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“I am amazed, methinks ; and lose my way

Among the thorns and dangers of this world.” Nowhere does Shakespeare exhibit with more distinctness his intellectual lucidity and his artistic mastership than in foreshortening history. He condenses a decade or a reign into five acts, with such picturesque perception and historic grasp that we get the spirit of a period compactly bound, but faithfully preserved, in a poetic condensation.

Looking from a height over a mountainous region the eye seizes the peaks; the lower hills out of which they rise are scarcely seen. So in a genuine historical drama only the altitudes of history are noted by one looking from the sunny summit of poetry, and these, with the vigorous personages who make the altitudes, give the reader the most vivid view of a marked period and the actors in it. A variously and brilliantly and deeply gifted man, Shakespeare, in the majestic strength of his large manhood, stood above history. History, owing its interest and significance to the unfolded faculties of man, Shakespeare, through his fellow-feeling with all humanity, and thence his sure insight into it, dominated history, and as poet-thinker reproduced its very spirit, as he does in King John.

The nobles having returned to their allegiance, and the invading French army having been routed, from the mouth of Faulconbridge are made to issue those great concluding words that have ever since been resounding in the ear of England:

“This England never did, (nor never shall,)

Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.”

IV.

HAMLET

TRUTH to the moral law is the life of poetic drama. Tragedy, especially, cannot draw the long breaths needed for the full sweep of its function unless it have above it, alive with sanitary currents, a deep, clear, spiritual atmosphere. Only when behind the wrecks of perverted passion is visible the background of moral allegiance and security, can the gloom be illuminated by the transfiguring bow thrown by the sun of poetry. The degree of fullness in moral regency being the measure of human .well-being, poetic tragedy — the richest fruit of man's literary productiveness - can only prosper through acknowledgement of the absoluteness of this regency.

To invent and organize a tragic drama, to group a number of figures so that each shall move to the spring of its own individuality, and each and all, by their movements and collisions, shall tend to a given catastrophe, ob

serving throughout due moral and ästhetic proportions, animating each scene with lively progressive dialogue and effective action, breathing into all the parts the breath of poetic health, so that the whole may be a thing of life and beauty, - to do this, is to accomplish a work of finest human achievement.

. The value of a dramatic work depends primarily upon the mental calibre of its chief personages ; that is, upon their warmth and strength of feeling and their intellectual competency. These present the substance that is to be vivified by poetic glorification, and these depend, of course, entirely upon the poet : his personality is the source of all. And only a poet can fully reproduce a human being. Coriolanus and Anthony, Richard II. and Henry V., were never, since their decease, vividly present to men until they were resuscitated by Shakespeare. Of King Duncan's murderer you can get an outside view in Hollingshed; but if you would be acquainted with the very being of the man, you must go to Shakespeare. His Macbeth stands there forever a distinct, terrible, towering colossus, supplanting legend, superseding history.

Like Macbeth and Lear, Hamlet was begot

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ten on national legend. Thus, possessing, like them, a dim, historic background, wherein popular belief is tenaciously rooted, it has under it a basis of rudimentary actuality; at the same time there is no circle of historic certitude to control the poet's invention. Thence human possibility — in all high poetry a sublime element - opens to these masterpieces its widest reaches for the play of creative lordship.

With all his universality of sympathy, and what might be called his impartial poetic bounteousness, Shakespeare had his favorites, - favorites in this sense, that some tasked his creative energy with a more vivid, and therefore more joyful, presence than others. Lear could not but give him hours of more rapturous work than Gloster. The drawing from the secret recesses of his nature the fearful Macbeth gave him a deeper joy than to portray the blameless Banquo. In the multitude of his vivacious, captivating, infinitely diversified dramatic progeny, more than by any other, we are captivated and stimulated by Hamlet, because Hamlet drew more deeply from his poetic maker's best resources, from his warmest and finest sensibilities, from his highest, most elastic intellectual forces.

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