English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History - Designed as a Manual of Instruction
by Henry Coppee
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EDWARD AND MARY.—In pursuance of our plan, a few preliminary words will present the historic features of that age. In the year 1547, Henry VIII., the royal Bluebeard, sank, full of crimes and beset with deathbed horrors, into a dishonorable grave.[24] A poor, weak youth, his son, Edward VI., seemed sent by special providence on a short mission of six years, to foster the reformed faith, and to give the land a brief rest after the disorders and crimes of his father's reign.

After Edward came Queen Mary, in 1553—the bloody Mary, who violently overturned the Protestant system, and avenged her mother against her father by restoring the Papal sway and making heresy the unpardonable sin. It may seem strange, in one breath to denounce Henry and to defend his daughter Mary; but severe justice, untempered with sympathy, has been meted out to her. We acknowledge all her recorded actions, but let it be remembered that she was the child of a basely repudiated mother, Catherine of Arragon, who, as the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, was a Catholic of the Catholics. Mary had been declared illegitimate; she was laboring under an incurable disease, affecting her mind as well as her body; she was the wife of Philip II. of Spain, a monster of iniquity, whose sole virtue—if we may so speak—was his devotion to his Church. She inherited her bigotry from her mother, and strengthened it by her marriage; and she thought that in persecuting heretics she was doing God service, which would only be a perfect service when she should have burned out the bay-tree growth of heresy and restored the ancient faith.

Such were her character and condition as displayed to the English world; but we know, in addition, that she bore her sufferings with great fortitude; that, an unloved wife, she was a pattern of conjugal affection and fidelity; that she was a dupe in the hands of designing men and a fierce propaganda; and we may infer that, under different circumstances and with better guidance, the real elements of her character would have made her a good monarch and presented a far more pleasing historical portrait.

Justice demands that we should say thus much, for even with these qualifications, the picture of her reign is very dark and painful. After a sad and bloody rule of five years—a reign of worse than Roman proscription, or later French terrors—she died without leaving a child. There was but one voice as to her successor. Delirious shouts of joy were heard throughout the land: "God save Queen Elizabeth!" "No more burnings at Smithfield, nor beheadings on Tower green! No more of Spanish Philip and his pernicious bigots! Toleration, freedom, light!" The people of England were ready for a golden age, and the golden age had come.

ELIZABETH.—And who was Elizabeth? The daughter of the dishonored Anne Boleyn, who had been declared illegitimate, and set out of the succession; who had been kept in ward; often and long in peril of her life; destined, in all human foresight, to a life of sorrow, humiliation, and obscurity; her head had been long lying "'twixt axe and crown," with more probability of the former than the latter.

Wonderful was the change. With her began a reign the like of which the world had never seen; a great and brilliant crisis in English history, in which the old order passed away and the new was inaugurated. It was like a new historic fulfilment of the prophecy of Virgil:

Magnus ... saeclorum nascitur ordo; Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna.

Her accession and its consequences were like the scenes in some fairy tale. She was indeed a Faerie Queene, as she was designated in Spenser's magnificent allegory. Around her clustered a new chivalry, whose gentle deeds were wrought not only with the sword, but with the pen. Stout heart, stalwart arm, and soaring imagination, all wore her colors and were amply rewarded by her smiles; and whatever her personal faults—and they were many—as a monarch, she was not unworthy of their allegiance.

SIDNEY.—Before proceeding to a consideration of Spenser's great poem, it is necessary to mention two names intimately associated with him and with his fame, and of special interest in the literary catalogue of Queen Elizabeth's court, brilliant and numerous as that catalogue was.

Among the most striking characters of this period was Sir Philip Sidney, whose brief history is full of romance and attraction; not so much for what he did as for what he personally was, and gave promise of being. Whenever we seek for an historical illustration of the gentleman, the figure of Sidney rises in company with that of Bayard, and claims distinction. He was born at Pennshurst in Kent, on the 29th of November, 1554. He was the nephew of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the chief favorite of the queen. Precocious in grace, dignity, and learning, Sidney was educated both at Oxford and Cambridge, and in his earliest manhood he was a prud' homme, handsome, elegant, learned, and chivalrous; a statesman, a diplomatist, a soldier, and a poet; "not only of excellent wit, but extremely beautiful of face. Delicately chiselled Anglo-Norman features, smooth, fair cheek, a faint moustache, blue eyes, and a mass of amber-colored hair," distinguished him among the handsome men of a court where handsome men were in great request.

He spent some time at the court of Charles IX. of France—which, however, he left suddenly, shocked and disgusted by the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve—and extended his travels into Germany. The queen held him in the highest esteem—although he was disliked by the Cecils, the constant rivals of the Dudleys; and when he was elected to the crown of Poland, the queen refused him permission to accept, because she would not lose "the brightest jewel of her crown—her Philip," as she called him to distinguish him from her sister Mary's Philip, Philip II. of Spain. A few words will finish his personal story. He went, by the queen's permission, with his uncle Leicester to the Low Countries, then struggling, with Elizabeth's assistance, against Philip of Spain. There he was made governor of Flushing—the key to the navigation of the North Seas—with the rank of general of horse. In a skirmish near Zutphen (South Fen) he served as a volunteer; and, as he was going into action fully armed, seeing his old friend Sir William Pelham without cuishes upon his thighs, prompted by mistaken but chivalrous generosity, he took off his own, and had his thigh broken by a musket-ball. This was on the 2d of October, 1586, N.S. He lingered for twenty days, and then died at Arnheim, mourned by all. The story of his passing the untasted water to the wounded soldier, will never become trite: "This man's necessity is greater than mine," was an immortal speech which men like to quote.[25]

SIDNEY'S WORKS.—But it is as a literary character that we must consider Sidney; and it is worthy of special notice that his works could not have been produced in any other age. The principal one is the Arcadia. The name, which was adopted from Sannazzaro, would indicate a pastoral—and this was eminently the age of English pastoral—but it is in reality not such. It presents indeed sylvan scenes, but they are in the life of a knight. It is written in prose, interspersed with short poems, and was inspired by and dedicated to his literary sister Mary, the Countess of Pembroke. It was called indeed the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. There are many scenes of great beauty and vigor; there is much which represents the manners, of the age, but few persons can now peruse it with pleasure, because of the peculiar affectations of style, and its overload of ornament. There grew naturally in the atmosphere of the court of a regnant queen, an affected, flattering, and inflated language, known to us as Euphuism. Of this John Lilly has been called the father, but we really only owe to him the name, which is taken from his two works, Euphues, Anatomy of Wit, and Euphues and his England. The speech of the Euphuist is hardly caricatured in Sir Walter Scott's delineation of Sir Piercie Shafton in "The Monastery." The gallant men of that day affected this form of address to fair ladies, and fair ladies liked to be greeted in such language. Sidney's works have a relish of this diction, and are imbued with the spirit which produced it.

DEFENCE OF POESIE.—The second work to be mentioned is his "Defence of Poesie." Amid the gayety and splendor of that reign, there was a sombre element. The Puritans took gloomy views of life: they accounted amusements, dress, and splendor as things of the world; and would even sweep away poetry as idle, and even wicked. Sir Philip came to its defence with the spirit of a courtier and a poet, and the work in which he upholds it is his best, far better in style and sense than his Arcadia. It is one of the curiosities of literature, in itself, and in its representation of such a social condition as could require a defence of poetry. His Astrophel and Stella is a collection of amatory poems, disclosing his passion for Lady Rich, the sister of the Earl of Essex. Although something must be allowed to the license of the age, in language at least, yet still the Astrophel and Stella cannot be commended for its morality. The sentiments are far from Platonic, and have been severely censured by the best critics. Among the young gallants of Euphuistic habitudes, Sidney was known as Astrophel; and Spenser wrote a poem mourning the death of Astrophel: Stella, of course, was the star of his worship.

GABRIEL HARVEY.—Among the friends of both Sidney and Spenser, was one who had the pleasure of making them acquainted—Gabriel Harvey. He was born, it is believed, in 1545, and lived until 1630. Much may be gathered of the literary character and tendencies of the age by a perusal of the "three proper and wittie familiar letters" which passed between Spenser and himself, and the "four letters and certain sonnets," containing valuable notices of contemporary poets. He also prefixed a poem entitled Hobbinol, to the Faery Queene. But Harvey most deserves our notice because he was the champion of the hexameter verse in English, and imbued even Spenser with an enthusiasm for it.

Each language has its own poetic and rhythmic capacities. Actual experiment and public taste have declared their verdict against hexameter verse in English. The genius of the Northern languages refuses this old heroic measure, which the Latins borrowed from the Greeks, and all the scholarship and finish of Longfellow has not been able to establish it in English. Harvey was a pedant so thoroughly tinctured with classical learning, that he would trammel his own language by ancient rules, instead of letting it grow into the assertion of its own rules.

EDMUND SPENSER—THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR.—Having noticed these lesser lights of the age of Spenser, we return to a brief consideration of that poet, who, of all others, is the highest exponent and representative of literature in the age of Queen Elizabeth, and whose works are full of contemporary history.

