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[Footnote 1: _The Tempest_, V., I.]

[Footnote 2: For the location of all the English cathedral towns, see
the _Literary Map_, p. XII.]

[Footnote 3: and.]

[Footnote 4: April.]

[Footnote 5: little.]

[Footnote 6: in her language.]

[Footnote 7: Spring.]

[Footnote 8: in its turn.]

[Footnote 9: birds.]

[Footnote 10: song.]

[Footnote 11: sigh.]

[Footnote 12: sorely.]

[Footnote 13: called.]

[Footnote 14: against.]

[Footnote 15: will.]

[Footnote 16: them.]

[Footnote 17: arrayed.]

[Footnote 18: garments.]

[Footnote 19: shepherd.]

[Footnote 20: hermit.]

[Footnote 21: hills.]

[Footnote 22: wonder.]

[Footnote 23: tired out with wandering.]

[Footnote 24: brook.]

[Footnote 25: reclined.]

[Footnote 26: sounded.]

[Footnote 27: to make dykes or ditches.]

[Footnote 28: to dig.]

[Footnote 29: to thrash (ding).]

[Footnote 30: sheaves.]

[Footnote 31: dazed.]

[Footnote 32: hermit.]

[Footnote 33: _The Prologue_, Lines 331-335.]

[Footnote 34: The cuts of the Pilgrims are from the Fourteenth Century
Ellesmere MS. of _Canterbury Tales_.]

[Footnotes 35-36: _Knightes Tale_.]

[Footnote 37: _Truth: Balade de bon Conseyl_.]

[Footnote 38: black.]

[Footnote 39: _The Parlement of Foules_.]

[Footnote 40: For full titles, see p. 50.]

[Footnote 41: For full titles, see p. 6.]


The Course of English History. - The century and a half that followed
the death of Chaucer appealed especially to Shakespeare. He wrote or
helped to edit five plays that deal with this period, - _Henry IV.,
Henry V., Henry VI., Richard III._, and _Henry VIII_. While these
plays do not give an absolutely accurate presentation of the history
of the time, they show rare sympathy in catching the spirit of the
age, and they leave many unusually vivid impressions.

Henry IV. (1399-1413), a descendant of John of Gaunt, Duke of
Lancaster, one of the younger sons of Edward III., and therefore not
in the direct line of succession, was the first English king who owed
his crown entirely to Parliament. Henry's reign was disturbed by the
revolt of nobles and by contests with the Welsh. Shakespeare gives a
pathetic picture of the king calling in vain for sleep, "nature's
tired nurse," and exclaiming: -

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Henry V. (1413-1422) is one of Shakespeare's romantic characters. The
young king renewed the French war, which had broken out in 1337 and
which later became known as the Hundred Years' War. By his victory
over the French at Agincourt (1415), he made himself a national hero.
Shakespeare has him say: -

"I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen."

In the reign of Henry VI. (1422-1461), Joan of Arc appeared and saved

The setting aside of the direct succession in the case of Henry IV.
was a pretext for the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) to settle the
royal claims of different descendants of Edward III. While this war
did not greatly disturb the common people, it occupied the attention
of those who might have been patrons of literature. Nearly all the
nobles were killed during this prolonged contest; hence when Henry
VII. (1485-1509), the first of the Tudor line of monarchs, came to the
throne, there were no powerful nobles with their retainers to hold the
king in check. He gave a strong centralized government to England.

The period following Chaucer's death opens with religious persecution.
In 1401 the first Englishman was burned at the stake for his religious
faith. From this time the expenses of burning heretics are sometimes
found in the regular accounts of cities and boroughs. Henry VIII.
(1509-1547) broke with the Pope, dissolved the monasteries, proclaimed
himself head of the church, and allowed the laity to read the _Bible_,
but insisted on retaining many of the old beliefs. In Germany, Martin
Luther (1483-1546) was in the same age issuing his famous protests
against religious abuses. Edward VI. (1547-1553) espoused the
Protestant cause. An order was given to introduce into all the
churches an English prayer book, which was not very different from
that in use to-day in the Episcopal churches. Mary (1553-1558) sought
the aid of fagots and the stake to bring the nation back to the old

frontispiece to Coverdale Bible_.]

