It was in translating part of Virgil's Aeneid that Surrey used blank verse. Virgil was an ancient Roman poet, born 70 B. C., who in his book called the Aeneid told of the wanderings and adventures of Aeneas, and part of this poem Surrey translated into English.
This is how he tells of the way in which Aeneas saved his old father by carrying him on his shoulders out of the burning town of Troy when "The crackling flame was heard throughout the walls, and more and more the burning heat drew near."
"My shoulders broad, And layed neck with garments 'gan I spread, And thereon cast a yellow lion's skin; And thereupon my burden I receive. Young Iulus clasped in my right hand, Followeth me fast, with unequal pace, And at my back my wife. Thus did we pass By places shadowed most with the night, And me, whom late the dart which enemies threw, Nor press of Argive routs could make amaz'd, Each whisp'ring wind hath power now to fray, And every sound to move my doubtful mind. So much I dread my burden and my fere.* And now we 'gan draw near unto the gate, Right well escap'd the danger, as me thought, When that at hand a sound of feet we heard. My father then, gazing throughout the dark, Cried on me, 'Flee, son! they are at hand.' With that, bright shields, and shene** armours I saw But then, I know not what unfriendly god My troubled with from me bereft for fear. For while I ran by the most secret streets, Eschewing still the common haunted track, From me, catif, alas! bereaved was Creusa then, my spouse; I wot not how, Whether by fate, or missing of the way, Or that she was by weariness retain'd; But never sith these eyes might her behold. Nor did I yet perceive that she was lost, Nor never backward turned I my mind; Till we came to the hill whereon there stood The old temple dedicated to Ceres. And when that we were there assembled all, She was only away deceiving us, Her spouse, her son, and all her company. What god or man did I not then accuse, Near wode *** for ire? or what more cruel chance Did hap to me in all Troy's overthrow?"
*Companion. **Bright. ***Mad.
Chapter XLI SPENSER—THE "SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR"
WHEN Henry signed Surrey's death-warrant he himself was near death, and not many weeks later the proud and violent king met his end. Then followed for England changeful times. After Protestant Edward came for a tragic few days Lady Jane. Then followed the short, sad reign of Catholic Mary, who, dying, left the throne free for her brilliant sister Elizabeth. Those years, from the death of King Henry VIII to the end of the first twenty years of Elizabeth's reign, were years of action rather than of production. They were years of struggle, during which England was swayed to and fro in the fight of religions. They were years during which the fury of the storm of the Reformation worked itself out. But although they were such unquiet years they were also years of growth, and at the end of that time there blossomed forth one of the fairest seasons of our literature.
We call the whole group of authors who sprang up at this time the Elizabethans, after the name of the Queen in whose reign they lived and wrote. And to those of us who know even a very little of the time, the word calls up a brilliant vision. Great names come crowding to our minds, names of poets, dramatists, historians, philosophers, divines. It would be impossible to tell of all in this book, so we must choose the greatest from the noble array. And foremost among them comes Edmund Spenser, for "the glory of the new literature broke in England with Edmund Spenser."*
*J. R. Green, History of English People.
If we could stand aside, as it were, and take a wide view of all our early literature, it would seem as if the names of Chaucer and Spenser stood out above all others like great mountains. The others are valleys between. They are pleasant fields in which to wander, in which to gather flowers, not landmarks for all the world like Chaucer and Spenser. And although it is easier and safer for children to wander in the meadows and gather meadow flowers, they still may look up to the mountains and hope to climb them some day.
Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552, and was the son of a poor clothworker or tailor. He went to school at the Merchant Taylors' School, which had then been newly founded. That his father was very poor we know, for Edmund Spenser's name appears among "certain poor scholars of the schools about London" who received money and clothes from a fund left by a rich man to help poor children at school.
When he was about seventeen Edmund went to Cambridge, receiving for his journey a sum of ten shillings from the fund from which he had already received help at school. He entered college as a sizar, that is, in return for doing the work of a servant he received free board and lodging in his college. A sizar's life was not always a happy one, for many of the other scholars or gentlemen commoners looked down upon them because of their poverty. And this poverty they could not hide, for the sizars were obliged to wear a different cap and gown from that of the gentlemen commoners.
But of how Spenser fared at college we know nothing, except that he was often ill and that he made two lifelong friends. That he loved his university, however, we learn from his poems, when he tenderly speaks of "my mother Cambridge."* When he left college Spenser was twenty-three. He was poor and, it would seem, ill, so he did not return to London, but went to live with relatives in the country in Lancashire. And there about "the wasteful woods and forest wide"** he wandered, gathering new life and strength, taking all a poet's joy in the beauty and the freedom of a country life, "for ylike to me was liberty and life,"** he says. And here among the pleasant woods he met a fair lady named Rosalind, "the widow's daughter of the glen."***
*Faery Queen, book IV canto xi. **Shepherd's Calendar, December ***The same, April.
Who Rosalind really was no one knows. She would never have been heard of had not Spenser taken her for his lady and made songs to her. Spenser's love for Rosalind was, however, more real than the fashionable poet's passion. He truly loved Rosalind, but she did not love him, and she soon married some one else. Then all his joy in the summer and the sunshine was made dark.
"Thus is my summer worn away and wasted, Thus is my harvest hastened all too rathe;* The ear that budded fair is burnt and blasted, And all my hoped gain it turned to scathe: Of all the seed, that in my youth was sown, Was naught but brakes and brambles to be mown."**
*Early. **Shepherd's Calendar, December.
At twenty-four life seemed ended, for "Love is a cureless sorrow."*
*Shepherd's Calendar, August.
"Winter is come, that blows the baleful breath, And after Winter cometh timely death."*
*Shepherd's Calendar, December.
And now, when he was feeling miserable, lonely, desolate an old college friend wrote to him begging him to come to London. Spenser went, and through his friend he came to know Sir Philip Sidney, a true gentleman and a poet like himself, who in turn made him known to the great Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's favorite.
Spenser thought his heart had been broken and that his life was done. But hearts do not break easily. Life is not done at twenty-four. After a time Spenser found that there was still much to live for. The great Earl became the poet's friend and patron, and gave him a post as secretary in his house. For in those days no man could live by writing alone. Poetry was still a graceful toy for the rich. If a poor man wished to toy with it, he must either starve or find a rich friend to be his patron, to give him work to do that would leave him time to write also. Such a friend Spenser found in Leicester. In the Earl's house the poor tailor's son met many of the greatest men of the court of Queen Elizabeth. On the Earl's business he went to Ireland and to the Continent, seeing new sights, meeting the men and women of the great world, so that a new and brilliant life seemed opening for him.
Yet when, a few years later, Spenser published his first great poem, it did not tell of courts or courtiers, but of simple country sights and sounds. This book is called the Shepherd's Calendar, as it contains twelve poems, one for every month of the year.
In it Spenser sings of his fair lost lady Rosalind, and he himself appears under the name of Colin Clout. The name is taken, as you will remember, from John Skelton's poem.
Spenser called his poems Aeclogues, from a Greek word meaning Goatherds' Tales, "Though indeed few goatherds have to do herein." He dedicated them to Sir Philip Sidney as "the president of noblesse and of chivalrie."
"Go, little book: Thy self present, As child whose parent is unkent, To him that is the president Of Noblesse and of Chivalrie; And if that Envy bark at thee, As sure it will, for succour flee Under the shadow of his wing; And, asked who thee forth did bring; A shepherd's swain, say, did thee sing, All as his straying flock he fed; And when his honour hath thee read Crave pardon for my hardyhood. But, if that any ask thy name, Say, 'thou wert basebegot with blame.' For thy thereof thou takest shame, And, when thou art past jeopardy, Come tell me what was said of mee, And I will send more after thee."
The Shepherd's Calendar made the new poet famous. Spenser was advanced at court, and soon after went to Ireland in the train of the Lord-Deputy as Secretary of State. At that time Ireland was filled with storm and anger, with revolt against English rule, with strife among the Irish nobles themselves. Spain also was eagerly looking to Ireland as a point from which to strike at England. War, misery, poverty were abroad in all the land. Yet amid the horrid sights and sounds of battle Spenser found time to write.
After eight years spent in the north of Ireland, Spenser was given a post which took him south. His new home was the old castle of Kilcolman in Cork. It was surrounded by fair wooded country, but to Spenser it seemed a desert. He had gone to Ireland as to exile, hoping that it was merely a stepping-stone to some great appointment in England, whither he longed to return. Now after eight years he found himself still in exile. He had no love for Ireland, and felt himself lonely and forsaken there. But soon there came another great Elizabethan to share his loneliness. This was Sir Walter Raleigh, who, being out of favor with his Queen, took refuge in his Irish estates until her anger should pass.
