Lapas attēli

poetic art, he is yet greater as one who saw life broadly and in the main truly. He knew the dark passions of man and the hidden sources of crime in men's hearts, but he knew also goodness and beauty, and showed a wise tolerance of human weakness. These things we find in his dramas. But his plays, we believe, are but the partial expression of a wise, rich, and kindly nature. We feel sure that Shakespeare was not only a great genius, but a great man, and when Ben Jonson, moved to unwonted tenderness, declares: "I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any," we know that his tribute is just.

ELIZABETHAN PROSE The greatest names in Elizabethan literature are those of the dramatists and the poets, yet the intellectual advance of the time showed itself also in a rapid development of prose. Many pamphlets were written on the questions of the day, books of history and travel, and countless short stories from the rapid pens of such writers as Peele and Greene. But among the prose writers of the time three stand out prominently: SIR PHILIP SIDNEY (1554-1586), RICHARD HOOKER (15531600), and FRANCIS, LORD BACON (1561-1626).

Sir Philip Sidney. - In an age of many great men Sidney is one of the most romantic as well as most noble figures. The story of his life — of his education at Oxford, of his travels abroad, where he formed friendships with statesmen, artists, and scholars, of his service as ambassador of Queen Elizabeth at the age of twentytwo, of his passionate love for “ Stella,” recorded in his sonnets Astrophel and Stella, of his devotion to the new learning, of his friendship with Spenser, and finally of his early and heroic death at the battle of Zutphen

is one which, to use words of his own, “holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney-corner." He was the last of the courtly knights of old England, and was taken by Spenser as a pattern of knighthood in the Faërie Queen.

Sidney's two important works are The Defense of Poesie (about 1581), and the Arcadia (1590). The latter is an elaborate romance which has furnished many stories and incidents to later writers, while the former is a review of the beauties and virtues of poetry written in answer to the attacks of the Puritans. It is one of the earliest of English essays, and the best critical essay of Elizabeth's reign. In it we find an exquisite breadth of mind, a fine enthusiasm for poetry, and a style that shows a poet's sense of the music and fitness of words.

Richard Hooker (1553-1600), in his life and work, presents a marked contrast to Sidney. He was a man of humble origin and of a gentle, religious nature, who spent most of his life in quiet study, far from the gay and busy court of Elizabeth. Although he might have gained a great place in the church, he preferred a quiet country parish, where he could "see God's blessings spring out of the earth and be far from noise.” No worldly ambitions broke the quiet of his simple scholar's life. He was one of the few churchmen of his day who avoided the painful wrangles and controversies on matters of church doctrine in which the different sects were involved. He wrote at one time, “ God and Nature did not intend me for contentions, but for study and quietness."

Hooker's great work is the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594), a book which seeks to explain and defend the laws of the Church, and which rises above mere controversy. It shows the broad vision and calm, dis

passionate judgment of the philosopher. Hooker aimed to show that God's law is not evidenced in the Bible alone, but in the entire scheme of things, – that is, in the universe. The largeness and sublimity of Hooker's conception place him with the great spirits of his time.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is one who commands our respect as a man of wonderful mental powers rather than our love as a noble or generous character. His biographer speaks of him as “the brightest, richest, largest mind but one, in the age which had seen Shakespeare and his fellows."

Life. — Bacon was born in London, January 22, 1561. . His father was Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and one of the most trusted of the early statesmen of Elizabeth; a yet more famous statesman, Lord Burleigh, was his uncle by marriage. From his earliest years, Bacon was thus connected with the court and with public life. At eighteen he was left, by the death of his father, to make his own way in the world. He accordingly entered upon the study of the law, and his advance was exceedingly rapid. He was made a barrister in 1582, Solicitor-General in 1607, Attorney-General in 1613, and Lord Chancellor in 1617. From this brilliant public success we get no idea of Bacon's inner life and deepest aspirations. In fact Bacon's character was one of contradictions. On the one hand was the scholar and philosopher, who had “taken all knowledge” for his "province," with the noble purpose of benefiting humanity by the discovery of truth. On the other was the worldly, ambitious man, the lover of great place and power. He was not one who in the service of truth could endure poverty or obscurity; and from this springs the tragedy of his life. Bacon's worldly ambitions were overthrown

and joyously. Life has not as yet shown to the poet its darker, more tragic side. He had, indeed, written Romeo and Juliet, that rapturous and romantic tragedy of ill-fated love, and The Merchant of Venice, with its pathetic figure of Shylock. He had composed The Rape of Lucrece, in which the brightness and joy of out-ofdoors and the ardent poetry found in the Venus and Adonis are replaced by the gloom of darker passion and crime, and by greater depth of meditation and thought. But the prevailing notes of the early work were those of free and even boisterous laughter, and unbroken, happily ending love.

Shakespeare's Tragic Period. --- Toward the close of the sixteenth century, however, a change begins to be apparent in the spirit of Shakespeare's work. As early probably as 1594, Shakespeare had begun to write a series of Sonnets, all of which are steeped in profound feeling. In the later of these we see a foreshadowing of Shakespeare's tragic mood. We read in them of a conflict between love and duty, of the passing of youth, of the death of friends, “hid in death's dateless night,” of a profound disgust for a world in which evil is captain over good. Twelfth Night, although written a little later than the greater part of the Sonnets, is a rollicking comedy. The solemn Malvolio is the butt of the jolly, drunken Sir Toby and the quick-witted Maria. Yet even in this play the mirth is not wholly careless. The note of warning mingles with the clown's song:“ What's to come is still unsure;" love is not “hereafter," seize it now, for

“Youth's a stuff will not endure."

The words seem at least prophetic. In the same year in which he wrote Twelfth Night (1601), Shakespeare

began in Julius Cæsar that great series of plays which won him a place among the supreme tragic poets of the world. In play after play we now find him turning from the humorous and gayer side of life to face the ultimate problems of existence, and to sound the depths of human weakness, agony, and crime. How far these great tragedies were wrought out of the suffering and bitterness of Shakespeare's cwn experience, and how far they were the result merely of the deepening and strengthening of Shakespeare's character, will never, in all likelihood, be determined. The vital thing is, that, from whatever cause, Shakespeare appears to have passed through a period of spiritual conflict.

His Studies of Sin. — It is evident that the thought of Shakespeare in these plays is largely occupied with the great fact of sin; sin, not in its relation to a life hereafter, but sin as it is in this present world. In Macbeth we are present at the ruin of a soul, standing irresolute at the brink of the first crime and then hurrying recklessly from guilt to guilt; in Othello we see the helplessness of a “ noble nature" in the hands of fiendish ingenuity and malice; Hamlet and Ophelia, the "fair rose of May,” perish with the guilty King and Queen; the outcast Lear, “more sinned against than sinning,' and his one faithful daughter, Cordelia, fall victims to a monstrous wickedness. Shakespeare views evil fearlessly and reports it honestly, and yet in the awful world of crime portrayed in these tragedies there is room for figures and examples of virtue and holiness. Our conception of the worth and dignity of life is raised, our ideals purified and ennobled, by the contemplation of the heroic in Shakespeare's world. Cordelia, Virgilia, Miranda, and Portia elevate and sanctify our thoughts of womanhood by their loveliness and purity. The

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »