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Shakespeare's last years

demand, which can hardly have been unconnected with the great event of the day, the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth. It was not, like The Tempest, designed for representation at Court, but was meant to symbolise by the marriage of Anne Boleyn, the general relief at the Princess having made a Protestant match, and not espoused a Roman Catholic prince, which correspondence among the State Papers shows to have been much apprehended. The expedition necessary that the drama might appear while the marriage was still a topic of universal interest would involve the co-operation of two dramatists, and Shakespeare, by Ben Jonson's testimony the most facile writer of his day, and lately a proprietor of the theatre where the play was to be acted, was of all men the most likely to be invoked to help Fletcher. The portions that may be most confidently ascribed to him are Act I., scene 1; Act II., scenes 2 and 3; Act V., scene 1. All are worthy of him, if regarded as improvisations, as in fact they were. Fletcher also has written well; the fine speech of Cranmer at Elizabeth's christening brings the subject to the most satisfactory conclusion of which it admits, and would be received with enthusiasm by an audience remembering that Elizabeth was also the christian-name of the Princess whom the play was written to honour. The dramatists have shown tact in availing themselves to the utmost of Katharine's pathetic situation, without blackening King Henry, which would have ruined their design. The participation of Massinger has been suspected; but if he was, as generally believed, a Roman Catholic, he cannot well have co-operated in so Protestant a play.

If our view of the origin of Henry VIII. is correct, our last glimpse of Shakespeare as an author reveals him in the act of rendering a good-natured service to a fellow dramatist, an attitude entirely in keeping with his character. His remaining years were few, and the notices of him are few also. In March 1613 he bought a house in Blackfriars, which he immediately leased; in November 1614 he was in London on apparently local business; in February 1616 his daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney. The serene spirit of his latest plays coincides with the date of his residence at Stratford, and could not well have been his if he had not been living in the enjoyment of domestic tranquillity. He can hardly have felt any deep affection for the wife with whose society he had dispensed for so long, but continuous dispeace would hardly have escaped the Stratford gossips. The eccentric bequest to his wife of his second-best bed must have been explicable by some circumstance unknown to us. Could it have been Mrs. Shakespeare's marriagebed? The will which conveyed it, and at the same time gave evidence of his affection for his daughters and his remembrance of his old theatrical comrades, was executed on March 25, 1616. The testator declares himself to be then "in perfect health," but by April 23 he was no more. According to a tradition preserved by Ward, his death was occasioned by a fever contracted at a jovial meeting with Ben Jonson and Drayton. It may be doubted whether Ben was sufficiently well affected to Shake



speare and Drayton to come down to Warwickshire to drink with either of them.1

Tomb and

On April 25 Shakespeare was interred in the parish church, and honoured Shakespeare's with a tomb in the chancel, not as a poet, but as an impropriator of tithes. His grave was covered with a flat stone, bearing the inscription known to all, artless indeed, but adapted to the capacity of the sextons for whose admonition it was designed.

But ere long, certainly by 1623, when it is mentioned by


The chancel of Stratford Church, showing Shakespeare's Bust

Leonard Digges, an elaborate monument, including the famous bust, was erected in the chancel, at the cost, tradition affirms, of his daughter Susanna Hall. The terse Latin distich inscribed upon it celebrates Shakespeare's wisdom, urbanity, and genius for epic poetry, but is silent as to his work as a dramatist :

Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,

Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet.

The temper of Sophocles no less than his genius resembled Shakespeare's,
In the very year of Shakespeare's death Jonson ridiculed The Tempest and Henry V. in a prologue to
His professed eulogium on Drayton appears to us
Every Man in his Humour, not in the first edition.
a thinly disguised satire.

but, instead of the expected Sophoclem, we get Socratem at the expense of a false quantity. One is led to suspect that the writer disapproved of plays, in which case he may well have been Shakespeare's son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, a Latin scholar with Puritan leanings. If so, we have testimony to the affection with which Shakespeare was regarded in his own family; further evinced by the bestowal of his surname as a christian-name upon the eldest son of his daughter Judith, born in the November succeeding his death. The English lines upon the monument were probably composed by some friend in London.

Space forbids our attempting any survey of Shakespeare's literary or intellectual character. Inexhaustible themes for discussion are afforded by his probable views on religion and politics, his obligations to predecessors and his relations to contemporaries, his appreciation in his own day and his influence on the after-world. The comparative fulness of the treatment which, nevertheless, we have been able to accord him, will not appear disproportionate when it is considered with what remoteness from all possible competition he stands forth as Britain's national poet. To remove any other great poet from our literature would be to lop off a limb from a many-branching tree, to remove Shakespeare would be to take the sun out of heaven.