The two great men, thus alone among the wild Irish, made friends, and they had many a talk together. There within the gray stone walls of the old ivy-covered castle Spenser read the first part of his book, the Faery Queen, to Raleigh. Spenser had long been at work upon this great poem. It was divided into parts, and each part was called a book. Three books were now finished, and Raleigh, loud in his praises of them, persuaded the poet to bring them over to England to have them published.
In a poem called Colin Clout's come home again, which Spenser wrote a few years later, he tells in his own poetic way of these meetings and talks, and of how Raleigh persuaded him to go to England, there to publish his poem. In Colin Clout Spenser calls both himself and Raleigh shepherds. For just as at one time it was the fashion to write poems in the form of a dream, so in Spenser's day it was the fashion to write poems called pastorals, in which the authors made believe that all their characters were shepherds and shepherdesses.
"One day, quoth he, I sat (as was my trade) Under the foot of Mole, that mountain hoare, Keeping my sheep amongst the cooly shade, Of the green alders by the Mulla's* shore: There a strange shepherd chanst to find me out, Whether allured by my pipe's delight, Whose pleasing sound y-shrilled far about, Or thither led by chance, I know not right: Whom when I asked from what place he came, And how he hight, himself he did y-clep, The Shepherd of the Ocean by name, And said he came far from the main sea deep. He sitting me beside in that same shade, Provoked me to play some pleasant fit;** And, when he heard the music that I made, He found himself full greatly pleased at it."
*River Awbeg. **Strain.
Spenser tells then how the "other shepherd" sang:—
"His song was all a lamentable lay, Of great unkindness, and of usage hard, Of Cynthia, the Lady of the Sea, That from her presence faultless him debarred. . . . . . . . When thus our pipes we both had wearied well, And each an end of singing made, He gan to cast great liking to my lore, And great disliking to my luckless lot, That banished had myself, like wight forlore, Into that waste, where I was quite forgot: The which to leave henceforth he counselled me, Unmeet for man in whom was ought regardful, And wend with him his Cynthia to see, Whose grace was great, and bounty most rewardful. . . . . . . . So what with hope of good, and hate of ill He me persuaded forth with him to fare."
Queen Elizabeth received Spenser kindly, and was so delighted with the Faery Queen that she ordered Lord Burleigh to pay the poet 100 pounds a year.
"What!" grumbled the Lord Treasurer, "it is not in reason. So much for a mere song!"
"Then give him," said the Queen, "what is reason," to which he consented.
But, says an old writer, "he was so busied, belike about matters of higher concernment, that Spenser received no reward."* In the long-run, however, he did receive 50 pounds a year, as much as 400 pounds would be now. But it did not seem to Spenser to be enough to allow him to give up his post in Ireland and live in England. So back to Ireland he went once more, with a grudge in his heart against Lord Burleigh.
Chapter XLII SPENSER—THE "FAERY QUEEN"
SPENSER'S plan for the Faery Queen was a very great one. He meant to write a poem in twelve books, each book containing the adventures of a knight who was to show forth one virtue. And if these were well received he purposed to write twelve more. Only the first three books were as yet published, but they made him far more famous than the Shepherd's Calendar had done. For never since Chaucer had such poetry been written. In the Faery Queen Spenser has, as he says, changed his "oaten reed" for "trumpets stern," and sings no longer now of shepherds and their loves, but of "knights and ladies gentle deeds" of "fierce wars and faithful loves."
The first three books tell the adventures of the Red Cross Knight St. George, or Holiness; of Sir Guyon, or Temperance; and of the Lady Britomartis, or Chastity. The whole poem is an allegory. Everywhere we are meant to see a hidden meaning. But sometimes the allegory is very confused and hard to follow. So at first, in any case, it is best to enjoy the story and the beautiful poetry, and not trouble about the second meaning. Spenser plunges us at once into the very middle of the story. He begins:
"A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain, Yelad in mighty arms and silver shield, Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain, The cruel marks of many a bloody field; Yet arms till that time did he never wield. His angry steed did chide his foaming bit, As much disdaining to the curb to yield: Full jolly knight he seem'd, and fair did sit, As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit.
But on his breast a bloody 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 ador'd; Upon his shield the like was also scor'd."
And by the side of this Knight rode a lovely Lady upon a snow- white ass. Her dress, too, was snow-white, but over it she wore a black cloak, "as one that inly mourned," and it "seemed in her heart some hidden care she had."
So the story begins; but why these two, the grave and gallant Knight and the sad and lovely Lady, are riding forth together we should not know until the middle of the seventh canto, were it not for a letter which Spenser wrote to Raleigh and printed in the beginning of his book. In it he tells us not only who these two are, but also his whole great design. He writes this letter, he says, "knowing how doubtfully all allegories may be construed," and this book of his "being a continued allegory, or dark conceit," he thought it good to explain. Having told how he means to write of twenty-four knights who shall represent twenty- four virtues, he goes on to tell us that the Faery Queen kept her yearly feast twelve days, upon which twelve days the occasions of the first twelve adventures happened, which, being undertaken by twelve knights, are told of in these twelve books.
The first was this. At the beginning of the feast a tall, clownish young man knelt before the Queen of the Fairies asking as a boon that to him might be given the first adventure that might befall. "That being granted he rested him on the floor, unfit through his rusticity for a better place.
"Soon after entered a fair Lady in mourning weeds, riding on a white ass with a Dwarf behind her leading a warlike steed, that bore the arms of a knight, and his spear in the Dwarf's hand.
"She, falling before the Queen of Fairies, complained that her Father and Mother, an ancient King and Queen had been by a huge Dragon many years shut up in a brasen Castle, who thence suffered them not to issue." And therefore she prayed the Fairy Queen to give her a knight who would slay the Dragon.
Then the "clownish person" started up and demanded the adventure. The Queen was astonished, the maid unwilling, yet he begged so hard that the Queen consented. The Lady, however, told him that unless the armor she had brought would serve him he could not succeed. But when he put the armor on "he seemed the goodliest man in all that company, and was well liked of that Lady. And eftsoons taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that strange courser, he went forth with her on that adventure, where beginneth the first book, viz.:
"'A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain,' etc."
The story goes on to tell how the Knight, who is the Red Cross Knight St. George, and the Lady, who is called Una, rode on followed by the Dwarf. At length in the wide forest they lost their way and came upon the lair of a terrible She-Dragon. "Fly, fly," quoth then the fearful Dwarf, "this is no place for living men."
"But full of fire and greedy hardiment, The youthful Knight could not for ought be stayed; But forth unto the darksome hole he went, And looked in: his glistering armour made A little glooming light, much like a shade, By which he saw the ugly monster plain, Half like a serpent horribly displayed, But th'other half did woman's shape retain, Most loathsome, filthy, foul, and full of vile disdain."
There was a fearful fight between the Knight and the Dragon, whose name is Error, but at length the Knight conquered. The terrible beast lay dead "reft of her baleful head," and the Knight, mounting upon his charger, once more rode onwards with his Lady.
"At length they chanced to meet upon the way An aged sire, in long black weeds yelad, His feet all bare, his beard all hoary grey, And by his belt his book he hanging had, Sober he seemed, and very sagely sad, And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent, Simple in show, and void of malice bad, And all the way he prayed, as he went, And often knocked his breast, as one that did repent."
The Knight and this aged man greeted each other fair and courteously, and as evening was now fallen the godly father bade the travelers come to his Hermitage for the night. This the Knight and Lady gladly did, and soon were peacefully sleeping beneath the humble roof.
But the seeming godly father was a wicked magician. While his guests slept he wove evil spells about them, and calling a wicked dream he bade it sit at the Knight's head and whisper lies to him. This the wicked dream did till that it made the Knight believe his Lady to be bad and false. Then early in the morning the Red Cross Knight rose and, believing his Lady to be unworthy, he rode sadly away, leaving her alone.
Soon, as he rode along, he met a Saracen whose name was Sansfoy, or without faith, "full large of limb and every joint he was, and cared not for God or man a point."
"He had a fair companion of his way, A goodly Lady clad in scarlet red, Purfled with gold and pearl of rich assay, And like a Persian mitre on her head She wore, with crowns and riches garnished, The which her lavish lovers to her gave; Her wanton palfrey all was overspread With tinsell trappings, woven like a wave, Whose bridle rang with golden bells and bosses brave."
The Red Cross Knight fought and conquered Sansfoy. Then he rode onward with the dead giant's companion, the lady Duessa, whom he believed to be good because he was "too simple and too true" to know her wicked.
Meanwhile Una, forsaken and woeful, wandered far and wide seeking her lost Knight. But nowhere could she hear tidings of him. At length one day, weary of her quest, she got off her ass and lay down to rest in the thick wood, where "her angel's face made a sunshine in the shady place."
