, breathe, think, feel with the author
while his words are on their lips and in their ears. As I
wish to have them simply growing, or getting the food of
growth, I do not care to have them making any conscious
accjuirement at all ; my aim thus always being to produce
the utmost possible amount of silent effect. And I much
prefer to have the classes rather small, never including more
than twenty pupils ; even a somewhat smaller number is still
better. Then, in Shakespeare, I always have the pupils read
dramatically right round and round the class, myself calling
the parts. When a speech is read, if the occasion seems to
call for it, I make comments, ask ([uestions, or have the
pupils ask them, so as to be sure thai they understand fairly
what they are reading. That done, I call the next speech ;
and SQ the reading and the talking proceed till the class-time
is up.


In the second place, as to the nature and scope of these
exercises, or the parts, elements, particulars they consist of.—
In Shakespeare, the exercise is a mixed one of reading,
language, and character. And 1 make a good deal of hav-
ing the Poet's lines read properly ; this too both for the util-
ity of it and as a choice and refined accomplishment, and
also because such a reading of them greatly enhances the
pleasure of the exercise both to the readers themselves and
to the hearers. Here, of course, such points come in as the
right pronunciation of words, the right place and degi-ee of
emphasis, the right pauses and divisions of sense, the right
tones and inflections of voice. But the particulars that make
up good reading are too well known to need dwelling upon.
Suffice it to say, that in this part of the exercise my whole
care is to have the pupils understand what they are read-
ing, and to pronounce it so that an intelligent listener may
understand it : that done, I rest content. But I tolerate
nothing theatrical or declamatory or oratorical or put on for
effect in the style of reading, and insist on a clean, clear, sim-
ple, quiet voicing of the sense and meaning ; no strut, no
swell, but all plain and pure; that being my notion oi tas/e-
ful reading.

Touching this pcjint, I will but add that Shakespeare is
both the easiest and also the hardest of all authors to read
properly, — the easiest because he is tlic ino.it natural, and
the hardest for the same reason ; and for boih these reasons
together he is the best of all authors for training people in
the art of reading : for an art it is, and a very high one too,
insomuch that jnire and ]jerfect reading is one of the rarest
things in the world, as it is also one of the delightfullest.
The best description of what it is that now occurs to me is
in Guy Manncrins, chapter 29th, where Julia Mannering writes


to her friend how, of an evening, lier father is wont to sweeten
their home and its fireside by the choice matter and the taste-
ful manner of his reading. And so my happy life — for it is
a happy one — has little of better happiness in it tlian hearing
my own beloved pupils read Shakespeare.

As to the language part of the exercise, this is chiefly con-
cerned with the meaning and force of the Poet's words, but
also enters more or less into sundry points of grammar, word-
growth, prosody, and rhetoric, making the whole as little
technical as possible. And I use, or aim to use, all this for
the one sole purpose of getting the pupils to understand what
is immediately before them ; not looking at all to any lingual
or philological purposes lying beyond the matter directly in
hand. And here I take the utmost care not to push the part
of verbal comment and explanation so long or so far as to
become dull and tedious to the pupils. For as I wish them to
study Shakespeare, simply that they may learn to understand
and to love his poetry itself, so I must and will have them
take pleasure in the process ; and people are not apt to fall or
to grow in love with things that bore them. I would much
rather they should not fully understand his thought, or not
take in the full sense of his lines, than that they should feel
any thing of weariness or disgust in the study ; for the defect
of present comprehension can easily be repaired in the future,
but not so the disgust. If they really love the poetry, and
find it pleasant to their souls, I'll risk the rest.

In truth, average pupils do not need nearly so much of cate-
chizing and explaining as many teachers are apt to suppose.
I have known divers cases where this process was carried to
a very inordinate and hurtful excess, the matter being all
chopped into a fine mince-meat of items ; questions and top-
ics being multiplied to the last degree of minuteness and


tenuity. Often well-nigh a hundred questions are pressed
where there ought not to be more than one or two ; the aim
being, apparently, to force an exhatistive grammatical study
of the matter. And exhaustive of the pupil's interest and
patience it may well prove to be. This is not studying Shake-
speare, but merely using him as an occasion for studying
something else. Surely, surely, such a course " is not, nor
it cannot come to, good" : it is just the way to make pupils
loathe the study as an intolerable bore, and wish the Poet
had never been born. The thing to be aimed at before all
others is, to draw and hold the pupil's mind in immediate
contact with the poetry ; and such a multitude of mincing
questions and comments is just a thick wedge of tiresome
obstruction and separation driven in between the two. In
my own teaching, my greatest fear commonly is, lest I may
strangle and squelch the proper virtue and efficacy of the
Poet's lines with my own incontinent catechetical and exeget-
ical babble.