THE authors who will be considered in the remaining chapters of this volume were all of them liable in earlier and laxer periods of literary history to be treated as being what was vaguely called "Elizabethan." Fifty years ago it awakened no protest to see Shirley described as an Elizabethan dramatist and Hall as 'an Elizabethan prose-writer, although the former was only seven years old. when the great Queen passed away, and although the latter survived until within four years of the Restoration. All that was seen in the general survey was the burst of production between the reign of Mary and the Commonwealth, and to this it was natural to assign the name of its most picturesque and romantic patron. But we realise now the inconvenience of treating this complex period under one heading, and we see, moreover, a subtle difference between the character of what was written in England during the reign of Elizabeth and the character of what belongs to James I. It is often objected that monarchs have nothing to do with literature, and that a division of poetry and prose effected on monarchical lines must be perfunctory and fallacious. But in times when the sovereign was the active source of public feeling, when everything that moulded national life was attached, as with strings or rays, to the steps of the Throne, a modification of the arts might be directly consequent on the death of a ruler.

In the case of Elizabeth this was more than commonly true, and we are perfectly justified in drawing an invisible line across the chronicle of our literature at the year 1603, and in calling what precedes it Elizabethan and what follows it Jacobean. The death of the Queen was a signal, for which the intellectual part of the country had, more or less consciously, been respectfully waiting. It meant very much more than a different set of costumes at Hampton Court or a new head on the coinage. It meant the introduction of a fresh era, which had long been preparing, but which reverence and awe for a venerable lady had restrained. Everybody who suffered from the severity of the old régime greeted the new reign with hopefulness. The new monarch, conscious of the somewhat unwelcome part he had to play, was lavish in his declarations of universal encouragement and kindliness. Elizabeth had outlived almost every one of those who had helped her to usher in her peculiar systems, political, ecclesiastical and social. Her prestige, as of a noble aged creature, majestic in her extreme fragility, preserved itself




the First

in an artificial abstraction. She died, and as her subjects reverently bowed their heads, they might be overheard to breath a sigh of relief.

In literature the change was subtler and less direct than it was in politics. It would be an absurd mistake to seek for any sudden change. The alteration was made gradually; it is more a matter of tone or colour than an abrupt matter of form. But, looking broadly at English books from 1580 to 1625, we see towards the middle of that period a tendency to alteration which is the more palpable the further we recede from it. It is like the general aspect of a rolling range of mountain where, at a due distance, we perceive diffused light on the one side, diffused shadow on the other. This symbol may be the more readily accepted, because the general trend is unquestionably to the peak of Shakespeare and then gently down into the flat country again. The Elizabethan period is the sun-lighted ascent, the Jacobean is the more and more deeply shadowed decline. But round the central height, on what we may call the upland alps, the altitude is so great and the luminosity of the atmosphere so general that we do not inquire whether we happen to stand on the side of rise or of descent. Nevertheless, an element, very difficult to define, distinguishes Marlowe, who is entirely on the ascending plane, from Ben Jonson, who is very near the summit, and who spreads around it, and who yet is definitely and unavoidably, in the main body of his work, at that place where the general slope begins to decline.

For one thing, the death of the stubborn and dauntless Elizabeth marked the final break-up of that survival of mediæval sentiment which she had so resolutely upheld. Certain prejudices of the Queen had succeeded in preventing, or delaying, the fusion of those great elements which flowed through England during the middle of her reign. She separated them, she kept them from mingling in one great national channel, but this unification was inevitable, and it proceeded as soon as her powerful hands were relaxed. All through her reign the Renaissance, which had arrived in England so tardily, was still further delayed in its action by the surviving traditions of the Middle Ages. The new learning, the new ardour for beauty, the new habit of speculation, were all busy in Elizabeth's reign, but they were not allowed freely to communicate with one another. They were partly intermingled, but they were not blended into a consistent and progressive unity. This result of this lack of fusion was that, even in their most brilliant developments, something of an exotic character was retained. In poetry, to take an example which comes directly home to us, certain series of beautiful pieces of writing might be termed Italian, or Latin, or even French, by an observer anxious to minimise the originality of the new English literature. But with the withdrawal of the restraints of Elizabeth, our writings immediately became nationalised, and there could no longer be a question that, for good or ill, they represented direct the instincts and aspirations of the English people, and not those of a cluster of refined scholars in a college, or of the courtiers who collected round some Italianated nobleman.

If, moreover, any irresolute English author had been inclined to doubt

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