Then out of the thickest of the wood a ramping lion rushed suddenly.
"It fortuned out of the thickest wood A ramping Lion rushed suddenly, Hunting full greedy after savage blood. Soon as the royal virgin he did spy, With gaping mouth at her ran greedily To have at once devoured her tender corse."
But as he came near the sleeping Lady the Lion's rage suddenly melted. Instead of killing Una, he licked her weary feet and white hands with fawning tongue. From being her enemy he became her guardian. And so for many a day the Lion stayed with Una, guarding her from all harm. But in her wanderings she at length met with Sansloy, the brother of Sansfoy, who killed the Lion and carried Una off into the darksome wood.
But here in her direst need Una found new friends in a troupe of fauns and satyrs who were playing in the forest.
"Whom when the raging Saracen espied, A rude, misshapen, monstrous rabblement, Whose like he never saw, he durst not bide, But got his ready steed, and fast away gan ride."
Then the fauns and satyrs gathered round the Lady, wondering at her beauty, pitying her "fair blubbered face."
But Una shook with fear. These terrible shapes, half goat, half human, struck her dumb with horror: "Ne word to peak, ne joint to move she had."
"The savage nation feel her secret smart And read her sorrow in her count'nance sad; Their frowning foreheads with rough horns yelad, And rustic horror all aside do lay, And gently grinning shew a semblance glad To comfort her, and feat to put away."
They kneel upon the ground, they kiss her feet, and at last, sure that they mean her no harm, Una rises and goes with them.
Rejoicing, singing songs, honoring her as their Queen, waving branches, scattering flowers beneath her feet, they lead her to their chief Sylvanus. He, too, receives her kindly, and in the wood she lives with these wild creatures until there she finds a new knight named Satyrane, with whom she once more sets forth to seek the Red Cross Knight.
Meanwhile Duessa had led the Red Cross Knight to the house of Pride.
"A stately Palace built of squared brick, Which cunningly was without mortar laid, Whose walls were high, but nothing strong, nor thick, And golden foil all over them displayed, That purest sky with brightness they dismayed. High lifted up were many lofty towers And goodly galleries far overlaid, Full of fair windows, and delightful bowers, And on the top a dial told the timely hours.
It was a goodly heap for to behold, And spake the praises of the workman's wit, But full great pity, that so fair a mould Did on so weak foundation ever sit; For on a sandy hill, that still did flit, And fall away, it mounted was full high, And every breath of heaven shaked it; And all the hinder parts, that few could spy, Were ruinous and old, but painted cunningly."
Here the Knight met Sansjoy, the third of the Saracen brothers, and another fearful fight took place.
"The Saracen was stout, and wondrous strong, And heaped blows like iron hammers great: For after blood and vengeance he did long. The Knight was fierce, and full of youthly heat, And doubled strokes like dreaded thunder's threat, For all for praise and honour he did fight. Both striken strike, and beaten both do beat That from their shields forth flyeth fiery light, And helmets hewen deep, show marks of either's might."
At last a charmed cloud hid the Saracen from the Knight's sight. So the fight ended, and the Knight, sorely wounded, was "laid in sumptuous bed, where many skilful leeches him abide."
But as he lay there weak and ill the Dwarf came to warn him, for he had spied
"Where, in a dungeon deep, huge numbers lay Of caitiff wretched thralls, that wailed night and day, . . . . . . . Whose case when as the careful Dwarf had told, And made ensample of their mournful sight Unto his master, he no longer would There dwell in peril of like painful plight, But early rose, and ere that dawning light Discovered had the world to heaven wide, He by a privy postern took his flight, That of no envious eyes he might be spied, For doubtless death ensued, if any him descried."
When the false Duessa discovered that the Red Cross Knight had fled, she followed him and found him resting beside a fountain. Not knowing that the water was enchanted, he drank of it, and at once all his manly strength ebbed away, and he became faint and feeble. Then, when he was too weak to hold a sword or spear, he saw a fearful sight:—
"With sturdy steps came stalking in his sight, An hideous Giant horrible and high, That with his tallness seemed to threat the sky, The ground eke groaned under him for dread; His living like saw never living eye, Nor durst behold; his stature did exceed The height of three the tallest sons of mortal seed."
Towards the Knight, so weak that he could scarcely hold his sword, this Giant came stalking. Weak as he was, the Knight made ready to fight. But "The Giant strake so mainly merciless, That could have overthrown a stony tower; And were not heavenly grace that did him bless, He had been powdered all as thin as flour."
As the Giant struck at him, the Knight leapt aside and the blow fell harmless. But so mighty was it that the wind of it threw him to the ground, where he lay senseless. And ere he woke out of his swoon the Giant took him up, and
"Him to his castle brought with hasty force And in a dungeon deep him threw without remorse."
Duessa then became the Giant's lady. "He gave her gold and purple pall to wear," and set a triple crown upon her head. For steed he gave her a fearsome dragon with fiery eyes and seven heads, so that all who saw her went in dread and awe.
The Dwarf, seeing his master thus overthrown and made prisoner, gathered his armor and set forth to tell his evil tidings and find help. He had not gone far before he met the Lady Una. To her he told his sad news, and she with grief in her heart turned with him to find the dark dungeon in which her Knight lay. On her way she met another knight. This was Prince Arthur. And he, learning of her sorrow, went with her promising aid. Guided by the Dwarf they reached the castle of the Giant, and here a fearful fight took place in which Prince Arthur conquered Duessa's Dragon and killed the Giant. Then he entered the castle.
"Where living creature none he did espy. Then gan he loudly through the house to call; But no man cared to answer to his cry; There reigned a solemn silence over all, Nor voice was heard, nor wight was seen in bower or hall.
At last, with creeping crooked pace forth came An old, old man with beard as white as snow; That on a staff his feeble steps did frame, And guide his weary gate both to and fro, For his eyesight him failed long ago; And on his arm a bunch of keys he bore, The which unused rust did overgrow; Those were the keys of every inner door, But he could not them use, but kept them still in store."
And what was strange and terrible about this old man was that his head was twisted upon his shoulders, so that although he walked towards the knight his face looked backward.
Seeing his gray hairs and venerable look Prince Arthur asked him gently where all the folk of the castle were.
"I cannot tell," answered the old man. And to every question he replied, "I cannot tell," until the knight, impatient of delay, seized the keys from his arm. Door after door the Prince Arthur opened, seeing many strange, sad sights. But nowhere could he find the captive Knight.
"At last he came unto an iron door, That fast was locked, but key found not at all, Amongst that bunch to open it withal."
But there was a little grating in the door through which Prince Arthur called. A hollow, dreary, murmuring voice replied. It was the voice of the Red Cross Knight, which, when the champion heard, "with furious force and indignation fell" he rent that iron door and entered in.
Once more the Red Cross Knight was free and reunited to his Lady, while the false Duessa was unmasked and shown to be a bad old witch, who fled away "to the wasteful wilderness apace."
But the Red Cross Knight was still so weak and feeble that Despair almost persuaded him to kill himself. Seeing this, Una led him to the house of Holiness, where he stayed until once more he was strong and well. Here he learned that he was St. George. "Thou," he is told,
"Shalt be a saint, and thine own nation's friend And patron. Thou St. George shalt called be, St. George of merry England, the sign of victory."
Once more strong of arm, full of new courage, the Knight set forth with Una, and soon they reached her home, where the dreadful Dragon raged.
Here the most fierce fight of all takes place. Three days it is renewed, and on the third day the Dragon is conquered.
"So down he fell, and forth his life did breathe That vanished into smoke and clouds swift; So down he fell, that th' earth him underneath Did groan, as feeble so great load to lift; So down he fell, as an huge rocky clift Whose false foundation waves have washed away, With dreadful poise is from the mainland rift And rolling down, great Neptune doth dismay, So down he fell, and like an heaped mountain lay."
Thus all ends happily. The aged King and Queen are rescued from the brazen tower in which the Dragon had imprisoned them, and Una and the Knight are married.
That is the story of the first book of the Faery Queen. In it Spenser has made great use of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. The Red Cross of his Knight, "the dear remembrance of his dying Lord," was in those days the flag of England, and is still the Red Cross of our Union Jack. And besides the allegory the poem has something of history in it. The great people of Spenser's day play their parts there. Thus Duessa, sad to say, is meant to be the fair, unhappy Queen of Scots, the wicked magician is the Pope, and so on. But we need scarcely trouble about all that. I repeat that meantime it is enough for you to enjoy the story and the poetry.
Chapter XLIII SPENSER—HIS LAST DAYS
THERE are so many books now published which tell the stories of the Faery Queen, and tell them well, that you may think I hardly need have told one here. But few of these books give the poet's own words, and I have told the story here giving quotations from the poem in the hope that you will read them and learn from them to love Spenser's own words. I hope that long after you have forgotten my words you will remember Spenser's, that they will remain in your mind as glowing word-pictures, and make you anxious to read more of the poem from which they are taken.
