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he cannot justify from the poet's own words when rightly understood. He will strive, in passing judgment on Shakespeare's works and his poetical activity, to hold himself, above all things, in the safe middle term, between, on the one hand, the measureless idolatry which sees in every work of this poet the rounded and complete ideal of perfection, exalting him even at the expense of our own great dramatists; and, on the other, the equally measureless depreciation of his works which now seems to be coming into fashion : a reaction, perhaps, from the before-mentioned idolatry, which, however, dates back to an earlier school of criticism, of which one member, Voltaire, was not ashamed to call “Hamlet” “the work of a drunken savage." Finally, I shall hold myself quite aloof from the quarrel which has broken out over the personality of the poet Shakespeare himself, owing to a voice which has declared that the poems and plays were due to the pen of Bacon the philosopher, while Shakespeare merely lent his name. The polemic aroused by this bold assertion has certainly led every impartial judge to the following conclusion: that the right of the player and poet William Shakespeare to the authorship of his poems and plays cannot be arraigned, and that even if some of them appear to have been the work of several hands, and if the Shakespearian authorship of some plays is doubtful, whether they are really entirely or only partly or absolutely not his work, still Bacon's authorship is not to be contemplatcd. For me this controversy, which, however, hardly deserves to be called so any more, is decided by one single circumstance, namely, by the fact that the Sonnets, which from external and internal evidence are admitted to be Shakespcarc's own, in innumerablc places bear the distinct traces of the hand that wrote the plays; so that Bacon, if he wrote the plays, must also have written the Sonnets, which hypothesis is absolutely excluded from the discussion.
With regard to the plan of this book, it is necessary first of all, in order to obtain the right standpoint from which to judge Shakespeare, to rear a satisfactory foundation in two directions. First, the age whence such a poet arose must be described in its action and its influence, since even the greatest and most powerful of men can only be rightly understood in relation to a right understanding of the times to which they belong. Our second task will be the description of the rise and development of dramatic poetry prior to Shakespeare's appearance, for without some knowledge of the dramatic poetry that preceded Shakespeare many of his own striking characteristics, especially those of his youthful period, cannot be properly judgcd or understood. There must also be some short account of the poet's life, as far as the very sparse and often doubtful indications regarding it will permit, because this too furnishes very important indications towards the appreciation of his poetical development and towards the proper comprehension of his works. This will link on with an attempt to set forth, as far as feasible, the chronological sequence of the works, in order that the most prominent female figures which meet us in these poems may be described and characterised in their chronological succession.