While this period did not produce a single great poet or a statesman
of the first rank, it witnessed the destruction of the majority of the
nobility in the Wars of the Roses, the increase of the king's power,
the decline of feudalism, the final overthrow of the knight by the
yeoman with his long bow at Agincourt(1415), the freedom of the serf,
and the growth of manufactures, especially of wool. English trading
vessels began to displace even the ships of Venice.

In spite of the religious persecution with which the period began and
ended, there was a remarkable change in religious belief, the
dissolution of the monasteries and the subordination of church to
state being striking evidences of this change. An event that had
far-reaching consequences on literature and life was the act of Henry
VIII. in ordering a translation of the _Bible_ to be placed in every
parish church in England. The death of Mary may in a measure be said
to indicate the beginning of modern times.

Contrast between the Spirit of the Renaissance and of the Middle
Ages. - One of the most important intellectual movements of the world
is known as the Renaissance or Revival of Learning. This movement
began in Italy about the middle of the fourteenth century and spread
slowly westward. While Chaucer's travels in Italy; and his early
contact with this new influence are reflected in his work, yet the
Renaissance did not reach its zenith in England until the time of
Shakespeare. This new epoch followed a long period, known as the
Middle ages, when learning was mostly confined to the church, when
thousands of the best minds retired to the cloisters, when many
questions, like those of the revolution of the sun around the earth or
the cause of disease, were determined, not by observation and
scientific proof, but by the assertion of those in spiritual
authority. Then, scientific investigators, like Roger Bacon, were
thought to be in league with the devil and were thrown into prison. In
1258 Dante's tutor visited Roger Bacon, and, after seeing his
experiments with the mariner's compass, wrote to an Italian friend: -

"This discovery so useful to all who travel by sea, must remain
concealed until other times, because no mariner dare use it, lest he
fall under imputation of being a magician, nor would sailors put to
sea with one who carried an instrument so evidently constructed by
the devil."

Symonds says: "During the Middle Ages, man had lived enveloped in a
cowl. He had not seen the beauty of the world, or had seen it only to
cross himself and turn aside, to tell his beads and pray." Before the
Renaissance, the tendency was to regard with contempt mere questions
of earthly progress and enjoyment, because they were considered
unimportant in comparison with the eternal future of the soul. It was
not believed that beauty, art, and literature might play a part in
saving souls.

The Schoolmen of the Middle Ages often discussed such subjects as
these: whether the finite can comprehend the infinite at any point,
since the infinite can have no finite points; whether God can make a
wheel revolve and be stationary at the same time; whether all children
in a state of innocence are masculine. Such debates made remarkable
theologians and metaphysicians, developed precision in defining terms,
accuracy in applying the rules of deductive logic, and fluency in
expression. As a result, later scientists were able to reason more
accurately and express themselves with greater facility.

The chief fault of the studies of the Middle Ages consisted in
neglecting the external world of concrete fact. The discussions of the
Schoolmen would never have introduced printing or invented the
mariner's compass or developed any of the sciences that have
revolutionized life.

The coming of the Renaissance opened avenues of learning outside of
the church, interested men in manifold questions relating to this
world, caused a demand for scientific investigation and proof, and
made increasing numbers seek for joy in this life as well as in that
to come.

Causes and Effects of the Renaissance. - Some of the causes of this
new movement were the weariness of human beings with their lack of
progress, their dissatisfaction with the low estimate of the value of
this life, and their yearning for fuller expansion of the soul, for
more knowledge and joy on this side of the grave.

Another cause was the influence of Greek literature newly discovered
in the fifteenth century by the western world. In 1423 an Italian
scholar brought 238 Greek manuscripts to Italy. In 1453 the Turks
captured Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and
the headquarters of Grecian learning. Because of the remoteness of
this capital, English literature had not been greatly influenced by
Greece. When Constantinople fell, many of her scholars went to Italy,
taking with them precious Grecian manuscripts. As Englishmen often
visited Italy, they soon began to study Grecian masterpieces, and to
fall under the spell of Homer and the Athenian dramatists.

The renewed study of Greek and Latin classics stimulated a longing for
the beautiful in art and literature. Fourteenth-century Italian
writers, like Petrarch and Boccaccio, found increasing interest in
their work. Sixteenth-century artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci,
Michael Angelo, and Raphael show their magnificent response to a world
that had already been born again.