Spenser has been called the poet's poet,* he might also be called the painter's poet, for on every page almost we find a word- picture, rich in color, rich in detail. Each person as he comes upon the scene is described for us so that we may see him with our mind's eye. The whole poem blazes with color, it glows and gleams with the glamor of fairyland. Spenser more than any other poet has the old Celtic love of beauty, yet so far as we know there was in him no drop of Celtic blood. He loved neither the Irishman nor Ireland. To him his life there was an exile, yet perhaps even in spite of himself he breathed in the land of fairies and of "little people" something of their magic: his fingers, unwittingly perhaps, touched the golden and ivory gate so that he entered in and saw.
That it is a fairyland and no real world which Spenser opens to us is the great difference between Chaucer and him. Chaucer gives us real men and women who love and hate, who sin and sorrow. He is humorous, he is coarse, and he is real. Spenser has humor too, but we seldom see him smile. There are, we may be glad, few coarse lines in Spenser, but he is artificial. He took the tone of his time—the tone of pretense. It was the fashion to make-believe, yet, underneath all the make-believe, men were still men, not wholly good nor wholly bad. But underneath the brilliant trappings of Spenser's knights and ladies, shepherds and shepherdesses, there seldom beats a human heart. He takes us to dreamland, and when we lay down the book we wake up to real life. Beauty first and last is what holds us in Spenser's poems- -beauty of description, beauty of thought, beauty of sound. As it has been said, "'A thing of beauty is a joy forever,' and that is the secret of the enduring life of the Faery Queen."*
*Courthorpe, History of English Poetry.
Spenser invented for himself a new stanza of nine lines and made it famous, so that we call it after him, the Spenserian Stanza. It was like Chaucer's stanza of seven lines, called the Rhyme Royal, with two lines more added.
Spenser admired Chaucer above all poets. He called him "The Well of English undefiled,"* and after many hundred years we still feel the truth of the description. He uses many of Chaucer's words, which even then had grown old-fashioned and were little used. So much is this so that a glossary written by a friend of Spenser, in which old words were explained, was published with the Shepherd's Calendar. But whether old or new, Spenser's power of using words and of weaving them together was wonderful.
*Faery Queen, book VI, canto ii.
He weaves his wonderful words in such wonderful fashion that they sound like what he describes. Is there anything more drowsy than his description of the abode of sleep:
"And more, to lull him in his slumber soft, A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down, And ever drizzling rain upon the loft Mix'd with a murmuring wind, much like the sound Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swound,* No other noise nor peoples' troublous cries, As still are wont t' annoy the walled town, Might there be heard; but careless quiet lies Wrapt in eternal silence, far from enemies."
So all through the poem we are enchanted or lulled by the glamor of words.
The Faery Queen made Spenser as a poet famous, but, as we know, it did not bring him enough to live on in England. It did not bring him the fame he sought nor make him great among the statesmen of the land. Among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth he counted for little. So he returned to Ireland a disappointed man. It was now he wrote Colin Clout's come home again, from which I have already given you some quotations. He published also another book of poems and then he fell in love. He forgot his beautiful Rosalind, who had been so hard-hearted, and gave his love to another lady who in her turn loved him, and to whom he was happily married. This lady, too, he made famous in his verse. As the fashion was, he wrote to her a series of sonnets, in one of which we learn that her name was Elizabeth. He writes to the three Elizabeths, his mother, his Queen, and
"The third, my love, my life's last ornament, By whom my spirit out of dust was raised."
But more famous still than the sonnets is the Epithalamion or wedding hymn which he wrote in his lady's honor, and which ever since has been looked on as the most glorious love-song in the English language, so full is it of exultant, worshipful happiness.
It was now, too, that Spenser wrote Astrophel, a sadly beautiful dirge for the death of his friend and fellow-poet, Sir Philip Sidney. He gave his verses as "fittest flowers to deck his mournful hearse."
Just before his marriage Spenser finished three more books of the Faery Queen, and the following year he took them to London to publish them. The three books were on Friendship, on Justice, and on Courtesy. They were received as joyfully as the first three. The poet remained for nearly a year in London still writing busily. Then he returned to Ireland. There he passed a few more years, and then came the end.
Ireland, which had always been unquiet, always restless, under the oppressive hand of England, now broke out into wild rebellion. The maddened Irish had no love or respect for the English poet. Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned, and Spenser fled with his wife and children to Cork, homeless and wellnigh ruined. A little later Spenser himself went on to London, hoping perhaps to better his fortunes, and there in a Westminster inn, disappointed, ill, shattered in hopes and health, he lay down to die.
As men count years, he was still young, for he was only forty- seven. He had dreamed that he had still time before him to make life a success. For as men counted success in those days, Spenser was a failure. He had failed to make a name among the statesmen of the age. He failed to make a fortune, he lived poor and he died poor. As a poet he was a sublime success. He dedicated the Faery Queen to Elizabeth "to live with the eternity of her fame," and it is not too much to believe that even should the deeds of Elizabeth be forgotten the fame of Spenser will endure. And the poets of Spenser's own day knew that in him they had lost a master, and they mourned for him as such. They buried him in Westminster not far from Chaucer. His bier was carried by poets, who, as they stood beside his grave, threw into it poems in which they told of his glory and their own grief. And so they left "The Prince of Poets in his tyme, whose divine spirit needs no other witnesse than the workes which he left behind him."*
*The first epitaph engraved on Spenser's tomb.
BOOKS TO READ
Tales from Spenser (Told to Children Series). Una and the Red Cross Knight, by N. G. Royde Smith (has many quotations). Tales from the Faerie Queene, by C. L. Thomson (prose). The Faerie Queene (verse, sixteenth century spelling). Faerie Queene, book I, by Professor W. H. Hudson. Complete Works (Globe Edition), edited by R. Morris. Britomart, edited by May E. Litchfield, is the story of Britomart taken from scattered portions in books III, IV, and V in original poetry, spelling modernized.
Chapter XLIV ABOUT THE FIRST THEATERS
IN the beginnings of our literature there were two men who, we might say, were the fountain-heads. These were the gay minstrel abroad in the world singing in hall and market-place, and the patient monk at work in cell or cloister. And as year by year our literature grew, strengthened and broadened, we might say it flowed on in two streams. It flowed in two streams which were ever joining, mingling, separating again, for the monk and the minstrel spoke to man each in his own way. The monk made his appeal to the eye as with patient care he copied, painted and made his manuscript beautiful with gold and colors. The minstrel made his appeal to the ear with music and with song. Then after a time the streams seemed to join, and the monk when he played the miracle-plays seemed to be taking the minstrel's part. Here was an appeal to both the eye and ear. Instead of illuminating the silent parchment he made living pictures illustrate spoken words. Then followed a time when the streams once more divided and church and stage parted. The strolling players and the trade guilds took the place both of the minstrel and of the monkish actors, the monk went back once more to his quiet cell, and the minstrel gradually disappeared.
So year after year went on. By slow degrees times changed, and our literature changed with the times. But looking backward we can see that the poet is the development of the minstrel, the prose writer the development of the monkish chronicler and copyist. Prose at first was only used for grave matters, for history, for religious works, for dry treatises which were hardly literature, which were not meant for enjoyment but only for use and for teaching. But by degrees people began to use prose for story-telling, for enjoyment. More and more prose began to be written for amusement until at last it has quite taken the place of poetry. Nowadays many people are not at all fond of poetry. They are rather apt to think that a poetry book is but dull reading, and they much prefer plain prose. It may amuse those who feel like that to remember that hundreds of years ago it was just the other way round. Then it was prose that was considered dull—hence we have the word prosy.
All poetry was at first written to be sung, sung too perhaps with some gesture, so that the hearers might the better understand the story. Then by degrees poets got further and further away from that, until poets like Spenser wrote with no such idea. But while poets like Spenser wrote their stories to be read, another class of poets was growing up who intended their poems to be spoken and acted. These were the dramatists.
So you see that the minstrel stream divided into two. There was now the poet who wrote his poems to be read in quiet and the poet who wrote his, if not to be sung, at least to be spoken aloud. But there had been, as we have seen, a time when the minstrel and the monkish stream had touched, a time when the monk, using the minstrel's art, had taught the people through ear and eye together. For the idea of the Miracle and Morality plays was, you remember, to teach. So, long after the monks had ceased to act, those who wrote poems to be acted felt that they must teach something. Thus after the Miracle plays came the Moralities, which sometimes were very long and dull. They were followed by Interludes which were much the same as Moralities but were shorter, and as their name shows were meant to come in the middle of something else, for the word comes from two Latin words, "inter" between and "ludus" a play. An Interlude may have been first used, perhaps, as a kind of break in a long feast.
The Miracle plays had only been acted once a year, first by the monks and later by the trade guilds. But the taste for plays grew, and soon bands of players strolled about the country acting in towns and villages. These strolling players often made a good deal of money. But though the people crowded willingly to see and hear, the magistrates did not love these players, and they were looked upon as little better than rogues and vagabonds. Then it became the fashion for great lords to have their own company of players, and they, when their masters did not need them, also traveled about to the surrounding villages acting wherever they went. This taste for acting grew strong in the people of England. And if in the life of the Middle Ages there was always room for story-telling, in the life of Tudor England there was always room for acting and shows.
These shows were called by various names, Pageants, Masques, Interludes, Mummings or Disguisings, and on every great or little occasion there was sure to be something of the sort. If the King or Queen went on a journey he or she was entertained by pageants on the way. If a royal visitor came to the court of England there were pageants in his honor. A birthday, a christening, a wedding or a victory would all be celebrated by pageants, and in these plays people of all classes took part. School-children acted, University students acted, the learned lawyers or Inns of Court acted, great lords and ladies acted, and even at times the King and Queen themselves took part. And although many of these shows, especially the pageants, were merely shows, without any words, many, on the other hand, had words. Thus with so much acting and love of acting it was not wonderful that a crowd of dramatists sprang up.
Then, too, plays began to be divided into tragedies and comedies. A tragedy is a play which shows the sad side of life and which has a mournful ending. The word really means a goat-song, and comes from two Greek words, "tragos" a goat and "ode" a song. It was so called either because the oldest tragedies were acted while a goat was sacrificed, or because the actors themselves wore clothes made of goat-skins. A comedy is a play which shows the merry side of life and has a happy ending. This word too comes from two Greek words, "komos," a revel, and "ode," a song. The Greek word for village is also "komo," so a comedy may at first have meant a village revel or a merry-making. "Tragedy," it has been said, "is poetry in its deepest earnest; comedy is poetry in unlimited jest."* But the old Moralities were neither the one nor the other, neither tragedy nor comedy. They did not touch life keenly enough to awaken horror or pain. They were often sad, but not with that sadness which we have come to call tragic, they were often indeed merely dull, and although there was always a funny character to make laughter, it was by no means unlimited jest. The Interludes came next, after the Moralities, with a little more human interest and a little more fun, and from them it was easy to pass to real comedies.
A play named Ralph Roister Doister is generally looked upon as the first real English comedy. It was written by Nicholas Udall, headmaster first of Eton and then of Westminster, for the boys of one or other school. It was probably for those of Westminster that it was written, and may have been acted about 1552. The hero, if one may call him so, who gives his name to the play, is a vain, silly swaggerer. He thinks every woman who sees him is in love with him. So he makes up his mind to marry a rich and beautiful widow named Christian Custance.
Not being a very good scholar, Ralph gets some one else to write a love-letter for him, but when he copies it he puts all the stops in the wrong places, which makes the sense quite different from what he had intended, and instead of being full of pretty things the letter is full of insults.
Dame Custance will have nothing to say to such a stupid lover, "I will not be served with a fool in no wise. When I choose a husband I hope to take a man," she says. In revenge for her scorn Ralph Roister Doister threatens to burn the dame's house down, and sets off to attack it with his servants. The widow, however, meets him with her handmaidens. There is a free fight (which, no doubt, the schoolboy actors enjoyed), but the widow gets the best of it, and Ralph is driven off.
Our first real tragedy was not written until ten years after our first comedy. This first tragedy was written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset. It was acted by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple "before the Queen's most excellent Majestie in her highness' Court of Whitehall the 18th day of January, 1561."
Chaucer tells us that a tragedy is a story
"Of him that stood in great prosperitie, And is yfallen out of high degree Into miserie, and endeth wretchedly."*
*Prologue to the "Monk's Tale," Canterbury Tales.
So our early tragedies were all taken from sad stories in the old Chronicle histories. And this first tragedy, written by Norton and Sackville, is called Gorboduc, and is founded upon the legend of Gorboduc, King of Britain. The story is told, though not quite in the same way, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, our old friend, by Matthew of Westminster, and by others of the old chroniclers. For in writing a poem or play it is not necessary to keep strictly to history. As Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser's friend, says: "Do they not know that a tragedy is tied to the laws of Poesie and not of History, not bound to follow the story, but, having liberty, either to fain a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience?"*
*Sidney, Apologie for Poetrie.
The story goes that Gorboduc, King of Britain, divided his realm during his lifetime between his sons Ferrex and Porrex. But the brothers quarreled, and the younger killed the elder. The mother, who loved her eldest son most, then killed the younger in revenge. Next the people, angry at such cruelty, rose in rebellion and killed both father and mother. The nobles then gathered and defeated the rebels. And lastly, for want of an heir to the throne, "they fell to civil war," and the land for a long time was desolate and miserable.
In the play none of these fearful murders happen on the stage. They are only reported by messengers. There is also a chorus of old sage men of Britain who, at the end of each act, chant of what has happened. When you come to read Greek plays you will see that this is more like Greek than English tragedy, and it thus shows the influence of the New Learning upon our literature. But, on the other hand, in a Greek drama there was never more than one scene, and all the action was supposed to take place on one day. This was called preserving the unities of time and place, and no Greek drama which did not observe them would have been thought good. In Gorboduc there are several scenes, and the action, although we are not told how long, must last over several months at least. So that although Gorboduc owed something to the New Learning, which had made men study Greek, it owed as much to the old English Miracle plays. Later on when you come to read more about the history of our drama you will learn a great deal about what we owe to the Greeks, but here I will not trouble you with it.
You remember that in the Morality plays there was no scenery. And still, although in the new plays which were now being written the scene was supposed to change from place to place, there was no attempt to make the stage look like these places. The stage was merely a plain platform, and when the scene changed a board was hung up with "This is a Palace" or "This is a Street" and the imagination of the audience had to do the rest.
That some people felt the absurdity of this we learn from a book by Sir Philip Sidney. In it he says, "You shall have Asia of the one side, and Affrick of the other, and so many other under kingdoms, that the Player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, and then we are to blame if we accept it not for a Rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a hideous Monster, with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave. While in the meantime two Armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field!"*
*An Apologie for Poetrie, published 1595.
If the actors of the Elizabethan time had no scenery they made up for the lack of it by splendid and gorgeous dressing. But it was the dressing of the day. The play might be supposed to take place in Greece or Rome or Ancient Britain, it mattered not. The actors dressed after the fashion of their own day. And neither actors nor audience saw anything funny in it. To them it was not funny that an ancient British king should wear doublet and hose, nor that his soldiers should discharge firearms in a scene supposed to take place hundreds of years before gunpowder had been invented. But we must remember that in those days dress meant much more than it does now. Dress helped to tell the story. Men then might not dress according to their likes and dislikes, they were obliged to dress according to their rank. Therefore it helped the Elizabethan onlooker to understand the play when he saw a king, a courtier, or a butcher come on to the stage dressed as he knew a king, a courtier, or a butcher dressed. Had he seen a man of the sixth century dressed as a man of the sixth century he would not have known to what class he belonged and would not have understood the play nearly so well.
But besides having no scenery, the people of England had at first no theaters. Plays were acted in halls, in the dining-halls of the great or in the guild halls belonging to the various trades. It was not until 1575 that the first theater was built in London. This first theater was so successful that soon another was built and still another, until in or near London there were no fewer than twelve. But these theaters were very unlike the theaters we know now. They were really more like the places where people went to see cock-fights and bear-baiting. They were round, and except over the stage there was no roof. The rich onlookers who could afford to pay well sat in "boxes" on the stage itself, and the other onlookers sat or stood in the uncovered parts. Part of a theater is still called the pit, which helps to remind us that the first theaters may have served as "cock-pits" or "bear-pits" too as well as theaters. For a long time, too, the theater was a man's amusement just as bear-baiting or cock-fighting had been. There were no actresses, the women's parts were taken by boys, and at first ladies when they came to look on wore masks so that they might not be known, as they were rather ashamed of being seen at a theater.
And now that the love of plays and shows had grown so great that it had been found worth while to build special places in which to act, you may be sure that there was no lack of play-writers. There were indeed many of whom I should like to tell you, but in this book there is no room to tell of all. To show you how many dramatists arose in this great acting age I will give you a list of the greatest, all of whom were born between 1552 and 1585. After Nicholas Udall and Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, the writers of our first comedy and first tragedy, there came:—
George Peel. Francis Beaumont. John Lyly. John Fletcher. Thomas Kyd. John Webster. Robert Greene. Philip Massinger. Christopher Marlowe. John Ford. William Shakespeare. Thomas Heywood. Ben Jonson.
It would be impossible to tell you of all these, so I shall choose only two, and first I shall tell you of the greatest of them—Shakespeare. He shines out from among the others like a bright star in a clear sky. He is, however, not a lonely star, for all around him cluster others. They are bright, too, and if he were not there we might think some of them even very bright, yet he outshines them all. He forces our eyes to turn to him, and not only our eyes but the eyes of the whole world. For all over the world, wherever poetry is read and plays are played, the name of William Shakespeare is known and reverenced.
Chapter XLV SHAKESPEARE—THE BOY
ONE April morning nearly three hundred and fifty years ago there was a stir and bustle in a goodly house in the little country town of Stratford-on-Avon. The neighbors went in and out with nods and smiles and mysterious whisperings. Then there was a sound of clinking of glasses and of laughter, for it became known that to John and Mary Shakespeare a son had been born, and presently there was brought to be shown to the company "The infant mewling and puking in the nurse's arms." It was a great event for the father and mother, something of an event for Stratford-on-Avon, for John Shakespeare was a man of importance. He was a well-to-do merchant, an alderman of the little town. He seems to have done business in several ways, for we are told that he was a glover, a butcher, and a corn and wool dealer. No doubt he grew his own corn, and reared and killed his own sheep, making gloves from the skins, and selling the wool and flesh. His wife, too, came of a good yeoman family who farmed their own land, and no doubt John Shakespeare did business with his kinsfolk in both corn and sheep. And although he could perhaps not read, and could not write even his own name, he was a lucky business man and prosperous. So he was well considered by his neighbors and had a comfortable house in Henley Street, built of rough plastered stone and dark strong wood work.
And now this April morning John Shakespeare's heart was glad. Already he had had two children, two little girls, but they had both died. Now he had a son who would surely live to grow strong and great, to be a comfort in his old age and carry on his business when he could no longer work. It was a great day for John Shakespeare. How little he knew that it was a great day for all the world and for all time.
Three days after he was born the tiny baby was christened. And the name his father and mother gave him was William. After this three months passed happily. Then one of the fearful plagues which used to sweep over the land, when people lived in dark and dirty houses in dark and dirty streets, attacked Stratford-on- Avon. Jolly John Shakespeare and Mary, his wife, must have been anxious of heart, fearful lest the plague should visit their home. John did what he could to stay it. He helped the stricken people with money and goods, and presently the plague passed away, and the life of the dearly loved little son was safe.
Years passed on, and the house in Henley Street grew ever more noisy with chattering tongues and pattering feet, until little Will had two sisters and two brothers to keep him company.
Then, although his father and mother could neither of them write themselves, they decided that their children should be taught, so William was sent to the Grammar School. He was, I think, fonder of the blue sky and the slow-flowing river and the deep dark woods that grew about his home that of the low-roofed schoolroom. He went perhaps
"A whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school."
But we do not know. And whether he liked school or not, at least we know that later, when he came to write plays, he made fun of schoolmasters. He knew "little Latin and less Greek,"* said a friend in after life, but then that friend was very learned and might think "little" that which we might take for "a good deal." Indeed, another old writer says "he understood Latin pretty well."**
*Ben Jonson. **John Aubrey.
We know little either of Shakespeare's school hours or play hours, but once or twice at least he may have seen a play or pageant. His father went on prospering and was made chief bailiff of the town, and while in that office he entertained twice at least troups of strolling players, the Queen's Company and the Earl of Worcester's Company. It is very likely that little Will was taken to see the plays they acted. Then when he was eleven years old there was great excitement in the country town, for Queen Elizabeth came to visit the great Earl of Leicester at his castle of Kenilworth, not sixteen miles away. There were great doings then, and the Queen was received with all the magnificence and pomp that money could procure and imagination invent. Some of these grand shows Shakespeare must have seen.
Long afterwards he remembered perhaps how one evening he had stood among the crowd tiptoeing and eager to catch a glimpse of the great Queen as she sat enthroned on a golden chair. Her red- gold hair gleamed and glittered with jewels under the flickering torchlight. Around her stood a crowd of nobles and ladies only less brilliant that she. Then, as William gazed and gazed, his eyes aching with the dazzling lights, there was a movement in the surging crowd, a murmur of "ohs" and "ahs." And, turning, the boy saw another lady, another Queen, appear from out the dark shadow of the trees. Stately and slowly she moved across the grass. Then following her came a winged boy with golden bow and arrows. This was the god of Love, who roamed the world shooting his love arrows at the hearts of men and women, making them love each other. He aimed, he shot, the arrow flew, but the god missed his aim and the lady passed on, beautiful, cold, free, as before. Love could not touch her, he followed her but in vain.
It was with such pageants, such allegories, that her people flattered Queen Elizabeth, for many men laid their hearts at her feet, but she in return never gave her own. She was the woman above all others to be loved, to be worshiped, but herself remained in "maiden meditation fancy-free." The memory of those brilliant days stayed with the poet-child. They were sun-gilt, as childish memories are, and in after years he wrote:
"That very time I saw (but thou couldst not) Flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all arm'd. 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 watery moon, And the imperial votaress passed on, In maiden meditation, fancy-free. Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower; Before, milk-white; now, purple with love's wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness."*
*Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II Scene i.
Some time after John Shakespeare became chief bailiff his fortunes turned. From being rich he became poor. Bit by bit he was obliged to sell his own and his wife's property. So little Will was taken away from school at the age of thirteen, and set to earn his own living as a butcher—his father's trade, we are told. But if he ever was a butcher he was, nevertheless, an actor and a poet, "and when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style and make a speech."* How Shakespeare fared in this new work we do not know, but we may fancy him when work was done wandering along the pretty country lanes or losing himself in the forest of Arden, which lay not far from his home, "the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling," and singing to himself:
"Jog on, jog on, the footpath way, And merrily hent the stile-a; A merry heart goes all the day, Your sad tires in a mile-a."*
*Winter's Tale, Act IV Scene ii.
He knew the lore of fields and woods, of trees and flowers, and birds and beasts. He sang of
"The ousel-cock so black of hue, With orange-tawny bill, The throstle with his note so true, The wren with little quill. The finch, the sparrow, and the lark, The plain-song cuckoo gray, Whose note full many a man doth mark, And dares not answer nay."*
*Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III Scene i.
He remembered, perhaps, in after years his rambles by the slow- flowing Avon, when he wrote:
"He makes sweet music with th' enamell'd stones, Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge He overtaketh in his pilgrimage; And so by many winding nooks he strays, With willing sport, to the wide ocean."*
*Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II Scene vii.
He knew the times of the flowers. In spring he marked
"the daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty."*
Of summer flowers he tells us
"Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun, And with him rises weeping; these are flowers Of middle summer."*
He knew that "a lapwing runs close by the ground," that choughs are "russet-pated." He knew all the beauty that is to be found throughout the country year.
Sometimes in his country wanderings Shakespeare got into mischief too. He had a daring spirit, and on quiet dark nights he could creep silently about the woods snaring rabbits or hunting deer. But we are told "he was given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits."* He was often caught, sometimes got a good beating, and sometimes was sent to prison.
So the years passed on, and we know little of what happened in them. Some people like to think that Shakespeare was a schoolmaster for a time, others that he was a clerk in a lawyer's office. He may have been one or other, but we do not know. What we do know is that when he was eighteen he took a great step. He married. We can imagine him making love-songs then. Perhaps he sang:
"O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true-love's coming, That can sing both high and low: Trip no further, pretty sweeting; Journeys end in lovers' meeting; Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? 'tis not hereafter; Present mirth hath present laughter; What's to come is still unsure: In delay there lies no plenty; Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty, Youth's a stuff will not endure."*
The lady whom Shakespeare married was named Anne Hathaway. She came of farmer folk like Shakespeare's own mother. She was eight years older than her boyish lover, but beyond that we know little of Anne Hathaway, for Shakespeare never anywhere mentions his wife. A little while after their marriage a daughter was born to Anne and William Shakespeare. Nearly two years later a little boy and girl came to them. The boy died when he was about eleven, and only the two little girls, Judith and Susanna, lived to grow up.
In spite of the fact that Shakespeare had now a wife and children to look after, he had not settled down. He was still wild, and being caught once more in stealing game he left Stratford and went to London.