Spenser was born in the year of the accession of Queen Mary, 1553, at London, and of what he calls "a house of ancient fame." He was educated at Cambridge, where he early displayed poetic taste and power, and he went, after leaving college, to reside as a tutor in the North of England. A love affair with "a skittish female," who jilted him, was the cause of his writing the Shepherd's Calendar; which he soon after took with him in manuscript to London, as the first fruits of a genius that promised far nobler things.

Harvey introduced him to Sidney, and a tender friendship sprang up between them: he spent much of his time with Sidney at Pennshurst, and dedicated to him the Shepherd's Calendar. He calls it "an olde name for a newe worke." The plan of it is as follows: There are twelve parts, corresponding to twelve months: these he calls aeglogues, or goat-herde's songs, (not eclogues or [Greek: eklogai]—well-chosen words.) It is a rambling work in varied melody, interspersed and relieved by songs and lays.

HIS ARCHAISMS.—In view of its historical character, there are several points to be observed. It is of philological importance to notice that in the preliminary epistle, he explains and defends his use of archaisms—for the language of none of his poems is the current English of the day, but always that of a former period—saying that he uses old English words "restored as to their rightful heritage;" and it is also evident that he makes new ones, in accordance with just principles of philology. This fact is pointed out, lest the cursory reader should look for the current English of the age of Elizabeth in Spenser's poems.

How much, or rather how little he thought of the poets of the day, may be gathered from his saying that he "scorns and spews the rakebelly rout of ragged rymers." It further displays the boldness of his English, that he is obliged to add "a Glosse or Scholion," for the use of the reader.

Another historical point worthy of observation is his early adulation of Elizabeth, evincing at once his own courtiership and her popularity. In "February" (Story of the Oak and Briar) he speaks of "colours meete to clothe a mayden queene." The whole of "April" is in her honor:

Of fair Eliza be your silver song, That blessed wight, The floure of virgins, may she flourish long, In princely plight.

In "September" "he discourseth at large upon the loose living of Popish prelates," an historical trait of the new but cautious reformation of the Marian Church, under Elizabeth. Whether a courtier like Spenser could expect the world to believe in the motto with which he concludes the epilogue, "Merce non mercede," is doubtful, but the words are significant; and it is not to his discredit that he strove for both.

HIS GREATEST WORK.—We now approach The Faerie Queene, the greatest of Spenser's works, the most remarkable poem of that age, and one of the greatest landmarks in English literature and English history. It was not published in full until nearly all the great events of Elizabeth's reign had transpired, and it is replete with the history of nearly half a century in the most wonderful period of English history. To courtly readers of that day the history was only pleasantly illustrative—to the present age it is invaluable for itself: the poem illustrates the history.

He received, through the friendship of Sidney, the patronage of his uncle, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester—a powerful nobleman, because, besides his family name, and the removal of the late attainder, which had been in itself a distinction, he was known to be the lover of the queen; for whatever may be thought of her conduct, we know that in recommending him as a husband to the widowed Queen of Scots, she said she would have married him herself had she designed to marry at all; or, it may be said, she would have married him had she dared, for that act would have ruined her.

Spenser was a loyal and enthusiastic subject, a poet, and a scholar. From these characteristics sprang the Faerie Queene. After submitting the first book to the criticism of his friend and his patron, he dedicated the work to "The most high, mighty, and magnificent empress, renowned for piety, virtue, and all gracious government, Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, and of Virginia."[26]



The Faerie Queene. The Plan Proposed. Illustrations of the History. The Knight and the Lady. The Wood of Error and the Hermitage. The Crusades. Britomartis and Sir Artegal. Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots. Other Works. Spenser's Fate. Other Writers.


The Faerie Queene is an allegory, in many parts capable of more than one interpretation. Some of the characters stand for two, and several of them even for three distinct historical personages.

The general plan and scope of the poem may be found in the poet's letter to his friend, Sir Walter Raleigh. It is designed to enumerate and illustrate the moral virtues which should characterize a noble or gentle person—to present "the image of a brave knight perfected in the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised." It appears that the author designed twelve books, but he did not accomplish his purpose. The poem, which he left unfinished, contains but six books or legends, each of which relates the adventures of a knight who is the patron and representative of a special virtue.

Book I. gives the adventures of St. George, the Red-Cross Knight, by whom is intended the virtue of Holiness.

Book II., those of Sir Guyon, or Temperance.

Book III., Britomartis, a lady-knight, or Chastity.

Book IV., Cambel and Triamond, or Friendship.

Book V., Sir Artegal, or Justice.

Book VI., Sir Calydore, or Courtesy.

The perfect hero of the entire poem is King Arthur, chosen "as most fitte, for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many men's former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy and suspition of present time."

It was manifestly thus, too, that the poet solved a difficult and delicate problem: he pleased the queen by adopting this mythic hero, for who else was worthy of her august hand?

And in the person of the faerie queene herself Spenser informs us: "I mean glory in my general intention, but in my particular, I conceive the most excellent and glorious person of our sovereign, the Queene."

Did we depend upon the poem for an explanation of Spenser's design, we should be left in the dark, for he intended to leave the origin and connection of the adventures for the twelfth book, which was never written; but he has given us his plan in the same preliminary letter to Raleigh.

THE PLAN PROPOSED.—"The beginning of my history," he says, "should be in the twelfth booke, which is the last; where I devise that the Faerie Queene kept her Annual Feaste XII days; uppon which XII severall days the occasions of the XII severall adventures hapned, which being undertaken by XII severall knights, are in these XII books handled and discoursed."

First, a tall, clownish youth falls before the queen and desires a boon, which she might not refuse, viz. the achievement of any adventure which might present itself. Then appears a fair lady, habited in mourning, and riding on an ass, while behind her comes a dwarf, leading a caparisoned war-horse, upon which was the complete armor of a knight. The lady falls before the queen and complains that her father and mother, an ancient king and queen, had, for many years, been shut up by a dragon in a brazen castle, and begs that one of the knights may be allowed to deliver them.

The young clown entreats that he may take this adventure, and notwithstanding the wonder and misgiving of all, the armor is found to fit him well, and when he had put it on, "he seemed the goodliest man in all the company, and was well liked by the lady, and eftsoones taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that strounge courser, he went forth with her on that adventure; where beginneth the First Booke."

In a similar manner, other petitions are urged, and other adventures undertaken.

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE HISTORY.—The history in this poem lies directly upon the surface. Elizabeth was the Faery Queen herself—faery in her real person, springing Cinderella-like from durance and danger to the most powerful throne in Europe. Hers was a reign of faery character, popular and august at home, after centuries of misrule and civil war; abroad English influence and power were exerted in a magical manner. It is she who holds a court such as no Englishman had ever seen; who had the power to transform common men into valiant warriors, elegant courtiers, and great statesmen; to send forth her knights upon glorious adventures—Sidney to die at Zutphen, Raleigh to North and South America, Frobisher—with a wave of her hand as he passes down the Thames—to try the northwest passage to India; Effingham, Drake, and Hawkins to drive off to the tender mercy of northern storms the Invincible Armada, and then to point out to the coming generations the distant fields of English enterprise.

"Chivalry was dying; the abbey and the castle were soon together to crumble into ruins; and all the forms, desires, beliefs, convictions of the old world were passing away, never to return;"[27] but this virgin queen was the founder of a new chivalry, whose deeds were not less valiant, and far more useful to civilization.

It is not our purpose, for it would be impossible, to interpret all the history contained in this wonderful poem: a few of the more striking presentations will be indicated, and thus suggest to the student how he may continue the investigation for himself.

THE KNIGHT AND THE LADY.—In the First Book we are at once struck with the fine portraiture of the Red Crosse Knight, the Patron of Holinesse, which we find in the opening lines:

A gentle knight was pricking on the plain, Ycladd in mighty arms and silver shield.

As we read we discover, without effort, that he is the St. George of England, or the impersonation of England herself, whose red-cross banner distinguishes her among the nations of the earth. It is a description of Christian England with which the poet thus opens his work:

And on his brest a bloodie cross he bore, The dear remembrance of his dying Lord, For whose sweet sake that glorious badge he wore, And dead, as living ever, Him adored. Upon his shield the like was also scored, For sovereign hope which in his help he had.

Then follows his adventure—that of St. George and the Dragon. By slaying this monster, he will give comfort and aid to a peerless lady, the daughter of a glorious king; this fair lady, Una, who has come a long distance, and to whom, as a champion, the Faery Queene has presented the red-cross knight. Thus is presented the historic truth that the reformed and suffering Church looked to Queen Elizabeth for succor and support, for the Lady Una is one of several portraitures of the Church in this poem.

As we proceed in the poem, the history becomes more apparent. The Lady Una, riding upon a lowly ass, shrouded by a veil, covered with a black stole, "as one that inly mourned," and leading "a milk-white lamb," is the Church. The ass is the symbol of her Master's lowliness, who made even his triumphant entry into Jerusalem upon "a colt the foal of an ass;" the lamb, the emblem of the innocence and of the helplessness of the "little flock;" the black stole is meant to represent the Church's trials and sorrows in her former history as well as in that naughty age. The dragon is the old serpent, her constant and bitter foe, who, often discomfited, returns again and again to the attack in hope of her overthrow.

THE WOOD OF ERROR.—The adventures of the knight and the lady take them first into the Wood of Error, a noble and alluring grove, within which, however, lurks a loathsome serpent. The knight rushes upon this female monster with great boldness, but

... Wrapping up her wreathed body round, She leaped upon his shield and her huge train All suddenly about his body wound, That hand and foot he strove to stir in vain. God help the man so wrapt in Error's endless chain.

