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great city. Perhaps he had a long, hard fight with discouragement and poverty; perhaps he met friends and success at the start. But by 1592, when he was twentyeight years old, he was writing plays for the theaters in London. In the same year a contemporary dramatist speaks of him as an excellent actor on the stage. Here then we have him fairly launched on his literary career. That body of actors and playwrights which our young Stratford poet had joined was a brilliant one. For half a century after Shakespeare's arrival they made London the most splendid theatrical center of modern times. John Lyly, Robert Greene, and Thomas Kyd, were wellknown writers before Shakespeare's fame began. Then came Christopher Marlowe, a misguided genius of wonderful promise, who died when he was only twenty-nine. And side by side with Shakespeare or a little after him grew up a body of dramatists such as England has never known since sturdy, learned Ben Jonson, delightful, irresponsible Thomas Dekker, Beaumont and Fletcher, two lifelong friends who wrote their plays together; and a host of others, Middleton, Ford, Webster, Massinger, great men, whom we hope that you will all know some time.
For more than twenty years, in the company of men like these, Shakespeare lived in the big metropolis and mingled with the life of the London theaters. For a large part of this time, beginning with 1598, he lodged with a French family named Mountjoy. Perhaps he learned French from young Mary Mountjoy; certainly he took a kindly interest in her, for when she fell in love with
Stephen Bellott, Shakespeare helped bring the match about. He must have been a busy man; for not only was he writing on an average two great dramas a year, but he was also acting on the stage, and taking a prominent part in the management and profits of the theatrical companies.
Before long he began to make money, for he was a clear-headed, able business man as well as a great genius. By 1597 he had grown rich enough to buy a house and grounds at Stratford. The house was called New Place, and was at that time the largest in the borough. Five years later the dramatist was able to spend a much larger sum, £320 (equivalent to nearly $13,000 to-day) on the purchase of land around Stratford; and to make other investments in real estate in the same year. This shows that he was steadily growing richer from his connection with the theaters. It also shows that he still kept up his interest in his birthplace even while living and working elsewhere.
To some extent actors and dramatists were looked down on socially at that time; but in spite of his profession Shakespeare won the respect of the wealthy and noble. The young Earl of Southampton became his friend even near the beginning of his London career; and it was to this earl that he dedicated his first writings, two poems, called Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Later on he seems to have had ambitions of rising in the world, and procured for himself and his descendants a coat of arms such as the families of the gentry had. There are indications also that at times he
became tired of the actor's profession, and longed for the day when he could retire on his fortune as a country gentleman.
At last this desire was gratified. About 1612 the poet seems to have left the stage and turned back to his birthplace. During his few remaining years he must have made his home at Stratford, perhaps visiting London from time to time on business and entertaining his London friends in merry style when they came to see him. Here he died April 23, 1616, at the comparatively early age of fifty-two. His grave is still shown in the church at Strat
ford; and crowds of people come every year to see the last resting place of the world's greatest poet.
Shakespeare has left us a few lyric and narrative poems of great beauty. Besides Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece these include over one hundred and fifty "Sonnets" printed in one collection in 1609. But his reputation rests chiefly on the plays which he wrote for the stage during those busy twenty years in London. Nearly forty of these plays have come down to us, and some may have been lost. As a rule, the ones which he wrote first are not as good as the later ones; but even the poorest of them are brilliant and full of charm, and the best are among the most wonderful books in the world. Sometimes they are full of uproarious, side-splitting fun, sometimes of beautiful romantic poetry, sometimes of sad, pathetic, terrible events; but in their different ways they are all alike interesting and inspiring.
These plays fall into three classes: comedies, histories, and tragedies. The comedies show us the light, merry
side of life, and end happily. They were written at different times through nearly the whole period of their author's literary career. Among them are: Love's Labour's Lost, perhaps the first of all Shakespeare's plays; The Merchant of Venice, one of his first great successes; Twelfth Night, one of the most delightful of masterpieces; Measure for Measure, sadder and sterner, though with a happy ending; and the beautiful romances of The Tempest and the Winter's Tale, presumably the last of all Shakespeare's writings.
The histories were produced early, all but one of them before 1600. They give us dignified, stately pictures of British history, showing the courts and battle-fields of old English kings, and the course of their civil wars. Here in Richard II we see a weak ruler crowded from his throne, in Richard III the downfall of a bloody tyrant, and in Henry IV the struggle between a proud monarch and his angry nobles.
The tragedies are dark, terrible pictures of human sin and sorrow. Most of them were written between the poet's thirty-fifth and forty-fifth years, in the very prime of his power; and they include the greatest masterpieces that the world has ever seen; such plays as Julius Cæsar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth.
In the main, Shakespeare was unquestionably a man of strong and lovable character. He was no idle dreamer, but shrewd and energetic. More than once, when he thought people were trying to cheat him, he sued them at law. Yet in his general dealing with men he was not quarrelsome but the very opposite. "Gentle Will Shake
speare" his fellow writers called him; and his gentle, kindly reasonableness is one of the most attractive of his traits. When other dramatists quarreled and ridiculed each other, they had nothing but respect for Shakespeare, sure evidence of his pleasant disposition and tact in handling men. In conversation, too, he was witty and brilliant, for we hear of more than one merry tilt between him and his brother poets. We are informed that he was a handsome, well-shaped man"; and he seems to have had a healthy enjoyment for all the good things of life, good dinners, good company, spirited horses, fresh air, and country scenes. His faults were very forgivable ones, and his virtues such as make our hearts warm toward him. Above all we admire him for his deep insight into human nature, for his power of understanding his fellow men and sympathizing with them. Generous, headstrong old Ben Jonson, who had known him for years, called him the " sweet Swan of Avon," and said of him, I loved the man, and do honor his memory on this side idolatry, as much as any." And the great poet Milton, who was a boy when Shakespeare died, speaks of him as Sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child," and "Dear son of memory, great heir of fame.”
SHAKESPEARE'S LANGUAGE AND VERSE
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