Abbildungen der Seite

early poem he seems to have produced on an average two dramas a year. When we attempt however to trace the growth and progress of the poet's mind in the order of his plays we are met in the case of many of them by an absence of certain information as to the dates of their appearance. The facts on which inquiry has to build are extremely few. “ Venus and Adonis,” with the “ Lucrece," must have been written before their publication in 1593-4 ; the Sonnets, though not published till 1609, were known in some form among his private friends as early as 1598. His earlier plays are defined by a list given in the “Witt's Treasury" of Francis Meres in 1598, though the omission of a play from a casual catalogue of this kind would hardly warrant us in assuming its necessary non-existence at the time. The works ascribed to him at his death are fixed in the same approximate fashion through the edition published by his fellow-actors. Beyond these meagre facts and our knowledge of the publication of a few of his dramas in his lifetime all is uncertain ; and the conclusions which have been drawn from these, and from the dramas themselves, as well as from assumed resemblances with, or reference to, other plays of the period, can only be accepted as approximations to the truth.

The bulk of his lighter comedies and historical dramas can be assigned with fair probability to a period from about 1593, when Shakspere was known as nothing more than an adapter, to 1598, when they are mentioned in the list of Meres. They bear on them indeed the stamp of youth. In “Love's Labour's Lost” the young playwright, fresh from his own Stratford, its “ daisies pied and violets blue," with the gay bright music of its country ditties still in his ears, flings himself into the midst of the brilliant England which gathered round Elizabeth, busying himself as yet for the inost part with the surface of it, with the humours and

quixotisms, the whit and the whim, the unreality, the fantastic extravagance, which veiled its inner nobleness. Country-lad as he is, Shakspere shows himself master of it all ; he can patter euphuism and exchange quip and repartee with the best; he is at home in their pedantries and affectations, their brag and their rhetoric, their passion for the fantastic and the marvellous. He can laugh as heartily at the romantic vagaries of the courtly world in which he finds himself as

at the

narrow dulness, the pompous triflings, of the country world which he has left behind him. But he laughs frankly and without malice; he sees the real grandeur of soul which underlies all this quixotry and word-play; and owns with a smile that when brought face to face with the facts of human life, with the suffering of man or the danger of England, these fops have in them the stuff of heroes. He shares the delight in existence, the pleasure in sheer living, which was so marked a feature of the age ; he enjoys the mistakes, the contrasts, the adventures, of the men about him; his fun breaks almost riotously out in the practical jokes of the “Taming of the Shrew” and the endless blunderings of the “Comedy of Errors.” In these earlier efforts his work had been marked by little poetic elevation, or by passion. But the easy grace of the dialogue, the dexterous management of a complicated story, the genial gaiety of his tone and the music of his verse, promised a master of social comedy as soon as Shakspere turned from the superficial aspects of the world about him to find a new delight in the character and actions of men. The interest of human character was still fresh and vivid ; the sense of individuality drew a charm from its novelty ; and poet and essayist were busy alike in sketching the “humours” of mankind. Shakspere sketched with his fellows. In the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” his painting

of manners was suffused by a tenderness and ideal beauty which formed an effective protest against the hard though vigorous character-painting which the first success of Ben Jonson in “Every Man in his Humour” brought at the time into fashion. But quick on these lighter comedies followed two in which his genius started fully into life. His poetic power, held in reserve till now, showed itself with a splendid profusion in the brilliant fancies of the “Midsummer Night's Dream ;” and passion swept like a tide of resistless delight through “Romeo and Juliet.”




[The reign of Elizabeth was followed by that of a very

different ruler. James the First broke with English religion, quarrelled with the Parliament, and sowed the first seeds of the strife between king and people which was to end in the Great Rebellion. His persecution however of those who would not conform to the Church and its worship brought about a great result. It drove some of them to the New World ; and their foundation of the colonies of New England moulded for good the destinies of the United States.]

In the opening of the reign of James “a poor people” in the north of England, in towns and villages of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and the borders of Yorkshire, in and near Scrooby, had “become enlightened by the word of God.” “Presently," we are told by their historian, “they were both scoffed and scorned by the profane multitude; and their ministers, urged with the yoke of subscription,” were, by the increase of troubles, led “to see further," that

not only “the beggarly cereinonits were monuments of idolatry," but also “that the lordly power of the prelates ought not to be submitted to.” Many of them, therefore, “whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for his truth,” resolved, “ whatever it might cost them, to shake off the anti-Christian bondage, and, as the Lord's free people, to join themselves by a covenant into a church estate in the fellowship of the gospel.” Of the same faith with Calvin, heedless of acts of Parliament, they rejected “the offices and callings, the courts and canons” of bishops, and, renouncing all obedience to human authority in spiritual things, asserted for themselves an unlimited and never-ending right to make advances in truth, and “ walk in all the ways which God had made known or should make known to them.”

The reformed church chose for one of their ministers John Robinson, "a man not easily to be paralleled," " of a most learned, polished, and modest spirit.” Their ruling elder was William Brewster, who “. was their special stay and help." They were beset and watched night and day by the agents of prelacy. For about a year they kept their meetings every Sabbath, in one place or another; exercising the worship of God among themselves, notwithstanding all the diligence and malice of their adversaries. But, as the humane ever decline to enforce the laws dictated by bigotry, the office devolves on the fanatic or the savage. Hence the severity of their execution usually surpassed the intention of their authors; and the peaceful members of “the poor, persecuted flock of Christ,” despairing of rest in England, resolved to go into exile.

The departure from England was effected with much suffering and hazard. The first attempt, in 1607, was prevented; but the magistrates checked the ferocity of the subordinate officers; and, after a month's arrest of the whole company, seven only of the principal men were detained a little longer in prison. The next spring the design was renewed. As if it had been a crime to escape from persecution, an unfrequented heath in Lincolnshire, near the mouth of the Humber, was the place of secret meeting. Just as a boat was bearing a part of the emigrants to their ship, a company of horsemen appeared in pursuit, and seized on the helpless women and children who had not yet adventured on the surf. “Pitiful it was to see the heavy case of these poor women in distress; what weeping and crying on every side." But, when they were apprehended, it seemed impossible to punish and imprison wives and children for no other crime than that they would not part from their husbands and fathers. They could not be sent home, for “they had no homes to go to;" so that, at last, the magistrates were "glad to be rid of them on any terms,” “ though, in the meantime, they, poor souls, endured misery enough." Such was the flight of Robinson and Brewster, and their followers, from the land of their fathers.

Their arrival in Amsterdam,1 in 1608, was but the beginning of their wanderings. “They knew they were PILGRIMS, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits."

They lived but as men in exile. Many of their English friends would not come to them, or departed from them weeping. “Their continual labours, with other crosses and sorrows, left them in danger to scatter or sink.” “ Their children, sharing their parents' burdens, bowed under the weight, and were becoming decrepid in early youth.” Conscious of ability to act a higher part in the great drama of humanity, they were moved by “a hope and inward zeal of advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the

1 In Holland

« ZurückWeiter »