Next, for the character part of the exercise. And here I
have to say, at the start, that I cannot think it a good use of
time to put pupils to the study of Shakespeare at all, until
they have got strength and ripeness of mind enough to enter,
at lea.st in some fair measure, into the transpirations of char-
acter in his persons. For this is indeed the Shakespeare of
Shakespeare. And the process is as far as you can think
from being a mere formal or mechanical or routine hantlling
of words and i)hrascs and figures of speech : it is nothing
less than to hear and to see the hearts and souls of the
persons in what they say and do ; to feel, as it were, liie
very pulse-throbs of their inner life. Herein it is that
Shakespeare's unapproached jimI uuaproachable mastery of
human nature lies. Nor can I bear to have his poetry


Studied merely as a curious thing standing outside of and
apart from the common Vife of man, but as drawing cUrectly
into the living current of human interests, feelings, duties,
needs, occasions. So I like to be often running the Poet's
thoughts, and carrying the pupils with them, right out and
home to the business and bosom of humanity about them ;
into the follies, vices, and virtues, the meannesses and nobil-
ities, the loves, joys, sorrows, and shames, the lapses and
grandeurs, the disciplines, disasters, devotions, and divinities,
of men and women as they really are in the world. For so
the right use of his poetry is, to subserve the ends of life,
not of talk. And if this part be rightly done, pupils will
soon learn that "our gentle Shakespeare" is not a prodigious
enchanter playing with sublime or grotescjue imaginations for
their amusement, but a friend and brother, all alive with the
same heart that is in them ; and who, while he is but little
less than an angel, is also at the same time but little more
than themselves ; so that, beginning where his feet are, they
can gradually rise, and keep rising, till they come to be at
home where his great, deep, mighty intellect is.

Such, substantially, and in some detail, is the course I
have uniformly pursued in my Shakespeare classes. I have
never cared to have my pupils make any show in analyzing
and parsing the Poet's language, but I have cared much,
very much, to have them understand and enjoy his poetry.
Accordingly I have never touched the former at all, except
so far as was clearly needful in order to secure the latter.
And as the poetry was made for the purpose of being en-
joyed, so, when I have seen the pupils enjoying it, this has
been to me sufficient proof that they rightly understood it.
True, I have never had, nor have I ever wanted, any availa-
ble but cheap percentages of proficiency to set off my work :


perhaps my pupils have seldom had any idea of what they
were getting from the study. Very well ; then it has at least
not fostered conceit in them : so I wished to have it, so was
glad to have it : the results I aimed at were far off in the
future ; nor have I had any fear of those results failing to
emerge in due time. In fact, I cleave rather fondly to the
hope of being remembered by my pupils with some affection
after I shall be no more ; and I know right well tliat the best
fruits of the best mental planting have and must have a
pretty long interval between the seed-time and the harvest.

Once, indeed, and it was my very first attempt, having a
class of highly intelligent young ladies, I undertook to put
them through a pretty severe drill in prosody : after endur-
ing it awhile, they remonstrated with me, giving me to
understand that they wanted the light and pleasure properly
belonging to the study, and not the tediousness that ped-
, antry or mere technical learning could force into it. They
were right ; and herein I jtrobably learnt more from them
than they ditl from me. And so teaching of Shakespeare
has been just the hai^jjiest occupation of my life : the whole-
somest and most tonic too ; disi)osing me more than any
other to severe and earnest thought : no drudgery in it, no
dullness about it ; but " as full of spirit as the month of
May," and joyous as Wordsworth's lark hiding himself in the
light of morning, and

With a soul as strong as a mountain river
Pouring out praise to the almighty Giver.

But now certain wise ones are telling us that this is all
wrong ; that teaching Shakespeare in this way is making, or
tending to make, the study "an entertainment," ami so not
the " noble study " that it ought to be ; meaning, I iiui)pose;


by nohic sfi/dy, such a study as would bring the jjupils to

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Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareShakespeare's history of King John → online text (page 1 of 13)