Chapter XLVI SHAKESPEARE—THE MAN
WHEN Shakespeare first went to London he had a hard life. He found no better work to do than that of holding horses outside the theater doors. In those days the plays took place in the afternoon, and as many of the fine folk who came to watch them rode on horseback, some one was needed to look after the horses until the play was over. But poor though this work was, Shakespeare seems to have done it well, and he became such a favorite that he had several boys under him who were long known as "Shakespeare's boys." Their master, however, soon left work outside the theater for work inside. And now began the busiest years of his life, for he both acted and wrote. At first it may be he only altered and improved the plays of others. But soon he began to write plays that were all his own. Yet Shakespeare, like Chaucer, never invented any of his own stories. There is only one play of his, called Love's Labor's Lost, the story of which is not to be found in some earlier book. That, too, may have been founded on another story which is now lost.
When you come to know Shakespeare's plays well you will find it very interesting to follow his stories to their sources. That of King Lear, which is one of Shakespeare's great romantic historical plays, is, for instance, to be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Wace's Brut, and in Layamon's Brut. But it was from none of these that Shakespeare took the story, but from the chronicle of a man named Holinshed who lived and wrote in the time of Queen Elizabeth, he in his turn having taken it from some one of the earlier sources.
For, after all, in spite of the thousands of books that have been written since the world began, there are only a certain number of stories which great writers have told again and again in varying ways. One instance of this we saw when in the beginning of this book we followed the story of Arthur.
But although Shakespeare borrowed his plots from others, when he had borrowed them he made them all his own. He made his people so vivid and so true that he makes us forget that they are not real people. We can hardly realize that they never lived, that they never walked and talked, and cried and laughed, loved and hated, in this world just as we do. And this is so because the stage to him is life and life a stage. "All the world's a stage," he says,
"And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances: And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."*
*As You Like It.
And again he tells us:
"Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more."*
It is from Shakespeare's works that we get the clearest picture of Elizabethan times. And yet, although we learn from him so much of what people did in those days, of how they talked and even of how they thought, the chief thing that we feel about Shakespeare's characters is, not that they are Elizabethan, but that they are human, that they are like ourselves, that they think, and say, and do, things which we ourselves might think, and say, and do.
There are many books we read which we think of as very pretty, very quaint, very interesting—but old-fashioned. But Shakespeare can never be old-fashioned, because, although he is the outcome of his own times, and gives us all the flavor of his own times, he gives us much more. He understood human nature, he saw beneath the outward dress, and painted for us real men and women. And although fashion in dress and modes of living may change, human nature does not change. "He was not of an age but for all time," it was said of him about seven years after his death, and now that nearly three hundred years have come and gone we still acknowledge the truth of those words.
Shakespeare's men and women speak and act and feel in the main as we might now. Many of his people we feel are our brothers and sisters. And to this human interest he adds something more, for he leads us too through "unpathed waters" to "the undreamed shores" of fairyland.
Shakespeare's writing time was short. Before he left Stratford he wrote nothing unless it may have been a few scoffing verses against the Justice of the Peace who punished him for poaching. But these, if they were ever written, are lost. In the last few years of his life he wrote little or nothing. Thus the number of his writing years was not more than twenty to twenty-five, but in that time he wrote thirty-seven plays, two long poems, and a hundred and fifty-six sonnets. At one time he must have written two plays every year. And when you come to know these plays well you will wonder at the greatness of the task.
Shakespeare writes his plays sometimes in rime, sometimes in blank verse, sometimes in prose, at times using all these in one play. In this he showed how free he was from rules. For, until he wrote, plays had been written in rime or blank verse only.
For the sake of convenience Shakespeare's plays have been divided into histories, tragedies and comedies. But it is not always easy to draw the line and decide to which class a play belongs. They are like life. Life is not all laughter, nor is it all tears. Neither are Shakespeare's comedies all laughter, and some of his tragedies would seem at times to be too deep for tears, full only of fierce, dark sorrow—and yet there is laughter in them too.
Besides being divided into histories, tragedies and comedies they have been divided in another way, into three periods of time. The first was when Shakespeare was trying his hand, when he was brimming over with the joy of the new full life of London. The second was when some dark sorrow lay over his life, we know not what, when the pain and mystery and the irony of living seems to strike him hard. Then he wrote his great tragedies. The third was when he had gained peace again, when life seemed to flow calmly and smoothly, and this period lasted until the end.
We know very little of Shakespeare's life in London. As an actor he never made a great name, never acted the chief character in a play. But he acted sometimes in his own plays and took the part, we are told, of a ghost in one, and of a servant in another, neither of them great parts. He acted, too, in plays written by other people. But it was as a writer that he made a name, and that so quickly that others grew jealous of him. One called him "an upstart Crow, beautified in our feathers . . . in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country."* But for the most part Shakespeare made friends even of rival authors, and many of them loved him well. He was good-tempered, merry, witty, and kindly, a most lovable man. "He was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good company, and a very ready and pleasant smooth wit,"** said one. "I loved the man and do honor to his memory, on this side of idolatry as much as any. He was indeed honest and of an open and free nature,"*** said another. Others still called him a good fellow, gentle Shakespeare, sweet Master Shakespeare. I should like to think, too, that Spenser called him "our pleasant Willy." But wise folk tell us that these words were not spoken of Shakespeare but of some one else whose name was not William at all.
*Robert Greene, A groatsworth of Wit bought with a million of repentance. **John Aubrey. ***Ben Jonson.
And so although outside his work we get only glimpses of the man, these glimpses taken together with his writings show us Will Shakespeare as a big-hearted man, a man who understood all and forgave all. He understood the little joys and sorrows that make up life. He understood the struggle to be good, and would not scorn people too greatly when they were bad. "Children, we feel sure," says one of the latest writers about him, "did not stop their talk when he came near them, but continued in the happy assurance that it was only Master Shakespeare."* And so if children find his plays hard to read yet a while they may at least learn to know his stories and learn to love his name—it is only Master Shakespeare. But they must remember that learning to know Shakespeare's stories through the words of other people is only half a joy. The full joy of Shakespeare can only come when we are able to read his plays in his very own words. But that will come all the more easily and quickly to us if we first know his stories well.
There are parts in some of Shakespeare's plays that many people find coarse. But Shakespeare is not really coarse. We remember the vision sent to St. Peter which taught him that there was nothing common or unclean. Shakespeare had seen that vision. In life there is nothing common or unclean, if we only look at it in the right way. And Shakespeare speaks of everything that touches life most nearly. He uses words that we do not use now; he speaks of things we do not speak of now; but it was the fashion of his day to be more open and plain spoken than we are. And if we remember that, there is very little in Shakespeare that need hurt us even if there is a great deal which we cannot understand. And when you come to read some of the writers of Shakespeare's age and see that in them the laughter is often brutal, the horror of tragedy often coarse and crude, you will wonder more than ever how Shakespeare made his laughter so sweet and sunny, and how, instead of revolting us, he touches our hearts with his horror and pain.
About eleven years passed after Shakespeare left Stratford before he returned there again. But once having returned, he often paid visits to his old home. And he came now no more as a poor wild lad given to poaching. He came as a man of wealth and fame. He bought the best house in Stratford, called New Place, as well as a good deal of land. So before John Shakespeare died he saw his family once more important in the town.
Then as the years went on Shakespeare gave up all connection with London and the theater and settled down to a quiet country life. He planted trees, managed his estate, and showed that though he was the world's master-poet he was a good business man too. Everything prospered with him, his two daughters married well, and comfortably, and when not more than forty-three he held his first grandchild in his arms. It may be he looked forward to many happy peaceful years when death took him. He died of fever, brought on, no doubt, by the evil smells and bad air by which people lived surrounded in those days before they had learned to be clean in house and street.
Shakespeare was only fifty-two when he died. It was in the springtime of 1616 that he died, breathing his last upon
"The uncertain glory of an April day Which now shows all the beauty of the sun And by and by a cloud takes all away."*
*Two Gentlemen of Verona.
He was buried in Stratford Parish Church, and on his grave was placed a bust of the poet. That bust and an engraving in the beginning of the first great edition of his works are the only two real portraits of Shakespeare. Both were done after his death, and yet perhaps there is no face more well known to us than that of the greatest of all poets.
Beneath the bust are written these lines:
"Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast? Read, if thou-canst, whom envious Death hath plast Within this monument; Shakespeare with whome Quick nature dide: whose name doth deck ys tombe, Far more than cost, sith all yt he hath writt, Leaves living art but page to serve his witt."
Upon a slab over the grave is carved:
"Good frend, for Jesus' sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare; Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones."
And so our greatest poet lies not beneath the great arch of Westminster but in the quiet church of the little country town in which he was born.
Chapter LXVII SHAKESPEARE—"THE MERCHANT OF VENICE"
IN this chapter I am going to tell you in a few words the story of one of Shakespeare's plays called The Merchant of Venice. It is founded on an Italian story, one of a collection made by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino.
The merchant of Venice was a rich young man called Antonio. When the story opens he had ventured all his money in trading expeditions to the East and other lands. In two months' time he expects the return of his ships and hopes then to make a great deal of money. But meantime he has none to spare, and when his great friend Bassanio comes to borrow of him he cannot give him any.