The Lady Una cries out:

... Now, now, sir knight, shew what ye bee, Add faith unto thy force, and be not faint. Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee.

He follows her advice, makes one desperate effort, Error is slain, and the pilgrimage resumed.

Thus it is taught that the Church has waged successful battle with Error in all its forms—paganism, Arianism, Socinianism, infidelity; and in all ages of her history, whether crouching in the lofty groves of the Druids, or in the more insidious forms of later Christian heresy.

THE HERMITAGE.—On leaving the Wood of Error, the knight and Lady Una encounter a venerable hermit, and are led into his hermitage. This is Archimago, a vile magician thus disguised, and in his retreat foul spirits personate both knight and lady, and present these false doubles to each. Each sees what seems to be the other's fall from virtue, and, horrified by the sight, the real persons leave the hermitage by separate ways, and wander, in inextricable mazes lost, until fortune and faery bring them together again and disclose the truth.

Here Spenser, who was a zealous Protestant, designs to present the monastic system, the disfavor into which the monasteries had fallen, and the black arts secretly studied among better arts in the cloisters, especially in the period just succeeding the Norman conquest.

THE CRUSADES.—As another specimen of the historic interpretation, we may trace the adventures of England in the Crusades, as presented in the encounter of St. George with Sansfoy, (without faith,) or the Infidel.

From the hermitage of Archimago,

The true St. George had wandered far away, Still flying from his thoughts and jealous fear, Will was his guide, and grief led him astray; At last him chanced to meet upon the way A faithless Saracen all armed to point, In whose great shield was writ with letters gay SANSFOY: full large of limb, and every joint He was, and cared not for God or man a point.

Well might the poet speak of Mohammedanism as large of limb, for it had stretched itself like a Colossus to India, and through Northern Africa into Spain, where it threatened Christendom, beyond the Pyrenees. It was then that the unity of the Church, the concurrence of Europe in one form of Christianity, made available the enthusiasm which succeeded in stemming the torrent of Islam, and setting bounds to its conquests.

It is not our purpose to pursue the adventures of the Church, but to indicate the meaning of the allegory and the general interpretation; it will give greater zest to the student to make the investigation for himself, with the all-sufficient aids of modern criticism.

Assailed in turn by error in doctrine, superstition, hypocrisy, enchantments, lawlessness, pride, and despair, the red-cross knight overcomes them all, and is led at last by the Lady Una into the House of Holiness, a happy and glorious house. There, anew equipped with the shield of Faith, the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, he goes forth to greater conquests; the dragon is slain, the Lady Una triumphant, the Church delivered, and Holiness to the Lord established as the law of his all-subduing kingdom on earth.

BRITOMARTIS.—In the third book the further adventures of the red-cross knight are related, but a heroine divides our attention with him. Britomartis, or Chastity, finds him attacked by six lawless knights, who try to compel him to give up his lady and serve another. Here Britomartis represents Elizabeth, and the historic fact is the conflict of English Protestantism carried on upon land and sea, in the Netherlands, in France, and against the Invincible Armada of Philip. The new mistress offered him in the place of Una is the Papal Church, and the six knights are the nations fighting for the claims of Rome.

The valiant deeds of Britomartis represent also the power of chastity, to which Scott alludes when he says,

She charmed at once and tamed the heart, Incomparable Britomarte.[28]

And here the poet pays his most acceptable tribute to the Virgin Queen. She is in love with Sir Artegal—abstract justice. She has encountered him in fierce battle, and he has conquered her. It was the fond boast of Elizabeth that she lived for her people, and for their sake refused to marry. The following portraiture will be at once recognized:

And round about her face her yellow hair Having, thro' stirring, loosed its wonted band, Like to a golden border did appear, Framed in goldsmith's forge with cunning hand; Yet goldsmith's cunning could not understand To frame such subtle wire, so shiny clear, For it did glisten like the glowing sand, The which Pactolus with his waters sheer, Throws forth upon the rivage, round about him near.

This encomium upon Elizabeth's hair recalls the description of another courtier, that it was like the last rays of the declining sun. Ill-natured persons called it red.

SIR ARTEGAL, OR JUSTICE.—As has been already said, Artegal, or Justice, makes conquest of Britomartis or Elizabeth. It is no earthly love that follows, but the declaration of the queen that in her continued maidenhood justice to her people shall be her only spouse. Such, whatever the honest historian may think, was the poet's conceit of what would best please his royal mistress.

It has been already stated that by Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, the poet intended the person of Elizabeth in her regnant grandeur: Britomartis represents her chastity. Not content with these impersonations, Spenser introduces a third: it is Belphoebe, the abstraction of virginity; a character for which, however, he designs a dual interpretation. Belphoebe is also another representation of the Church; in describing her he rises to great splendor of language:

... her birth was of the morning dew, And her conception of the glorious prime.

We recur, as we read, to the grandeur of the Psalmist's words, as he speaks of the coming of her Lord: "In the day of thy power shall the people offer thee free-will offerings with a holy worship; the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning."

ELIZABETH.—In the fifth book a great number of the statistics of contemporary history are found. A cruel sultan, urged on by an abandoned sultana, is Philip with the Spanish Church. Mercilla, a queen pursued by the sultan and his wife, is another name for Elizabeth, for he tells us she was

... a maiden queen of high renown; For her great bounty knowen over all.

Artegal, assuming the armor of a pagan knight, represents justice in the person of Solyman the Magnificent, making war against Philip of Spain. In the ninth canto of the sixth book, the court of Elizabeth is portrayed; in the tenth and eleventh, the war in Flanders—so brilliantly described in Mr. Motley's history. The Lady Belge is the United Netherlands; Gerioneo, the oppressor, is the Duke of Alva; the Inquisition appears as a horrid but nameless monster, and minor personages occur to complete the historic pictures.

The adventure of Sir Artegal in succor of the Lady Irena, (Erin,) represents the proceedings of Elizabeth in Ireland, in enforcing the Reformation, abrogating the establishments of her sister Mary, and thus inducing Tyrone's rebellion, with the consequent humiliation of Essex.

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS.—With one more interpretation we close. In the fifth book, Spenser is the apologist of Elizabeth for her conduct to her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and he has been very delicate in his distinctions. It is not her high abstraction of justice, Sir Artegal, who does the murderous deed, but his man Talus, retributive justice, who, like a limehound, finds her hidden under a heap of gold, and drags her forth by her fair locks, in such rueful plight that even Artegal pities her:

Yet for no pity would he change the course Of justice which in Talus hand did lie, Who rudely haled her forth without remorse, Still holding up her suppliant hands on high, And kneeling at his feet submissively; But he her suppliant hands, those hands of gold, And eke her feet, those feet of silver try, Which sought unrighteousness and justice sold, Chopped off and nailed on high that all might them behold.

She was a royal lady, a regnant queen: her hands held a golden sceptre, and her feet pressed a silver footstool. She was thrown down the castle wall, and drowned "in the dirty mud."

"But the stream washed away her guilty blood." Did it wash away Elizabeth's bloody guilt? No. For this act she stands in history like Lady Macbeth, ever rubbing her hands, but "the damned spot" will not out at her bidding. Granted all that is charged against Mary, never was woman so meanly, basely, cruelly treated as she.

What has been said is only in partial illustration of the plan and manner of Spenser's great poem: the student is invited and encouraged to make an analysis of the other portions himself. To the careless reader the poem is harmonious, the pictures beautiful, and the imagery gorgeous; to the careful student it is equally charming, and also discloses historic pictures of great value.

It is so attractive that the critic lingers unconsciously upon it. Spenser's tributes to the character of woman are original, beautiful, and just, and the fame of his great work, originally popular and designed for a contemporary purpose only, has steadily increased. Next to Milton, he is the most learned of the British poets. Warton calls him the serious Spenser. Thomson says he formed himself upon Spenser. He took the ottava rima, or eight-lined stanza of the Italian poets, and by adding an Alexandrine line, formed it into what has since been called the Spenserian stanza, which has been imitated by many great poets since, and by Byron, the greatest of them, in his Childe Harold. Of his language it has already been said that he designedly uses the archaic, or that of Chaucer; or, as Pope has said,

Spenser himself affects the obsolete.

The plan of the poem, neglecting the unities of an epic, is like that of a general history, rambling and desultory, or like the transformations of a fairy tale, as it is: his descriptions are gorgeous, his verse exceedingly melodious, and his management of it very graceful. The Gerusalemme Liberata of Tasso appeared while he was writing the Faery Queene, and he imitated portions of that great epic in his own, but his imitations are finer than the original.

HIS OTHER WORKS.—His other works need not detain us: Hymns in honor of Love and Beauty, Prothalamion, and Epithalamion, Mother Hubbard's Tale, Amoretti or Sonnets, The Tears of the Muses or Brittain's Ida, are little read at the present day. His Astrophel is a tender "pastoral elegie" upon the death of the most noble and valorous knight, Sir Philip Sidney; and is better known for its subject than for itself. This was a favorite theme of the friendly and sensitive poet; he has also written several elegies and aeglogues in honor of Sidney.

