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The five miniature-portraits of Shakspere, forming the frontispiece, are taken from the
THE present Volume, entitled 'Studies of Shakspere,' will consist of a republication, with additions and corrections, of the critical Notices that are scattered through my editions of Shakspere, known as 'the Pictorial' and 'the Library. These Notices are not included in my edition in one volume, nor in my Cabinet' edition.
It may appear somewhat presumptuous that I should devote a volume of a National Library of Select Literature' to a republication of my own writings. I have seriously weighed this possible objection, and I thus meet it. There are very few readers who have not access to some edition of the works of " the greatest in our literature-the greatest in all literature." But there are a vast number who have no aids in the proper appreciation of Shakspere's excellence, dependent as such a judgment is upon an adequate comprehension of his principles of art. In developing those principles I have felt it necessary, on the one hand, to combat some opinions of former editors which were addressed to an age nearly without poetry; which looked upon the age of Shakspere as equally remarkable for the rudeness as for the vigour of its literature; and which considered Shakspere himself under the vulgar aspect of the miraculous,—a genius perfectly untaught and unregulated. On the other hand, I have as sedulously brought forward and enforced the doctrines of that more recent school of æsthetics which holds that "the Englishman who, without reverence, a proud and affectionate reverence, can utter the name of William Shakspere, stands disqualified for the office of critic." These Essays, therefore, are not to be received as the opinions of an individual, but as an embodiment of the genial spirit of the new school of Shaksperean criticism, as far as a humble disciple may interpret that spirit.
But even to those who are familiar with critical editions of Shakspere, and with the great mass of critical writings upon Shakspere, the present volume will have the value of a comprehensive arrangement. It will exhibit the rude beginnings of the Drama previous to Shakspere's appearance; it will trace the growth of his powers, as far as can be gathered from positive and circumstantial evidence, in his earliest works; it will carry forward the same analysis through the second period of his meridian splendour; it will show, in like manner, the glory of his mature day, and the sober lustre of his evening. In each of these periods the characters and productions of his dramatic contemporaries will be examined. The reader will proceed step by step in a systematic knowledge of the Shaksperean Art,
and view it in connection with the circumstances which attended it in each successive stage of its advancement.
Since the completion of my larger editions of Shakspere many new materials for the History of our Dramatic Literature have been published by 'The Shakespeare Society,' and by individual critics and antiquaries. It will be my duty to consult these authorities, so that this work may be rendered of some additional value to those friends who, possessing my 'Pictorial' or 'Library' editions, have expressed a desire to see the 'Notices' of each play in a collected form, and sold at a cheap rate, so as to form a Companion Volume to the many thousand copies of Shakspere which are diffused amongst our countrymen.
JANUARY 1, 1849.
PAGEANTS AND MYSTERIES.
THE city of Coventry, within a moderate In the play of 'The Fall,' Eve sang
distance of Stratford upon Avon, was amongst the last places which retained the ancient pageants. Before the Reformation, these pageants, "acted with mighty state and reverence by the friars of this house [the Grey Friars], had theatres for the several scenes, very large and high, placed upon wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts of the city for the better advantage of spectators; and contained the story of the New Testament composed into old English rhyme, as appeareth by an ancient manuscript, entitled Ludus Corporis Christi, or Ludus Cocentric."* Henry V. and his nobles took great delight in seeing the pageants; Queen Margaret, in the days of her prosperity, came from Kenilworth to Coventry privily to see the play, and saw all the pageants played save one, which could not be played because night drew on; the triumphant Richard III. came to see the Corpus Christi plays; and Henry VII. much commended themt. In these Corpus Christi plays there were passages which had a vigorous simplicity, fit for the teaching of an uninstructed people. In the play of 'The Creation,' the pride of Lucifer disdained the worship of the angels, and he was cast down
"With mirth and joy never more to mell." * Dugdale.
+ See Sharp's quotations from the manuscript Annals of Coventry, Dissertation,' page 4.
"In this garden I will go see
In the same play we have a hymn of Abel,
Almighty God, and full of might,
By whom all thing is made of nought, To thee my heart is ready dight,
For upon thee is all my thought."
In the play of 'Noah,' when the dove returned to the ark with the olive-branch, there was a joyful chorus:—
"Mare vidit et fugit,
Jordanis conversus est retrorsum,
These ancient Coventry plays were fortythree in number. The general spread of knowledge might have brought other teaching, but they familiarized the people with the great scriptural truths; they gave them amusements of a higher nature than military games, and contentions of mere brute force. In the boyhood of Shakspere the same class of subjects was handled by rude artificers. Let us attempt to describe such
See the Ludus Coventriæ,' published by the 'Shakespeare Society.'