Many of the other so-called causes of the Renaissance should strictly
be considered its effects. The application of the modern theory of the
solar system, the desire for exploration, the use of the mariner's
compass, the invention and spread of printing, were more effects of
the new movement than its causes.

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), inspired by the spirit of the
Renaissance, wrote in Latin a remarkable book called _Utopia_ (1516),
which presents many new social ideals. In the land of Utopia, society
does not make criminals and then punish them for crime. Every one
worships as he pleases. Only a few hours of work a day are necessary,
and all find genuine pleasure in that. In Utopia life is given to be a
joy. No advantage is taken of the weak or the unfortunate.
Twentieth-century dreams of social justice are not more vivid and
absorbing than Sir Thomas More's. It is pleasant to think that the
Roman Catholic church in 1886 added to her list of saints this lovable
man, "martyr to faith and freedom."

When the full influences of the Renaissance reached England,
Shakespeare answered their call, and his own creations surpass the
children of Utopia.

The Invention of Printing. - In 1344, about the time of Chaucer's
birth, a _Bible_ in manuscript cost as much as three oxen. A century
later an amount equal to the wages of a workman for 266 days was paid
for a manuscript _Bible_. At this time a book on astronomy cost as
much as 800 pounds of butter. One page of a manuscript book cost the
equivalent of from a dollar to a dollar and a half to-day. When a
member of the Medici family in Florence desired a library, he sent for
a book contractor, who secured forty-five copyists. By rigorous work
for nearly two years they produced two hundred volumes.


One of the most powerful agencies of the Renaissance was the invention
of printing, which multiplied books indefinitely and made them
comparatively cheap. People were alive with newly awakened curiosity,
and they read books to learn more of the expanding world.

About 1477 William Caxton, who had set up his press at the Almonry,
near Westminster Abbey, printed the first book in England, _The Dictes
and Notable Wish Sayings of the Philosophers_. Among fully a hundred
different volumes that he printed were Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales_,
Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, and an English translation of Vergil's

Bodleian Library, Oxford._]

Malory's Morte d'Arthur. - The greatest prose work of the fifteenth
century was completed in 1470 by a man who styles himself Sir Thomas
Malory, Knight. We know nothing of the author's life; but he has left
as a monument a great prose epic of the deeds of King Arthur and his
Knights of the Round Table. From the various French legends concerning
King Arthur, Malory selected his materials and fashioned than into the
completest Arthuriad that we possess. While his work cannot be called
original, he displayed rare artistic power in arranging, abridging,
and selecting the various parts from different French works.

Malory's prose is remarkably simple and direct. Even in the impressive
scene where Sir Bedivere throws the dying King Arthur's sword into the
sea, the language tells the story simply and shows no straining after
effect: -

"And then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might,
and there came an arm and an hand above the water, and met it, and
caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished
away the hand with the sword in the water... 'Now put me into
the barge,' said the king; and so he did softly. And there received
him three queens with great mourning, and so they set him down, and
in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head, and then that queen
said, 'Ah, dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me?'"

After the dusky barge has borne Arthur away from mortal sight, Malory
writes: "Here in this world he changed his life." A century before,
Chaucer had with equal simplicity voiced the Saxon faith: -

"His spirit chaunged hous."[1]

Sometimes this prose narrative, in its condensation and expression of
feeling, shows something of the poetic spirit. When the damsel on the
white palfrey sees that her knightly lover has been killed, she
cries: -

"O Balin! two bodies
hast thou slain and one
heart, and two hearts in
one body, and two souls
thou hast lost.' And
therewith she took the
sword from her love that
lay dead, and as she took
it, she fell to the ground
in a swoon."

[Illustration: MALORY'S MORTE D'ARTHUR. _From De Worde's Ed.,

Malory's work, rather than Layamon's _Brut_, has been the storehouse
to which later poets have turned. Many nineteenth-century poets are
indebted to Malory. Tennyson's _Idylls of the King_, Matthew Arnold's
_Death of Tristram_, Swinburne's _Tristram of Lyonesse_, and William
Morris's _Defense of Guinevere_ were inspired by the _Morte d'Arthur_.
Few English prose works have had more influence on the poetry of the
Victorian age.