SPENSER'S FATE.—The fate of Spenser is a commentary upon courtiership, even in the reign of Elizabeth, the Faery Queene. Her requital of his adoration was an annual pension of fifty pounds, and the ruined castle and unprofitable estate of Kilcolman in Ireland, among a half-savage population, in a period of insurrections and massacres, with the requirement that he should reside upon his grant. An occasional visit from Raleigh, then a captain in the army, a rambler along the banks of the picturesque Mulla, and the composition and arrangement of the great poem with the suggestions of his friend, were at once his labors and his only recreations. He sighed after the court, and considered himself as hardly used by the queen.

At length an insurrection broke out, and his home was set on fire: he fled from his flaming castle, and in the confusion his infant child was left behind and burned to death. A few months after, he died in London, on January 16, 1598-9, broken-hearted and poor, at an humble tavern, in King Street. Buried at the expense of the Earl of Essex, Ann Countess of Dorset bore the expense of his monument in Westminster Abbey, in gratitude for his noble championship of woman. Upon that are inscribed these words: Anglorum poetarum nostri seculi facile princeps—truer words, great as is the praise, than are usually found in monumental inscriptions.

Whatever our estimate of Spenser, he must be regarded as the truest literary exponent and representative of the age of Elizabeth, almost as much her biographer as Miss Strickland, and her historian as Hume: indeed, neither biographer nor historian could venture to draw the lineaments of her character without having recourse to Spenser and his literary contemporaries.


Richard Hooker, 1553-1598: educated at Oxford, he became Master of the Temple in London, a post which he left with pleasure to take a country parish. He wrote a famous work, entitled "A Treatise on the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity," which is remarkable for its profound learning, powerful logic, and eloquence of style. In it he defends the position of the Church of England, against Popery on the one hand and Calvinism on the other.

Robert Burton, 1576-1639: author of "The Anatomy of Melancholie," an amusing and instructive medley of quotations and classical anecdotes, showing a profound erudition. In this all the causes and effects of melancholy are set forth with varied illustrations. His nom de plume was Democritus, Jr., and he is an advocate of the laughing philosophy.

Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679: tutor to Charles II., when Prince of Wales, and author of the Leviathan. This is a philosophical treatise, in which he advocates monarchical government, as based upon the fact that all men are selfish, and that human nature, being essentially corrupt, requires an iron control: he also wrote upon Liberty and Necessity, and on Human Nature.

John Stow, 1525-1605: tailor and antiquary. Principally valuable for his "Annales," "Summary of English Chronicles," and "A Survey of London." The latter is the foundation of later topographical descriptions of the English metropolis.

Raphael Hollinshed, or Holinshed, died about 1580: his Chronicles of Englande, Scotlande, and Irelande, were a treasure-house to Shakspeare, from which he drew materials for King Lear, Cymbeline, Macbeth, and other plays.

Richard Hakluyt, died 1616: being greatly interested in voyages and travels, he wrote works upon the adventures of others. Among these are, "Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America," and "Four Voyages unto Florida," which have been very useful in the compilation of early American history.

Samuel Purchas, 1577-1628: like Hakluyt, he was exceedingly industrious in collecting material, and wrote "Hakluyt's Posthumus, or Purchas, his Pilgrimes," a history of the world "in Sea Voyages and Land Travels."

Sir Walter Raleigh, 1552-1618: a man famous for his personal strength and comeliness, vigor of mind, valor, adventures, and sufferings. A prominent actor in the stirring scenes of Elizabeth's reign, he was high in the favor of the queen. Accused of high treason on the accession of James I., and imprisoned under sentence of death, an unsuccessful expedition to South America in search of El Dorado, which caused complaints from the Spanish king, led to his execution under the pending sentence. He wrote, chiefly in prison, a History of the World, in which he was aided by his literary friends, and which is highly commended. It extends to the end of the second Macedonian war. Raleigh was also a poet, and wrote several special treatises.

William Camden, 1551-1623: author of Britannia, or a chorographic description of the most flourishing kingdoms of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the adjacent islands, from the earliest antiquity. This work, written in Latin, has been translated into English. He also wrote a sketch of the reign of Elizabeth.

George Buchanan, 1506-1581: celebrated as a Latin writer, an historian, a poet, and an ecclesiastical polemic. He wrote a History of Scotland, a Latin version of the Psalms, and a satire called Chamaeleon. He was a man of profound learning and indomitable courage; and when told, just before his death, that the king was incensed at his treatise De Jure Regni, he answered that he was not concerned at that, for he was "going to a place where there were few kings."

Thomas Sackville, Earl Dorset, Lord Buckhurst, 1536-1608: author, or rather originator of "The Mirror for Magistrates," showing by illustrious, unfortunate examples, the vanity and transitory character of human success. Of Sackville and his portion of the Mirror for Magistrates, Craik says they "must be considered as forming the connecting link between the Canterbury Tales and the Fairy Queen."

Samuel Daniel, 1562-1619: an historian and a poet. His chief work is "The Historie of the Civile Warres between the Houses of York and Lancaster," "a production," says Drake, "which reflects great credit on the age in which it was written." This work is in poetical form; and, besides it, he wrote many poems and plays, and numerous sonnets.

Michael Drayton, 1563-1631: a versatile writer, most favorably known through his Polyolbion, a poem in thirty books, containing a detailed description of the topography of England, in Alexandrine verses. His Barons' Wars describe the civil commotions during the reign of Edward II.

Sir John Davies, 1570-1626: author of Nosce Teipsum and The Orchestra. The former is commended by Hallam; and another critic calls it "the best poem, except Spenser's Faery Queen, in Queen Elizabeth's, or even, in James VI.'s time."

John Donne, 1573-1631: a famous preacher, Dean of St. Paul's: considered at the head of the metaphysical school of poets: author of Pseudo-Martyr, Polydoron, and numerous sermons. He wrote seven satires, which are valuable, but his style is harsh, and his ideas far-fetched.

Joseph Hall, 1574-1656: an eminent divine, author of six books of satires, of which he called the first three toothless, and the others biting satires. These are valuable as presenting truthful pictures of the manners and morals of the age and of the defects in contemporary literature.

Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, 1554-1628: he wrote the Life of Sidney, and requested to have placed upon his tomb, "The friend of Sir Philip Sidney." He was also the author of numerous treatises: "Monarchy," "Humane Learning," "Wars," etc., and of two tragedies.

George Chapman, 1557-1634: author of a translation of Homer, in verses of fourteen syllables. It retains much of the spirit of the original, and is still considered one of the best among the numerous versions of the ancient poet. He also wrote Caesar and Pompey, Byron's Tragedy, and other plays.



Origin of the Drama. Miracle Plays. Moralities. First Comedy. Early Tragedies. Christopher Marlowe. Other Dramatists. Playwrights and Morals.


To the Elizabethan period also belongs the glory of having produced and fostered the English drama, itself so marked a teacher of history, not only in plays professedly historical, but also in the delineations of national character, the indications of national taste, and the satirical scourgings of the follies of the day. A few observations are necessary as to its feeble beginnings. The old Greek drama indeed existed as a model, especially in the tragedies of Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes; but until the fall of Constantinople, these were a dead letter to Western Europe, and when the study of Greek was begun in England, they were only open to men of the highest education and culture; whereas the drama designed for the people was to cater in its earlier forms to the rude tastes and love of the marvellous which are characteristic of an unlettered people. And, besides, the Roman drama of Plautus and of Terence was not suited to the comprehension of the multitude, in its form and its preservation of the unities. To gratify the taste for shows and excitement, the people already had the high ritual of the Church, but they demanded something more: the Church itself acceded to this demand, and dramatized Scripture at once for their amusement and instruction. Thus the mysteria or miracle play originated, and served a double purpose.

"As in ancient Greece, generations before the rise of the great dramas of Athens, itinerant companies wandered from village to village, carrying their stage furniture in their little carts, and acted in their booths and tents the grand stories of the mythology—so in England the mystery players haunted the wakes and fairs, and in barns or taverns, taprooms, or in the farm-house kitchen, played at saints and angels, and transacted on their petty stage the drama of the Christian faith."[29]

THE MYSTERY, OR MIRACLE PLAY.—The subjects of these dramas were taken from such Old Testament narratives as the creation, the lives of the patriarchs, the deluge; or from the crucifixion, and from legends of the saints: the plays were long, sometimes occupying portions of several days consecutively, during seasons of religious festival. They were enacted in monasteries, cathedrals, churches, and church-yards. The mise en scene was on two stages or platforms, on the upper of which were represented the Persons of the Trinity, and on the lower the personages of earth; while a yawning cellar, with smoke arising from an unseen fire, represented the infernal regions. This device is similar in character to the plan of Dante's poem—Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.

The earliest of these mysteries was performed somewhere about the year 1300, and they held sway until 1600, being, however, slowly supplanted by the moralities, which we shall presently consider. Many of these mysteries still remain in English, and notices of them may be found in Collier's History of Dramatic Poetry.

A miracle play was performed to celebrate the birth of Philip II. of Spain. They are still performed in Andalusia, and one written within a few years for such representation, was enacted at Seville, with great pomp of scenic effect, in the Holy Week of 1870. Similar scenes are also witnessed by curious foreigners at the present day in the Ober-Ammergau of Bavaria. These enable the traveller of to-day to realize the former history.

