Lapas attēli

And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask and antique pageantry,
Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eves by haunted stream."

Elizabethan Delight in Life. But the Elizabethan passion for dress and ornament is but the surface indication of the immense delight in life which characterizes the time. If we would appreciate the vital spirit of this crowded and bewildering age, we must feel the rush of its superb and irrepressible energy, pouring itself out through countless channels. England was like a youth first come to the full knowledge of his strength, rejoicing as a giant to run his course, and determined to do, to see, to know, to enjoy to the full. The noble and wealthy sons of England crowded to Italy; they "swam in a gondola," they plunged into the riotous and luxurious pleasures of Venice. The fever of adventure burned in men's veins. Drake sailed round the world (1577-1580); the tiny ships of Hawkins, Frobisher, Gilbert, and the rest, parted the distant waters of unplowed seas. The buccaneers plundered and fought with the zest and unwearied vigor of the Viking. Sir Walter Raleigh, with an insatiable and many-sided capacity for life typical of his time, wrote poetry, boarded Spanish galleons, explored the wilderness, and produced in his old age a huge History of the World. In their full confidence of power, men carried on vast literary undertakings, the magnitude of which would have daunted a less vigorous generation. Nothing wearied, nothing fatigued them; like Raleigh they could “toil terribly." The young Francis Bacon-lawyer, philosopher, and courtier wrote to one of the Queen's counselors with an inimitable audacity: "I have taken all knowledge to be my province."

[ocr errors]

Shakespeare's London. The center of all this full and active life was London. It was there that not only all the great dramatists, poets, and courtiers met, but there, too, came the famous travelers after their long and perilous voyages, to take their ease at their inns. At the old Mermaid Tavern in Bread Street gathered the great men of the age. Here Shakespeare, Jonson, and Raleigh, and the rest, drank their Malmsey and Canary, and smoked with wonder the newly introduced tobacco, discussing, doubtless, the newest play or poem, or listening eagerly to travelers' tales of the splendors of Italy or the marvels of the New World.

We must remember that the London of Shakespeare, like that of Chaucer, was a walled town, and that its great gates were still used. Just outside of the wall to the north lay open fields, dotted occasionally with houses and windmills. There was Smithfield or Smoothfield, where tournaments had been held, and there, a little to the eastward, was the site of the earliest theaters. Much of the ground about the city was thus uninhabited. The population of London at this time is placed at about a hundred and fifty thousand people, so that while the city was already pushing out into the country in some directions, the bulk of the people could still be accommodated within the walls.

The streets were narrow and ill-paved, and unhealthy from refuse and bad drainage, but they were gay with the bright and varied costumes of the people. Along the Strand, which stretched beyond the city wall parallel with the Thames, stood some of the finest houses of the great nobles. The majority of houses were built chiefly of wood, although brick and stone were beginning to be used. They were turreted, and had many gables and overhanging upper stories. All the hand

some places on the Strand, whose beautiful gardens sloped to the Thames, had terraces and steps leading down to the water, and every great establishment had its barge and watermen. Indeed by either night or day the Thames was a beautiful sight, for the river then ran clear and sparkling, while on it floated snowy swans; and brightly trimmed boats, filled with a gay company, skimmed over its surface.

But to make our mental picture complete, we must repeople these scenes with the rush of life; the nave of St. Paul's Cathedral is filled with gossiping throngs, the Thames with its pleasure-seekers; the theaters are packed with noisy spectators. If we can but make all this alive again in our imagination, we shall realize that to live in Shakespeare's London was to touch at every point all the crowded activities of the time.

Summary. As we review the achievements of Elizabethan England and understand this young life with its varied spheres of action, we can see that the same magnificent energy which made England prosperous at home and triumphant on the seas is the motive power back of the greatest creative period of our literature. Looking at this great time as a whole, we must see England as "a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks as an eagle mewing her mighty youth and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam." Elizabethan literature is but one outlet for this imperious energy; it is the new feeling for life that creates the drama as well as discovers kingdoms far away.



"Sweet Spenser, moving through his clouded heaven
With the moon's beauty, and the moon's soft pace,
I called him Brother, Englishman, and Friend."

"The gentle Spenser, Fancy's pleasing son:
Who, like a copious river, pour'd his song
O'er all the mazes of enchanted ground."

- THOMSON'S Seasons.

"The love of beauty, however, and not of truth, is the moving principle of his mind; and he is guided in his fantastic delineations by no rule, but by the impulse of an inexhaustible imagination." HAZLITT'S Lectures on the English Poets.

In the region of poetry, Spenser stands at the entrance of this high-souled and adventurous time. As he was slightly older than most of the famous writers of his day, two years older than his friend, Sir Philip Sidney, nine years older than Bacon, and twelve years older than Marlowe or Shakespeare, it is not surprising that he was the earliest of the greater authors of the reign to begin his work. Bacon was about to enter upon the study of the law, and Shakespeare was still a country boy, roaming through the woods and leafy lanes of his native Warwickshire, when Spenser had already won an enduring place for himself in the literature of his country.

Yet while Spenser was the first of the greater poets of his epoch to win recognition, while he was, in this sense, the forerunner of a great poetic era, he was only to a very small extent the model, or the master, of those who immediately succeeded him. Spenser's great

est work, The Faerie Queene, is a long narrative poem of chivalric adventure and high ideals. But in this kind of poetry Spenser had practically no followers or competitors among the poets of his own age. Both the demand of the people and the genius of the time

[graphic][merged small]

were above all for the drama, and Spenser's greatest contemporaries in poetry, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and many others, gave by far the larger part of their time and energy to the production of plays. Spenser's masterpiece, indeed, is closer to the old romances of the past than to the dramas which were the delight of his own age, and while he is the first of the great Eliza

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »