A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER V

THE SECOND DRAMATIC PERIOD--SHAKESPERE

THE difficulty of writing about Shakespere is twofold; and though it is a difficulty which, in both its aspects, presents itself when other great writers are concerned, there is no other case in which it besets the critic to quite the same extent. Almost everything that is worth saying has been already said, more or less happily. A vast amount has been said which is not in the least worth saying, which is for the most part demonstrably foolish or wrong, As Shakespere is by far the greatest of all writers, ancient or modern, so he has been the subject of commentatorial folly to an extent which dwarfs the expense of that folly on any other single subject. It is impossible to notice the results of this folly except at great length; it is doubtful whether they are worth noticing at all; yet there is always the danger either that some mischievous notions may be left undisturbed by the neglect to notice them, or that the critic himself may be presumed to be ignorant of the foolishness of his predecessors. These inconveniences, however, must here be risked, and it may perhaps be thought that the necessity of risking them is a salutary one. In no other case is it so desirable that an author should be approached by students with the minimum of apparatus.

The scanty facts and the abundant fancies as to Shakespere's life are a commonplace of literature. He was baptized on the 24th of April 1564 at Stratford-on-Avon, and must have been

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