To introduce a comic element, the devil was made to appear with horns, hoof, and tail, to figure with grotesque malignity throughout the play, and to be reconsigned at the close to his dark abode by the divine power.

MORALITIES.—As the people became enlightened, and especially as religious knowledge made progress, such childish shows were no longer able to satisfy them. The drama undertook a higher task of instruction in the form of what was called a morality, or moral play. Instead of old stories reproduced to please the childish fancy of the ignorant, genius invented scenes and incidents taken indeed from common life, but the characters were impersonal; they were the ideal virtues, morality, hope, mercy, frugality, and their correlative vices. The mystery had endeavored to present similitudes; the moralities were of the nature of allegory, and evinced a decided progress in popular intelligence.

These for a time divided the interest with the mysteries, but eventually superseded them. The impersonality of the characters enabled the author to make hits at political circumstances and existent follies with impunity, as the multitude received advice and reproof addressed to them abstractly, without feeling a personal sting, and the government would not condescend to notice such abstractions. The moralities were enacted in court-yards or palaces, the characters generally being personated by students, or merchants from the guilds. A great improvement was also made in the length of the play, which was usually only an hour in performance. The public taste was so wedded to the devil of the mysteries, that he could not be given up in the moral plays: he kept his place; but a rival buffoon appeared in the person of the vice, who tried conclusions with the archfiend in serio-comic style until the close of the performance, when Satan always carried the vice away in triumph, as he should do.

The moralities retained their place as legitimate drama throughout the sixteenth century, and indeed after the modern drama appeared. It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth, in 1601, then an old woman, witnessed one of these plays, entitled "The Contention between Liberality and Prodigality." This was written by Lodge and Greene, two of the regular dramatists, after Ben Jonson had written "Every Man in his Humour," and while Shakspeare was writing Hamlet. Thus the various progressive forms of the drama overlapped each other, the older retaining its place until the younger gained strength to assert its rights and supersede its rival.

THE INTERLUDE.—While the moralities were slowly dying out, another form of the drama had appeared as a connecting link between them and the legitimate drama of Shakspeare. This was the interlude, a short play, in which the dramatis personae were no longer allegorical characters, but persons in real life, usually, however, not all bearing names even assumed, but presented as a friar, a curate, a tapster, etc. The chief characteristic of the interlude was, however, its satire; it was a more outspoken reformer than the morality, scourged the evils of the age with greater boldness, and plunged into religious controversy with the zeal of opposing ecclesiastics. The first and principal writer of these interludes was John Heywood, a Roman Catholic, who wrote during the reign of Henry VIII., and, while a professed jester, was a great champion of his Church.

As in all cases of progress, literary and scientific, the lines of demarcation cannot be very distinctly drawn, but as the morality had superseded the mystery, and the interlude the morality, so now they were all to give way before the regular drama. The people were becoming more educated; the greater spread of classical knowledge had caused the dramatists to study and assimilate the excellences of Latin and Greek models; the power of the drama to instruct and refine, as well as to amuse, was acknowledged, and thus its capability of improvement became manifest. The forms it then assumed were more permanent, and indeed have remained almost unchanged down to our own day.

What is called the first comedy in the language cannot be expected to show a very decided improvement over the last interludes or moralities, but it bears those distinctive marks which establish its right to the title.

THE FIRST COMEDY.—This was Ralph Roister Doister, which appeared in the middle of the sixteenth century: (a printed copy of 1551 was discovered in 1818.) Its author was Nicholas Udall, the master of Eton, a clergyman, but very severe as a pedagogue; an ultra Protestant, who is also accused of having stolen church plate, which may perhaps mean that he took away from the altar what he regarded as popish vessels and ornaments. He calls the play "a comedy and interlude," but claims that it is imitated from the Roman drama. It is regularly divided into acts and scenes, in the form of our modern plays. The plot is simple: Ralph, a gay Lothario, courts as gay a widow, and the by-play includes a designing servant and an intriguing lady's-maid: these are the stock elements of a hundred comedies since.

Contemporary with this was Gammer Gurton's Needle, supposed to be written, but not conclusively, by John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells, about 1560. The story turns upon the loss of a steel needle—a rare instrument in that day, as it was only introduced into England from Spain during the age of Elizabeth. This play is a coarser piece than Ralph Roister Doister; the buffoon raises the devil to aid him in finding the lost needle, which is at length found, by very palpable proof, to be sticking in the seat of Goodman Hodge's breeches.

THE FIRST TRAGEDY.—Hand in hand with these first comedies came the earliest tragedy, Gorboduc, by Sackville and Norton, known under another name as Ferrex and Porrex; and it is curious to observe that this came in while the moralities still occupied the stage, and before the interludes had disappeared, as it was played before the queen at White Hall, in 1562. It is also to be noted that it introduced a chorus like that of the old Greek drama. Ferrex and Porrex are the sons of King Gorboduc: the former is killed by the latter, who in turn is slain by his own mother. Of Gorboduc, Lamb says, "The style of this old play is stiff and cumbersome, like the dresses of the times. There may be flesh and blood underneath, but we cannot get at it."

With the awakened interest of the people, the drama now made steady progress. In 1568 the tragedy of Tancred and Gismunda, based upon one of the stories of Boccaccio, was enacted before Elizabeth.

A license for establishing a regular theatre was got out by Burbage in 1574. Peele and Greene wrote plays in the new manner: Marlowe, the greatest name in the English drama, except those of Shakspeare and Ben Jonson, gave to the world his Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, which many do not hesitate to compare favorably with Goethe's great drama, and his Rich Jew of Malta, which contains the portraiture of Barabas, second only to the Shylock of Shakspeare. Of Marlowe a more special mention will be made.

PLAYWRIGHTS AND MORALS.—It was to the great advantage of the English regular drama, that the men who wrote were almost in every case highly educated in the classics, and thus able to avail themselves of the best models. It is equally true that, owing to the religious condition of the times, when Puritanism launched forth its diatribes against all amusements, they were men in the opposition, and in most cases of irregular lives. Men of the world, they took their characters from among the persons with whom they associated; and so we find in their plays traces of the history of the age, in the appropriation of classical forms, in the references to religious and political parties, and in their delineation of the morals, manners, and follies of the period: if the drama of the present day owes to them its origin and nurture, it also retains as an inheritance many of the faults and deformities from which in a more refined period it is seeking to purge itself. It is worthy of notice, that as the drama owes everything to popular patronage, its moral tone reflects of necessity the moral character of the people who frequent it, and of the age which sustains it.

CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE.—Among those who may be regarded as the immediate forerunners and ushers of Shakspeare, and who, although they prepared the way for his advent, have been obscured by his greater brilliance, the one most deserving of special mention is Marlowe.

Christopher Marlowe was born at Canterbury, about the year 1564. He was a wild, irregular genius, of bad morals and loose life, but of fine imagination and excellent powers of expression. He wrote only tragedies.

His Tamburlaine the Great is based upon the history of that Timour Leuk, or Timour the Lame, the great Oriental conqueror of the fourteenth century:

So large of limb, his joints so strongly knit, Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear Old Atlas' burthen.

The descriptions are overdrawn, and the style inflated, but the subject partakes of the heroic, and was popular still, though nearly two centuries had passed since the exploits of the historic hero.

The Rich Jew of Malta is of value, as presenting to us Barabas the Jew as he appeared to Christian suspicion and hatred in the fifteenth century. As he sits in his country-house with heaps of gold before him, and receives the visits of merchants who inform him of the safe arrival of his ships, it is manifest that he gave Shakspeare the first ideal of his Shylock, upon which the greater dramatist greatly improved.

The Tragicall Life and Death of Doctor John Faustus certainly helped Goethe in the conception and preparation of his modern drama, and contains many passages of rare power. Charles Lamb says: "The growing horrors of Faustus are awfully marked by the hours and half-hours which expire and bring him nearer and nearer to the enactment of his dire compact. It is indeed an agony and bloody sweat."

Edward II. presents in the assassination scene wonderful power and pathos, and is regarded by Hazlitt as his best play.

Marlowe is the author of the pleasant madrigal, called by Izaak Walton "that smooth song":

Come live with me and be my love.

The playwright, who had led a wild life, came to his end in a tavern brawl: he had endeavored to use his dagger upon one of the waiters, who turned it upon him, and gave him a wound in the head of which he died, in 1593.

His talents were of a higher order than those of his contemporaries; he was next to Shakspeare in power, and was called by Phillips "a second Shakspeare."


Thomas Lodge, 1556-1625: educated at Oxford. Wrote The Wounds of Civil-War, and other tragedies. Rosalynd, a novel, from which Shakspeare drew in his As You Like It. He translated Josephus and Seneca.

Thomas Kyd, died about 1600: The Spanish Tragedy, or, Hieronymo is Mad Again. This contains a few highly wrought scenes, which have been variously attributed to Ben Jonson and to Webster.

Robert Tailor: wrote The Hog hath Lost his Pearl, a comedy, published in 1614. This partakes of the character of the morality.

John Marston: wrote Antonio and Mellida, 1602; Antonio's Revenge, 1602; Sophonisba, a Wonder of Women, 1606; The Insatiate Countess, 1603, and many other plays. Marston ranks high among the immediate predecessors of Shakspeare, for the number, variety, and vigorous handling of his plays.

