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Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard." This boy destined to go to Constantinople and confront the Turk was the helpless Henry the Sixth.

The historical plays are documents written all over with facts about Shakspere. Some of these facts are now discernible. We have learned something about Shakspere's convictions as to how the noblest practical success in life may be achieved. We know what Shakspere would have tried to become himself if there had not been a side of his character which acknowledged closer affinity with Hamlet than with Henry. We can in some measure infer how Shakspere would endeavour to control, and in what directions he would endeavour to reinforce his own nature while in pursuit of a practical mastery over events and things.




IF Shakspere had died at the age of forty, it might have been said, "The world has lost much, but the world's chief poet could hardly have created anything more wonderful than Hamlet." But after Hamlet came King Lear. Hamlet was, in fact, only the point of departure in Shakspere's immense and final sweep of mind, —that in which he endeavoured to include and comprehend life for the first time adequately. Through Hamlet -perhaps also through events in the poet's personal history, which tested his will as Hamlet's will was tested -Shakspere had been reached and touched by the shadow of some of the deep mysteries of human existence. Somehow a relation between his soul and the dark and terrible forces of the world was established, and to escape from a thorough investigation and sounding of the depths of life was no longer possible. Shakspere had by this time mastered the world from a practical point of view. He was a prosperous and wealthy man. He had completed his English historical plays, which are concerned with this practical mastery of the world. But all the more because he had resolved his material difficulties was his mind open to the profounder spiritual problems of life. Having completed Henry V., for a short period

he yielded his imagination and his heart to the brightest and most exuberant enjoyment. Around the year 1600 are grouped some of the most mirthful comedies that Shakspere ever wrote. Then, a little later, as soon as Hamlet is completed, all changes. From 1604 to 1610 a show of tragic figures, like the kings who passed before Macbeth, filled the vision of Shakspere; until at last the desperate image of Timon rose before him; when, as though unable to endure or to conceive a more lamentable ruin of man, he turned for relief to the pastoral loves of Prince Florizel and Perdita; and as soon as the tone of his mind was restored, gave expression to its ultimate mood of grave serenity in The Tempest and so ended.

During these years the imaginative fervour of Shakspere was at its highest, and sustained itself without abatement. There was no feverish excitement in his energy, and there was no pause. In some of his earlier years of authorship (if the generally received chronology be accepted) two or even three plays were produced within a twelve-month, of which this or that was afterwards acknowledged by its author to be a hasty piece of work, yet of sufficient substance and merit to deserve rehandling. During a certain brief season it may have been that Shakspere altogether ceased to write for the stage. But now in unbroken series, year by year, one great tragedy succeeds another. Having created Othello surely the eye of a poet's mind would demand quietude, passive acceptance of some calm beauty, a period of restoration. But Othello is pursued by Lear, Lear by Macbeth, Macbeth by Antony and Cleopatra, Antony

and Cleopatra by Coriolanus. It is evident that the artist was now completely roused. The impetus of his advance continued, and carried him without effort on from subject to subject. He could not put aside his stupendous task; neither would he accomplish any part of it imperfectly. In these years the utmost imaginative susceptibility is united with the utmost self-control. Every portion of his being is at length engaged in the magnificent effort. At first in the career of most artists a portion of their nature holds aloof from art, and is ready for application to other service. They have a poetical side, and a side which is prosaic. Gradually, as they advance towards maturity, faculty after faculty is brought into fruitful relation with the art-instinct, until at length the entire nature of the artist is fused in one, and his work becomes the expression of a complete personality. This period had now arrived for Shakspere. In the great tragedies passion and thought, humour and pathos, severity and tenderness, knowledge and guess, are all accepted as workers together with the imagination.

Tragedy as conceived by Shakspere is concerned with the ruin or the restoration of the soul, and of the life of men. In other words its subject is the struggle of good and evil in the world. This strikes down upon the roots of things. The comedies of Shakspere had, in comparison, played upon the surface of life. The Histories, though very earnest, had not dealt with the deeper mysteries of being. Henry V., the ideal figure of the historical plays, has a real and firm grasp of the actual world; he has his religion, and he has his

passion of love; but both are positive, practical, and limited. No more can his religion than his love ever embarrass Henry in his joyous mastery over men and things. His soldier-like piety, and large, incurious trust in God suffice to resolve all questions with regard to that dark outlying region which surrounds the knowable and the practicable. With a devout optimism, Henry perceives there is "some soul of goodness in things evil," and he proceeds to confirm this principle by the very substantial and business-like instance that their bad neighbours, the French, had made his soldiers early stirrers. But such devout optimism was absolutely without avail for the spiritual needs of the man who had conceived Hamlet. "To say to thee that I shall die" declares King Henry to Katherine, "is true; but for thy love,—by the Lord, no." Yet Shakspere had discovered that to die for love may be the highest need of a life under certain extreme conditions. Juliet had died for love; Romeo had died for love; and in so doing they had fulfilled and accomplished their lives. Therefore this love of Henry is tested by Shakspere, and declared to be a passion with limitation, serviceable for useful ends of marriage, and for the producing of children; but not that devotion of soul to soul which does not recognise the limitations of space or of time. "There is some soul of goodness in things evil," declares King Henry. And as comment upon such devout optimism, Shakspere produces Goneril and Regan, Iago, and the Witches in Macbeth. Now, in the tragedies, Shakspere has flung himself abroad upon the dim sea which moans around our little solid sphere of the known. Such easy and


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