Scottish Poetry. - The best poetry of the fifteenth century was
written in the Northern dialect, which was spoken north of the river
Humber. This language was just as much English as the Midland tongue
in which Chaucer wrote. Not until the sixteenth century was this
dialect called Scotch.

James I. of Scotland (1406-1437) spent nineteen years of his youth
as a prisoner in England. During his captivity in Windsor Castle, he
fell in love with a maiden, seen at her orisons in the garden, and
wrote a poem, called the _King's Quair_, to tell the story of his
love. Although the _King's Quair_ is suggestive of _The Knightes
Tale_, and indeed owes much to Chaucer, it is a poetic record of
genuine and successful love. These four lines from the spring song
show real feeling for nature: -

"Worshippe, ye that lovers be, this May,
For of your bliss the kalends are begun,
And sing with us, 'Away, Winter, away,
Come, Summer, come, the sweet season and sun!'"

Much of this Scotch poetry is remarkable for showing in that early age
a genuine love of nature. Changes are not rung on some typical
landscape, copied from an Italian versifier. The Northern poet had his
eye fixed on the scenery and the sky of Scotland. About the middle of
the century, Robert Henryson, a teacher in Dunfermline, wrote. -

"The northin wind had purifyit the air
And sched the misty cloudis fra the sky."[2]

This may lack the magic of Shelley's rhythm, but the feeling for
nature is as genuine as in the later poet's lines: -

"For after the rain when, with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare."[3]

William Dunbar, the greatest poet of this group, who lived in the
last half of the fifteenth century, was a loving student of the nature
that greeted him in his northland. No Italian poet, as he wandered
beside a brook, would have thought of a simile like this: -

"The stonés clear as stars in frosty night."[4]

Dunbar takes us with him on a fresh spring morning, where -

"Enamelled was the field with all coloúrs,
The pearly droppés shook in silver showers,"[5]

where we can hear the matin song of the birds hopping among the buds,
while -

"Up rose the lark, the heaven's minstrel fine."[6]

Both Dunbar and Gawain Douglas (1474?-1522), the son of a Scotch
nobleman, had keen eyes for all coloring in sky, leaf, and flower. In
one line Dunbar calls our attention to these varied patches of color
in a Scotch garden: "purple, azure, gold, and gulés [red]." In the
verses of Douglas we see the purple streaks of the morning, the
bluish-gray, blood-red, fawn-yellow, golden, and freckled red and
white flowers, and -

"Some watery-hued, as the blue wavy sea."[7]

Outside the pages of Shakespeare, we shall for the next two hundred
years look in vain for so genuine a love of scenery and natural
phenomena as we find in fifteenth-century Scottish poetry. These poets
obtained many of their images of nature at first hand, an achievement
rare in any age.


"Songs for Man or Woman, of All Sizes." - When Shakespeare shows us
Autolycus offering such songs at a rustic festival,[8] the great poet
emphasizes the fondness for the ballad which had for a long time been
developing a taste for poetry. While it is difficult to assign exact
dates to the composition of many ballads, we know that they flourished
in the fifteenth century. They were then as much prized as the novel
is now, and like it they had a story to tell. The verse was often
halting, but it succeeded in conveying to the hearer tales of love, of
adventure, and of mystery. These ballads were sometimes tinged with
pathos; but there was an energy in the rude lines that made the heart
beat faster and often stirred listeners to find in a dance an outlet
for their emotions. Even now, with all the poetry of centuries from
which to choose, it is refreshing to turn to a Robin Hood ballad and
look upon the greensward, hear the rustle of the leaves in Nottingham
forest, and follow the adventures of the hero. We read the opening
lines: -

"There are twelve months in all the year,
As I hear many say,
But the merriest month in all the year
Is the merry month of May."

"Now Robin Hood is to Nottingham gone,
With a link a down, and a day,
And there he met a silly old woman
Was weeping on the way."

Of our own accord we finish the ballad to see whether Robin Hood
rescued her sons, who were condemned to death for shooting the fallow
deer. The ballad of the _Nut-Brown Maid_ has some touches that are
almost Shakespearean.