George Peele, born about 1553: educated at Oxford. Many of his pieces are broadly comic. The principal plays are: The Arraignment of Paris, Edward I. and David and Bethsabe. The latter is overwrought and full of sickish sentiment.

Thomas Nash, 1558-1601: a satirist and polemic, who is best known for his controversy with Gabriel Harvey. Most of his plays were written in conjunction with others. He was imprisoned for writing The Isle of Dogs, which was played, but not published. He is very licentious in his language.

John Lyly, born about 1553: wrote numerous smaller plays, but is chiefly known as the author of Euphues, Anatomy of Wit, and Euphues and his England.

Robert Greene, died 1592: educated at Cambridge. Wrote Alphonsus, King of Arragon, James IV., George-a-Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and other plays. After leading a profligate life, he left behind him a pamphlet entitled, "A Groat's-worth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance:" this is full of contrition, and of advice to his fellow-actors and fellow-sinners. It is mainly remarkable for its abuse of Shakspeare, "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers;" "Tygre's heart wrapt in a player's hide;" "an absolute Johannes factotum, in his own conceyt the onely shakescene in the country."

Most of these dramatists wrote in copartnership with others, and many of the plays which bear their names singly, have parts composed by colleagues. Such was the custom of the age, and it is now very difficult to declare the distinct authorship of many of the plays.



The Power of Shakspeare. Meagre Early History. Doubts of his Identity. What is known. Marries, and goes to London. "Venus" and "Lucrece." Retirement and Death. Literary Habitudes. Variety of the Plays. Table of Dates and Sources.


We have now reached, in our search for the historic teachings in English literature, and in our consideration of the English drama, the greatest name of all, the writer whose works illustrate our position most strongly, and yet who, eminent type as he is of British culture in the age of Elizabeth, was truly and pithily declared by his friend and contemporary, Ben Jonson, to be "not for an age, but for all time." It is also singularly true that, even in such a work as this, Shakspeare really requires only brief notice at our hands, because he is so universally known and read: his characters are among our familiar acquaintance; his simple but thoughtful words are incorporated in our common conversation; he is our every-day companion. To eulogize him to the reading public is

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, To lend a perfume to the violet ...

The Bible and Shakspeare have been long conjoined as the two most necessary books in a family library; and Mrs. Cowden Clarke, the author of the Concordance to Shakspeare, has pointedly and truthfully said: "A poor lad, possessing no other book, might on this single one make himself a gentleman and a scholar: a poor girl, studying no other volume, might become a lady in heart and soul."

MEAGRE EARLY HISTORY.—It is passing strange, considering the great value of his writings, and his present fame, that of his personal history so little is known. In the words of Steevens, one of his most successful commentators: "All that is known, with any degree of certainty, concerning Shakspeare, is—that he was born at Stratford upon Avon—married and had children there—went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays—returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried."

This want of knowledge is in part due to his obscure youth, during which no one could predict what he would afterward achieve, and therefore no one took notes of his life: to his own apparent ignorance and carelessness of his own merits, and to the low repute in which plays, and especially playwrights, were then held; although they were in reality making their age illustrious in history. The pilgrim to Stratford sees the little low house in which he is said to have been born, purchased by the nation, and now restored into a smart cottage: within are a few meagre relics of the poet's time; not far distant is the foundation—recently uncovered—of his more ambitious residence in New Place, and a mulberry-tree, which probably grew from a slip of that which he had planted with his own hand. Opposite is the old Falcon Inn, where he made his daily potations. Very near rises, above elms and lime-trees, the spire of the beautiful church on the bank of the Avon, beneath the chancel of which his remains repose, with those of his wife and daughter, overlooked by his bust, of which no one knows the maker or the history, except that it dates from his own time. His bust is of life-size, and was originally painted to imitate nature—eyes of hazel, hair and beard auburn, doublet scarlet, and sleeveless gown of black. Covered by a false taste with white paint to imitate marble, while it destroyed identity and age: it has since been recolored from traditional knowledge, but it is too rude to give us the expression of his face.

The only other probable likeness is that from an old picture, an engraving of which, by Droeshout, is found in the first folio edition of his plays, published in 1623, seven years after his death: it was said by Ben Jonson to be a good likeness. We are very fortunate in having these, unsatisfactory as they are, for it is simple truth that beyond these places and things, there is little, if anything, to illustrate the personal history of Shakspeare. All that we can know of the man is found in his works.

DOUBTS OF HIS IDENTITY.—This ignorance concerning him has given rise to numerous doubts as to his literary identity, and many efforts have been made to find other authors for his dramas. Among the most industrious in this deposing scheme, have been Miss Delia Bacon and Mr. Nathaniel Holmes, who concur in attributing his best plays to Francis Bacon. That Bacon did not acknowledge his own work, they say, is because he rated the dramatic art too far beneath his dignity to confess any complicity with it. In short, he and other great men of that day wrote immortal works which they were ashamed of, and were willing to father upon the common actor and stage-manager, one William Shakspeare!

While it is not within the scope of this volume to enter into the controversy, it is a duty to state its existence, and to express the judgment that these efforts have been entirely unsuccessful, but have not been without value in that they have added a little to the meagre history by their researches, and have established the claims of Shakspeare on a firmer foundation than before.

WHAT IS KNOWN.—William Shakspeare (spelt Shackspeare in the body of his will, but signed Shakspeare) was the third of eight children, and the eldest son of John Shakspeare and Mary Arden: he was born at the beautiful rural town of Stratford, on the little river Avon, on the 23d of April, 1564. His father, who was of yeoman rank, was probably a dealer in wool and leather. Aubrey, a gossiping chronicler of the next generation, says he was a butcher, and some biographers assert that he was a glover. He may have exercised all these crafts together, but it is more to our purpose to know that in his best estate he was a property holder and chief burgess of the town. Shakspeare's mother seems to have been of an older family. Neither of them could write. Shakspeare received his education at the free grammar-school, still a well-endowed institution in the town, where he learned the "small Latin and less Greek" accorded to him by Ben Jonson at a later day.

There are guesses, rather than traditions, that he was, after the age of fifteen, a student in a law-office, that he was for a time at one of the universities, and also that he was a teacher in the grammar-school. These are weak inventions to account for the varied learning displayed in his dramas. His love of Nature and his power to delineate her charms were certainly fostered by the beautiful rural surroundings of Stratford; beyond this it is idle to seek to penetrate the obscure processes of his youth.

MARRIES, AND GOES TO LONDON.—Finding himself one of a numerous and poor family, to the support of which his father's business was inadequate, he determined, to shift for himself, and to push his fortunes in the best way he could.

Whether he regarded matrimony as one element of success we do not know, but the preliminary bond of marriage between himself and Anne Hathaway, was signed on the 28th of November, 1582, when he was eighteen years old. The woman was seven years older than himself; and it is a sad commentary on the morality of both, that his first child, Susanna, was baptized on the 25th of May, 1583.

Strolling bands of players, in passing through England, were in the habit of stopping at Stratford, and setting upon wheels their rude stage with weather-stained curtains; and these, it should be observed, were the best dramatic companies of the time, such as the queen's company, and those in the service of noblemen like Leicester, Warwick, and others. If he did not see he must have heard of the great pageant in 1575, when Leicester entertained Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth, which is so charmingly described by Sir Walter Scott. Young Shakspeare became stage-struck, and probably joined one of these companies, with other idle young men of the neighborhood.

Various legends, without sufficient foundation of truth, are related of him at this time, which indicate that he was of a frolicsome and mischievous turn: among these is a statement that he was arraigned for deer-poaching in the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote. A satirical reference to Sir Thomas in one of his plays,[30] leads us to think that there is some truth in the story, although certain of his biographers have denied it.

In February, 1584-5, he became the father of twins, Hamnet and Judith, and in 1586, leaving his wife and children at Stratford, he went up with a theatrical company to London, where for three years he led a hard and obscure life. He was at first a menial at the theatre; some say he held gentlemen's horses at the door, others that he was call-boy, prompter, scene-shifter, minor actor. At length he began to find his true vocation in altering and adapting plays for the stage. This earlier practice, in every capacity, was of great value to him when he began to write plays of his own. As an actor he never rose above mediocrity. It is said that he played such parts as the Ghost in Hamlet, and Adam in As You Like It; but off the stage he became known for a ready wit and convivial humor.

His ready hand for any work caused him to prosper steadily, and so in 1589 we find his name the twelfth on the list of sixteen shareholders in the Blackfriars Theatre, one of the first play-houses built in London. That he was steadily growing in public favor, as well as in private fortune, might be inferred from Spenser's mention of him in the "Tears of the Muses," published in 1591, if we were sure he was the person referred to. If he was, this is the first great commendation he had received:

The man whom nature's self had made, To mock herself and truth to imitate, With kindly counter under mimic shade, Our pleasant Willie.

There is, however, a doubt whether the reference is to him, as he had written very little as early as 1591.

VENUS AND ADONIS.—In 1593 appeared his Venus and Adonis, which he now had the social position and interest to dedicate to the Earl of Southampton. It is a harmonious and beautiful poem, but the display of libidinous passion in the goddess, however in keeping with her character and with the broad taste of the age, is disgusting to the refined reader, even while he acknowledges the great power of the poet. In the same year was built the Globe Theatre, a hexagonal wooden structure, unroofed over the pit, but thatched over the stage and the galleries. In this, too, Shakspeare was a shareholder.