Bassanio's need is urgent, for he loves the beautiful lady Portia and desires to marry her. This lady was so lovely and so rich that her fame had spread over all the world till "the four winds blow in from every coast renowned suitors." Bassanio would be among these suitors, but alas he has no money, not even enough to pay for the journey to Belmont where the lovely lady lived. Yet if he wait two months until Antonio's ships return it may be too late, and Portia may be married to another. So to supply his friend's need Antonio decides to borrow the money, and soon a Jew named Shylock is found who is willing to lend it. For Shylock was a money-lender. He lent money to people who had need of it and charged them interest. That is, besides having to pay back the full sum they had borrowed they had also to pay some extra money in return for the loan.
In those days Jews were ill-treated and despised, and there was great hatred between them and Christians. And Shylock especially hated Antonio, because not only did he rail against Jews and insult them, but he also lent money without demanding interest, thereby spoiling Shylock's trade. So now the Jew lays a trap for Antonio, hoping to catch him and be revenged upon his enemy. He will lend the money, he says, and he will charge no interest, but if the loan be not repaid in three months Antonio must pay as forfeit a pound of his own flesh, which Shylock may cut from any part of his body that he chooses.
To this strange bargain Antonio consents. It is but a jest, he thinks.
"Content in faith, I'll seal to such a bond, And say, there is much kindness in the Jew."
But Bassanio is uneasy. "I like not fair terms," he says, "and a villain mind. You shall not seal to such a bond for me." But Antonio insists and the bond is sealed.
All being settled, Bassanio receives the money, and before he sets off to woo his lady he gives a supper to all his friends, to which he also invites Shylock. Shylock goes to this supper although to his daughter Jessica he says,
"But wherefore should I go? I am not bid for love; they flatter me: But yet I'll go in hate, to feed upon The prodigal Christian."
But Jessica does not join her father in his hatred of all Christians. She indeed has given her heart to one of the hated race, and well knowing that her father will never allow her to marry him, she, that night while he is at supper with Bassanio, dresses herself in boy's clothes and steals away, taking with her a great quantity of jewels and money.
When Shylock discovers his loss he is mad with grief and rage. He runs about the streets crying for justice.
"Justice! the law! my ducats, and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, Of double ducats stol'n from me by my daughter!"
And all the wild boys in Venice follow after him mocking him and crying, "His stones, his daughter and his ducats!"
So finding nowhere love or sympathy but everywhere only mockery and cruel laughter, Shylock vows vengeance. The world has treated him ill, and he will repay the world with ill, and chiefly against Antonio does his anger grow bitter.
Then Antonio's friends shake their heads and say, "Let him beware the hatred of the Jew." They look gravely at each other, for it is whispered abroad that "Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wreck'd on the narrow seas."
Then let Antonio beware.
"Thou wilt not take his flesh," says one of the young merchant's friends to Shylock. "What's that good for?"
"To bait fish withal," snarls the Jew. "If it will feed nothing else it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."
Then let Antonio beware.
Meantime in Belmont many lovers come to woo fair Portia. With high hope they come, with anger and disappointment they go away. None can win the lady's hand. For there is a riddle here of which none know the meaning.
When a suitor presents himself and asks for the lady's hand in marriage, he is shown three caskets, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Upon the golden one is written the words, "Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire"; upon the silver casket are the words, "Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves"; and upon the leaden one, "Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath." And only whoso chooseth aright, each suitor is told, can win the lady.
This trial of all suitors had been ordered by Portia's father ere he died, so that only a worthy and true man might win his daughter. Some suitors choose the gold, some the silver casket, but all, princes, barons, counts, and dukes, alike choose wrong.
At length Bassanio comes. Already he loves Portia and she loves him. There is no need of any trail of the caskets. Yet it must be. Her father's will must be obeyed. But what if he choose wrong. That is Portia's fear.
"I pray you, tarry; pause a day or two Before you hazard; for, in choosing wrong, I lose your company,"
But Bassanio cannot wait:—
"Let me choose; For, as I am, I live upon the rack."
And so he stands before the caskets, longing to make a choice, yet fearful. The gold he rejects, the silver too, and lays his hand upon the leaden casket. He opens it. Oh, joy! within is a portrait of his lady. He has chosen aright. yet he can scarce believe his happiness.
"I am," he says,
"Like one of two contending in a prize, That thinks he hath done well in people's eyes, Hearing applause, and universal shout, Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt Whether those pearls of praise be his or no; So, thrice fair lady, stand I, even so; As doubtful whether what I see be true, Until confirm'd, sign'd, ratifi'd by you."
And Portia, happy, triumphant, humble, no longer the great lady with untold wealth, with lands and palaces and radiant beauty, but merely a woman who has given her love, answers:—
"You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, Such as I am: though, for myself alone, I would not be ambitious in my wish, To wish myself much better; yet, for you, I would be trebled twenty times myself; A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times More rich; That only to stand high on your account, I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends, Exceed account: but the full sum of me Is sum of something: which, to term in gross, Is an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractis'd, Happy in this, she is not yet so old But she may learn; happier than this, She is not bred so dull but she can learn; Happiest of all, is, that her gentle spirit Commite itself to yours to be directed, As from her lord, her governor, her king. Myself, and what is mine, to you, and yours Is now converted; but now I was the lord Of this fair mansion, master of my servants, Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now, This house, these servants, and this same myself, Are yours, my lord."
Then as a pledge of all her love Portia gives to Bassanio a ring, and bids him never part from it so long as he shall live. And Bassanio taking it, gladly swears to keep it forever.
"But when this ring Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence; O, then be bold to say, Bassanio's dead."
And then as if to make the joy complete, it is discovered that Portia's lady in waiting, Nerissa, and Bassanio's friend, Gratiano, also love each other, and they all agree to be married on the same day.
In the midst of this happiness the runaway couple, Lorenzo and Jessica, arrive from Venice with another of Antonio's friends who brings a letter to Bassanio. As Bassanio reads the letter all the gladness fades from his face. He grows pale and trembles. Anxiously Portia asks what troubles him.
"I am half yourself, And I must freely have the half of anything That this same paper brings you."
And Bassanio answers:—
"O sweet Portia, Here are a few of the unpleasant'st words That ever blotted paper! Gentle lady, When I did first impart my love to you, I freely told you, all the wealth I had Ran in my veins, I was a gentleman; And then I told you true: and yet, dear lady, Rating myself at nothing, you shall see How much I was a braggart: when I told you My state was nothing, I should then have told you That I was worse than nothing."
He is worse than nothing, for he is in debt to his friend, and that friend for him is now in danger of his life. For the three months allowed by Shylock for the payment of the debt are over, and as not one of Antonio's ships has returned, he cannot pay the money. Many friends have offered to pay for him, but Shylock will have none of their gold. He does not want it. What he wants is revenge. He wants Antonio's life, and well he knows if a pound of flesh be cut from this poor merchant's breast he must die.
And all for three thousand ducats! "Oh," cries Portia when she hears, "what a paltry sum! Pay the Jew ten times the money and tear up the bond, rather than that Antonio shall lose a single hair through Bassanio's fault."
"It is no use," she is told, "Shylock will have his bond, and nothing but his bond."
If that be so, then must Bassanio hasten to his friend to comfort him at least. So the wedding is hurried on, and immediately after it Bassanio and Gratiano hasten away, leaving their new wives behind them.
But Portia has no mind to sit at home and do nothing while her husband's friend is in danger of his life. As soon as Bassanio has gone, she gives her house into the keeping of Lorenzo and sets out for Venice. From her cousin, the great lawyer Bellario, she borrows lawyer's robes for herself, and those of a lawyer's clerk for Nerissa. And thus disguised, they reach Venice safely.
This part of the story has brought us to the fourth act of the play, and when the curtain rises on this act we see the Court of Justice in Venice. The Duke and all his courtiers are present, the prisoner Antonio, with Bassanio, and many others of his friends. Shylock is called in. The Duke tries to soften the Jew's heart and make him turn to mercy, in vain. Bassanio also tries in vain, and still Bellario, to whom the Duke has sent for aid, comes not.
At this moment Nerissa, dressed as a lawyer's clerk, enters, bearing a letter. The letter is from Bellario recommending a young lawyer named Balthazar to plead Antonio's cause. This is, of course, none other than Portia. She is admitted, and at once begins the case. "You stand within his danger, do you not?" she says to Antonio.
"ANTONIO. I do.
PORTIA. Then must the Jew be merciful.
SHYLOCK. On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.
PORTIA. The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His scepter shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptr'd sway, It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this— That in the course of justice, none of us Shall see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much, To mitigate the justice of thy plea; Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.