Some of the carols of the fifteenth century give a foretaste of the
Elizabethan song. One carol on the birth of the Christ-child contains
stanzas like these, which show artistic workmanship, imaginative
power, and, above all, rare lyrical beauty: -

"He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr,
As dew in Aprille
that Fallyt on the flour."

"He cam also stylle
ther his moder lay,
As dew in Aprille
that fallyt on the spray"[9]

We saw that the English tongue during its period of exclusion from the
Norman court gained strength from coming in such close contact with
life. Although the higher types of poetry were for the most part
wanting during the fifteenth century, yet the ballads multiplied and
sang their songs to the ear of life. Critics may say that the rude
stanzas seldom soar far from the ground, but we are again reminded of
the invincible strength of Antaeus so long as he kept close to his
mother earth. English poetry is so great because it has not withdrawn
from life, because it was nurtured in such a cradle. When Shakespeare
wrote his plays, he found an audience to understand and to appreciate
them. Not only those who occupied the boxes, but also those who stood
in the pit, listened intelligently to his dramatic stories. The ballad
had played its part in teaching the humblest home to love poetry.
These rude fireside songs were no mean factors in preparing the nation
to welcome Shakespeare.

William Tyndale, 1490?-1536. - The Reformation was another mighty
influence, working side by side with all the other forces to effect a
lasting change in English history and literature. In the early part of
the sixteenth century, Martin Luther was electrifying Germany with his
demands for church reformation. In order to decide which religious
party was in the right, there arose a desire for more knowledge of the
_Scriptures_. The language had changed much since Wycliffe's
translation of the _Bible_, and, besides, this was accessible only in
manuscript. William Tyndale, a clergyman and an excellent linguist,
who had been educated at both Oxford and Cambridge, conceived the idea
of giving the English people the Bible in their own tongue. As he
found that he could not translate and print the Bible with safety in
England, he went to the continent, where with the help of friends he
made the translation and had it printed. He was forced to move
frequently from place to place, and was finally betrayed in his hiding
place near Brussels. After eighteen months' imprisonment without pen
or books, he was strangled and his body was burned at the stake.

Of his translation, Brooke says: "It was this _Bible_ which, revised
by Coverdale, and edited and reëdited as _Cromwell's Bible_, 1539, and
again as _Cranmer's Bible_, 1540, was set up in every parish church in
England. It got north into Scotland and made the Lowland English more
like the London English. It passed over into the Protestant
settlements in Ireland. After its revival in 1611 it went with the
Puritan Fathers to New England and fixed the standard of English in
America. Many millions of people now speak the English of Tyndale's
_Bible_, and there is no other book which has had, through the
_Authorized Version_, so great an influence on the style of English
literature and on the standard of English prose."

[Illustration: WILLIAM TYNDALE. _From an old print_.]

The following verses from Tyndale's version show its simplicity
directness, and similarity to the present version: -

"Jesus sayde unto her, Thy brother shall ryse agayne.

"Martha sayde unto hym, I knowe wele, he shall ryse agayne in the
resurreccion att the last day.

"Jesus sayde unto her, I am the resurreccion and lyfe; whosoever
beleveth on me, ye, though he were deed, yet shall he lyve."

Italian Influence: Wyatt and Surrey. - During the reign of Henry
VIII. (1509-1547), the influence of Italian poetry made itself
distinctly felt. The roots of Elizabethan poetry were watered by many
fountains, one of the chief of which flowed from Italian soil. To Sir
Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and to the Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) belongs
the credit of introducing from Italian sources new influences, which
helped to remodel English poetry and give it a distinctly modern cast.

These poets were the first to introduce the sonnet, which Shakespeare,
Milton, and Wordsworth employed with such power in after times. Blank
verse was first used in England by the Earl of Surrey, who translated
a portion of Vergil's _AEneid_ into that measure. When Shakespeare
took up his pen, he found that vehicle of poetic expression ready for
his use.

[Illustration: SIR THOMAS WYATT._After Holbein_.]

Wyatt and Surrey adopted Italian subject matter as well as form. They
introduced the poetry of the amorists, that is, verse which tells of
the woes and joys of a lover. We find Shakespeare in his _Sonnets_

Online LibraryReuben Post HalleckHalleck's New English Literature → online text (page 8 of 43)