THE RAPE OF LUCRECE.—The Rape of Lucrece was published in 1594, and was dedicated to the same nobleman, who, after the custom of the period, became Shakspeare's patron, and showed the value of his patronage by the gift to the poet of a thousand pounds.

Thus in making poetical versions of classical stories, which formed the imaginative pabulum of the age, and in readapting older plays, the poet was gaining that skill and power which were to produce his later immortal dramas.

These, as we shall see, he began to write as early as 1589, and continued to produce until 1612.

RETIREMENT AND DEATH.—A few words will complete his personal history: His fortune steadily increased; in 1602 he was the principal owner of the Globe; then, actuated by his home feeling, which had been kept alive by annual visits to Stratford, he determined, as soon as he could, to give up the stage, and to take up his residence there. He had purchased, in 1597, the New Place at Stratford, but he did not fully carry out his plan until 1612, when he finally retired with ample means and in the enjoyment of an honorable reputation. There he exercised a generous hospitality, and led a quiet rural life. He planted a mulberry-tree, which became a pilgrim's shrine to numerous travellers; but a ruthless successor in the ownership of New Place, the Reverend Francis Gastrell, annoyed by the concourse of visitors, was Vandal enough to cut it down. Such was the anger of the people that he was obliged to leave the place, which he did after razing the mansion to the ground. His name is held in great detestation at Stratford now, as every traveller is told his story.

Shakspeare's death occurred on his fifty-second birthday, April 23d, 1616. He had been ill of a fever, from which he was slowly recovering, and his end is said to have been the result of an over-conviviality in entertaining Drayton and Ben Jonson, who had paid him a visit at Stratford.

His son Hamnet had died in 1596, at the age of twelve. In 1607, his daughter Susannah had married Dr. Hall; and in 1614 died Judith, who had married Thomas Quiney. Shakspeare's wife survived him, and died in 1623.

LITERARY HABITUDES.—Such, in brief, is the personal history of Shakspeare: of his literary habitudes we know nothing. The exact dates of the appearance of his plays are, in most cases, doubtful. Many of these had been printed singly during his life, but the first complete edition was published in folio, in 1623. It contains thirty-six plays, and is the basis of the later editions, which contain thirty-seven. Many questions arise which cannot be fully answered: Did he write all the plays contained in the volume? Are the First Part of Henry VI., Titus Andronicus,[31] and Pericles his work? Did he not write others not found among these? Had he, as was not uncommon then and later, collaboration in those which bear his name? Was he a Beaumont to some Fletcher, or a Sackville to some Norton? Upon these questions generations of Shakspearean scholars have expended a great amount of learned inquiry ever since his day, and not without results: it is known that many of his dramas are founded upon old plays, as to plots; and that he availed himself of the labor of others in casting his plays.

But the real value of his plays, the insight into human nature, the profound philosophy, "the myriad-soul" which they display, are Shakspeare's only. By applying just rules of evidence, we conclude that he did write thirty-five of the plays attributed to him, and that he did not write, or was not the chief writer of others. It is certainly very strong testimony on these points, that seven years after his death, and three years before that of Bacon, a large folio should have been published by his professional friends Heminge and Condell, prefaced with ardent eulogies, claiming thirty-six plays as his, and that it did not meet with the instant and indignant cry that his claims were false. The players of that day were an envious and carping set, and the controversy would have been fierce from the very first, had there been just grounds for it.

VARIETY OF PLAYS.—No attempt will be made to analyze any of the plays of Shakspeare: that is left for the private study and enjoyment of the student, by the use of the very numerous aids furnished by commentators and critics. It will be found often that in their great ardor, the dramatist has been treated like the Grecian poet:

[Shakspeare's] critics bring to view Things which [Shakspeare] never knew.

Many of the plays are based upon well-known legends and fictional tales, some of them already adopted in old plays: thus the story of King Lear and his daughters is found in Holinshed's Chronicle, and had been for years represented; from this Shakspeare has borrowed the story, but has used only a single passage. The play is intended to represent the ancient Celtic times in Britain, eight hundred years before Christ; and such is its power and pathos, that we care little for its glaring anachronisms and curious errors. In Holinshed are also found the stories of Cymbeline and Macbeth, the former supposed to have occurred during the Roman occupancy of Britain, and the latter during the Saxon period.

With these before us, let us observe that names, chronology, geography, costumes, and customs are as nothing in his eyes. His aim is human philosophy: he places his living creations before us, dressing them, as it were, in any garments most conveniently at hand. These lose their grotesqueness as his characters speak and act. Paternal love and weakness, met by filial ingratitude; these are the lessons and the fearful pictures of Lear: sad as they are, the world needed them, and they have saved many a later Lear from expulsion and storm and death, and shamed many a Goneril and Regan, while they have strengthened the hearts of many a Cordelia since. Chastity and constancy shine like twin stars from the forest of Cymbeline. And what have we in Macbeth? Mad ambition parleying with the devil, in the guise of a woman lost to all virtue save a desire to aggrandize her husband and herself. These have a pretence of history; but Hamlet, with hardly that pretence, stands alone supreme in varied excellence. Ambition, murder, resistless fate, filial love, the love of woman, revenge, the power of conscience, paternal solicitude, infinite jest: what a volume is this!

TABLE OF DATES AND SOURCES.—The following table, which presents the plays in chronological order,[32] the times when they were written, as nearly as can be known, and the sources whence they were derived, will be of more service to the student than any discursive remarks upon the several plays.

Plays. Dates. Sources.

1. Henry VI., first part 1589 Denied to Shakspeare; attributed to Marlowe or Kyd. 2. Pericles 1590 From the "Gesta Romanorum." 3. Henry VI., second part 1591 " an older play. 4. Henry VI., third part 1591 " " " " 5. Two Gentlemen of Verona 1591 " an old tale. 6. Comedy of Errors 1592 " a comedy of Plautus. 7. Love's Labor Lost 1592 " an Italian play. 8. Richard II. 1593 " Holinshed and other chronicles. 9. Richard III. 1593 From an old play and Sir Thomas More's History. 10. Midsummer Night's Dream 1594 Suggested by Palamon and Arcite, The Knight's Tale, of Chaucer. 11. Taming of the Shrew 1596 From an older play. 12. Romeo and Juliet 1596 " " old tale. Boccaccio. 13. Merchant of Venice 1597 " Gesta Romanorum, with suggestions from Marlowe's Jew of Malta. 14. Henry IV., part 1 1597 From an old play. 15. Henry IV., part 2 1598 " " " " 16. King John 1598 " " " " 17. All's Well that Ends Well 1598 " Boccaccio. 18. Henry V. 1599 From an older play. 19. As You Like It 1600 Suggested in part by Lodge's novel, Rosalynd. 20. Much Ado About Nothing 1600 Source unknown. 21. Hamlet 1601 From the Latin History of Scandinavia, by Saxo, called Grammaticus. 22. Merry Wives of Windsor 1601 Said to have been suggested by Elizabeth. 23. Twelfth Night 1601 From an old tale. 24. Troilus and Cressida 1602 Of classical origin, through Chaucer. 25. Henry VIII. 1603 From the chronicles of the day. 26. Measure for Measure 1603 " an old tale. 27. Othello 1604 " " " " 28. King Lear 1605 " Holinshed. 29. Macbeth 1606 " " 30. Julius Caesar 1607 " Plutarch's Parallel Lives. 31. Antony and Cleopatra 1608 " " " " 32. Cymbeline 1609 " Holinshed. 33. Coriolanus 1610 " Plutarch. 34. Timon of Athens 1610 " " and other sources. 35. Winter's Tale 1611 " a novel by Greene. 36. Tempest 1612 " Italian Tale. 37. Titus Andronicus 1593 Denied to Shakspeare; probably by Marlowe or Kyd.



The Grounds of his Fame. Creation of Character. Imagination and Fancy. Power of Expression. His Faults. Influence of Elizabeth. Sonnets. Ireland and Collier. Concordance. Other Writers.


From what has been said, it is manifest that as to his plots and historical reproductions, Shakspeare has little merit but taste in selection; and indeed in most cases, had he invented the stories, his merit would not have been great: what then is the true secret of his power and of his fame? This question is not difficult to answer.

First, these are due to his wonderful insight into human nature, and the philosophy of human life: he dissects the human mind in all its conditions, and by this vivisection he displays its workings as it lives and throbs; he divines the secret impulses of all ages and characters—childhood, boyhood, manhood, girlhood, and womanhood; men of peace, and men of war; clowns, nobles, and kings. His large heart was sympathetic with all, and even most so with the lowly and suffering; he shows us to ourselves, and enables us to use that knowledge for our profit. All the virtues are held up to our imitation and praise, and all the vices are scourged and rendered odious in our sight. To read Shakspeare aright is of the nature of honest self-examination, that most difficult and most necessary of duties.

CREATION OF CHARACTER.—Second: He stands supreme in the creation of character, which may be considered the distinguishing mark of the highest literary genius. The men and women whom he has made are not stage-puppets moved by hidden strings; they are real. We know them as intimately as the friends and acquaintances who visit us, or the people whom we accost in our daily walks.

