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Unibersity Press : JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
'HESE Parlor Lectures were given in Balti
more, to a large and appreciative class of ladies. In examining great masses of Shakspearian criticism during their preparation, I was surprised to find how little of the same kind of work has been done. We have (besides Hudson and Dowden) Hazlitt's characters, which are very brief; Coleridge's inestimable notes, which too often are mere jottings; Maginn's papers, which I find a little strained; Gervinus, who writes with Teutonic care, insight, and heaviness; Richard Grant White, whose most finished essay is on a play not included in this volume; Christopher North, whose sparklets of Shakspearian criticism are scattered up and down old volumes of Blackwood; Mrs. Jameson's most excellent “Characteristics of Women;" Lady Martin's recent letters on some of Shakspeare's female characters; and a series of papers, still incomplete, in the English "Monthly Packet" (edited by Miss Yonge), called “Shakspeare Talks with Uncritical People,” by Constance O'Brian. There are also notes to all editions
of the plays; besides which a great deal of fugitive Shakspearian criticism — of the kind I wanted — can be found in magazines, inaccessible for the most part to the general reader. To all these I acknowledge the greatest obligations, in trying to do for each play as a whole what Mrs. Jameson and Lady Martin have done for its heroine. To the erudite who write for University men, I leave all points of what is called Shakspearian criticism. I have attempted nothing but to bring out obvious points of dramatic interest, and to enable those whom I addressed to get a clear view of the story and the characters.
If I can do anything towards opening the " mighty book” for those who have not time or facilities for searching out what I have done from various sources, I shall feel very glad that I undertook a task which at first I shrank from as beyond my powers.
I found however, that my habit, as a novelist, of studying characters, and, as it were, working in fiction, gave me a certain insight even into Shakspeare's mind. I feel very sure that his characters started from some germ, and evolved themselves as he wrote ; that they grew, in short, beneath his hand, and were not laid down by line and rule beforehand. He had an inner sense which made it impossible for him to make any of his creatures (unless it may be Oliver, in “As You Like It") act“ out of character.”
Lord Tennyson is reported to have said, in the course of some discussion on the recent abuses of
biography, that the world should be thankful there are but five facts absolutely known to us about Shakspeare. These five indisputable facts are, the date of his birth, - St. George's Day, April 23, 1564, six years after the accession of Queen Elizabeth; his marriage when he was only nineteen to Anne Hathaway; his connection with the Globe Theatre, and with Blackfriars; his retirement from theatrical life, with a competency, to Stratford-upon-Avon; and the date of his death, which took place upon the anniversary of his birth, 1616, five years after the publication of King James' translation of the English Bible. Knight's bulky and interesting life of Shakspeare contains but these five facts; the rest of the book consists of guess-work and side-shows.
There are five portraits of Shakspeare, two of which may possibly be genuine; and recently in Germany a death-mask has been found, marked 1616, which is supposed to have been taken from his dead face. The evidence is curious, but not conclusive; it may be found in a paper by Dr. Ingleby and in “Scribner's Monthly."
His name he spelled Shakspere. His arms were given to his family for services rendered to Henry VII. on Bosworth-field. He had two daughters, Susanna and Judith. Susanna married a somewhat learned physician and strict Puritan, - Dr. Hall. They had one little daughter, Elizabeth, a great pet with her grandfather. She was twice married, but was childless. She lived to a good old age, and died in the reign of Charles II. Judith married a citizen of Stratford, whose name was Quimby. She had no children. She and her brother Hamet (born before their father was twenty-one) were twins. Hamet died in early boyhood, to the great grief of his father.
Shakspeare had brothers, though little is known of them; he had also uncles of the same name. From one of these the Shakspeares in America claim to be descended.
When Dante found himself in that outer circle of the Inferno where poets and their dramatis persona lived in honor and great glory, deprived of heavenly light, but illuminated by artificial brilliancy, Virgil introduced him to the company of the five great poets of the world, under the captaincy of Homer, who admitted him (the sixth) into their company.
I never read this passage in the “Inferno ” without thinking how time has altered the rank of these six great ones. Homer retains his sovereignty, but next to him stands Shakspeare; Dante ranks the third. The three other places may be still matter of dispute. We shall surely not elect to them Lucan, Horace, and Ovid, — perhaps even Virgil may not be one.