And again, in this varied delineation of character, Shakspeare less than any other author either obtrudes or repeats himself. Unlike Byron, he is nowhere his own hero: unlike most modern novelists, he fashions men who, while they have the generic human resemblance, differ from each other like those of flesh and blood around us: he has presented a hundred phases of love, passion, ambition, jealousy, revenge, treachery, and cruelty, and each distinct from the others of its kind; but lest any character should degenerate into an allegorical representation of a single virtue or vice, he has provided it with the other lineaments necessary to produce in it a rare human identity.

The stock company of most writers is limited, and does arduous duty in each new play or romance; so that we detect in the comic actor, who is now convulsing the pit with laughter, the same person who a little while ago died heroically to slow music in the tragedy. Each character in Shakspeare plays but one part, and plays it skilfully and well. And who has portrayed the character of woman like Shakspeare?—the grand sorrow of the repudiated Catharine, the incorruptible chastity of Isabella, the cleverness of Portia, the loves of Jessica and of Juliet, the innocent curiosity of Miranda, the broken heart and crazed brain of the fair Ophelia.

In this connection also should be noticed his powers of grouping and composition; which, in the words of one of his biographers, "present to us pictures from the realms of spirits and from fairyland, which in deep reflection and in useful maxims, yield nothing to the pages of the philosophers, and which glow with all the poetic beauty that an exhaustless fancy could shower upon them."

IMAGINATION AND FANCY.—And this brings us to notice, in the third place, his rare gifts of imagination and of fancy; those instruments of the representative faculty by which objects of sense and of mind are held up to view in new, varied, and vivid lights. Many of his tragedies abound in imaginative pictures, while there are not in the realm of Fancy's fairy frostwork more exquisite representations than those found in the Tempest and the Midsummer Night's Dream.

POWER OF EXPRESSION.—Fourth, Shakspeare is remarkable for the power and felicity of his expression. He adapts his language to the persons who use it, and thus we pass from the pompous grandiloquence of king and herald to the common English and coarse conceits of clown and nurse and grave-digger; from the bombastic speech of Glendower and the rhapsodies of Hotspur to the slang and jests of Falstaff.

But something more is meant by felicity of expression than this. It applies to the apt words which present pithy bits of household philosophy, and to the beautiful words which convey the higher sentiments and flights of fancy; to the simple words couching grand thoughts with such exquisite aptness that they seem made for each other, so that no other words would do as well, and to the dainty songs, like those of birds, which fill his forests and gardens with melody. Thus it is that orators and essayists give dignity and point to their own periods by quoting Shakspeare.

Such are a few of Shakspeare's high merits, which constitute him the greatest poet who has ever used the English tongue—poet, moralist, and philosopher in one.

HIS FAULTS.—If it be necessary to point out his faults, it should be observed that most of them are those of the age and of his profession. To both may be charged the vulgarity and lewdness of some of his representations; which, however, err in this respect far less than the writings of his contemporaries.

Again: in the short time allowed for the presentation of a play, before a restless audience, as soon as the plot was fairly shadowed, the hearers were anxious for the denouement. And so Shakspeare, careless of future fame, frequently displays a singular disparity between the parts. He has so much of detail in the first two acts, that in order to preserve the symmetry, five or six more would be necessary. Thus conclusions are hurried, when, as works of art, they should be the most elaborated.

He has sometimes been accused of obscurity in expression, which renders some of his passages difficult to be understood by commentators; but this, in most cases, is the fault of his editors. The cases are exceptional and unimportant. His anachronisms and historical inaccuracies have already been referred to. His greatest admirers will allow that his wit and humor are very often forced and frequently out of place; but here, too, he should be leniently judged. These sallies of wit were meant rather to "tickle the ears of the groundlings" than as just subjects for criticism by later scholars. We know that old jokes, bad puns, and innuendoes are needed on the stage at the present day. Shakspeare used them for the same ephemeral purpose then; and had he sent down corrected versions to posterity, they would have been purged of these.

INFLUENCE OF ELIZABETH.—Enough has been said to show in what manner Shakspeare represents his age, and indeed many former periods of English history. There are numerous passages which display the influence of Elizabeth. It was at her request that he wrote the Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Falstaff is depicted as a lover: the play of Henry VIII., criticizing the queen's father, was not produced until after her death. His pure women, like those of Spenser, are drawn after a queenly model. It is known that Elizabeth was very susceptible to admiration, but did not wish to be considered so; and Shakspeare paid the most delicate and courtly tribute to her vanity, in those exquisite lines from the Midsummer Night's Dream, showing how powerless Cupid was to touch her heart:

A certain aim he took At a fair vestal, throned by the west; And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow, As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts: But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon; And the imperial votaress passed on, In maiden meditation, fancy free.

SHAKSPEARE'S SONNETS.—Before his time, the sonnet had been but little used in England, the principal writers being Surrey, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sidney, Daniel, and Drayton. Shakspeare left one hundred and fifty-four, which exhibit rare poetical power, and which are most of them addressed to a person unknown, perhaps an ideal personage, whose initials are W. H. Although chiefly addressed to a man, they are of an amatory nature, and dwell strongly upon human frailty, infidelity, and treachery, from which he seems to have suffered: the mystery of these poems has never been penetrated. They were printed in 1609. "Our language," says one of his editors, "can boast no sonnets altogether worthy of being placed by the side of Shakspeare's, except the few which Milton poured forth—so severe and so majestic."

It need hardly be said that Shakspeare has been translated into all modern languages, in whole or in part. In French, by Victor Hugo and Guizot, Leon de Wailly and Alfred de Vigny; in German, by Wieland, A. W. Schlegel, and Buerger; in Italian, by Leoni and Carcano, and in Portuguese by La Silva. Goethe's Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister is a long and profound critique of Hamlet; and to the Germans he is quite as familiar and intelligible as to the English.

IRELAND: COLLIER.—The most celebrated forgery of Shakspeare was that by Samuel Ireland, the son of a Shakspearean scholar, who was an engraver and dealer in curiosities. He wrote two plays, called Vortigern and Henry the Second, which he said he had discovered; and he forged a deed with Shakspeare's autograph. By these he imposed upon his father and many others, but eventually confessed the forgery.

One word should be said concerning the Collier controversy. John Payne Collier was a lawyer, born in 1789, and is known as the author of an excellent history of English Dramatic Poetry to the Time of Shakspeare and Annals of the Stage to the Restoration. In the year 1849, he came into possession of a copy of the folio edition of Shakspeare, published in 1632, full of emendations, by an early owner of the volume. In 1852 he published these, and at once great enthusiasm was excited, for and against the emendations: many thought them of great value, while others even went so far as to accuse Mr. Collier of having made some of them himself. The chief value of the work was that it led to new investigations, and has thus thrown additional light upon the works of Shakspeare.

CONCORDANCE.—The student is referred to a very complete concordance of Shakspeare, by Mrs. Mary Cowden Clarke, the labor of many years, by which every line of Shakspeare may be found, and which is thus of incalculable utility to the Shakspearean scholar.


Ben Jonson, 1573-1637: this great dramatist, who deserves a larger space, was born in London; his father became a Puritan preacher, but after his death, his mother's second husband put the boy at brick-making. His spirit revolted at this, and he ran away, and served as a soldier in the Low Countries. On his return he killed Gabriel Spencer, a fellow-actor, in a duel, and was for some time imprisoned. His first play was a comedy entitled Every Man in his Humour, acted in 1598. This was succeeded, the next year, by Every Man out of his Humour. He wrote a great number of both tragedies and comedies, among which the principal are Cynthia's Revels, Sejanus, Volpone, Catiline's Conspiracy, and The Alchemist. In 1616, he received a pension from the crown of one hundred marks, which was increased by Charles I., in 1630, to one hundred pounds. He was the friend of Shakspeare, and had many wit-encounters with him. In these, Fuller compares Jonson to a great Spanish galleon, "built far higher in learning, solid and slow in performance," and Shakspeare to an "English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."

Massinger, 1548-1640: born at Salisbury. Is said to have written thirty-eight plays, of which only eighteen remain. The chief of these is the Virgin Martyr, in which he was assisted by Dekker. The best of the others are The City Madam and A New Way to Pay Old Debts, The Fatal Dowry, The Unnatural Combat, and The Duke of Milan. A New Way to Pay Old Debts keeps its place upon the modern stage.

John Ford, born 1586: author of The Lover's Melancholy, Love's Sacrifice, Perkin Warbeck, and The Broken Heart. He was a pathetic delineator of love, especially of unhappy love. Some of his plots are unnatural, and abhorrent to a refined taste.

Webster (dates unknown): this author is remarkable for his handling of gloomy and terrible subjects. His best plays are The Devil's Law Case, Appius and Virginia, The Duchess of Malfy, and The White Devil. Hazlitt says "his White Devil and Duchess of Malfy come the nearest to Shakspeare of anything we have upon record."

Francis Beaumont, 1586-1615, and John Fletcher, 1576-1625: joint authors of plays, numbering fifty-two. A prolific union, in which it is difficult to determine the exact authorship of each. Among the best plays are The Maid's Tragedy, Philaster, and Cupid's Revenge. Many of the plots are licentious, but in monologues they frequently rise to eloquence, and in descriptions are picturesque and graphic.

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