PERIOD OF NON-DRAMATIC COMPOSITION
DURING the long months of leisure enforced by the plague, Shakespeare was able to accomplish much in the way of quiet study and wide reading to make up for the deficiencies of his rather narrow education and provincial sympathies. Fate, indeed, under the guise of misfortune, had thrown before him, in the prime of his young manhood, and at the very outset of his literary career, a golden opportunity. That he took advantage of this opportunity we may be sure. It is significant that his taste led him not only to popular contemporary writers, such as Spenser, Daniel, Lodge, and Drayton, but also to "old father Chaucer," whose antique pen and aged accents exercised over him a special charm. Moreover, we have evidence that he read extensively in the modern writers of France and Italy. That he should acquire a reading knowledge of French and Italian, living as he did in an atmosphere surcharged with the Renaissance literature of the Continent, may be regarded as inevitable. With his mastery of Latin, and his retentive memory, the acquisition of these languages would be to him an easy matter; and there are unmistakable indications that he acquired some facility in both.
How much this study of native and foreign literature contributed to his rapidly developing genius cannot well be estimated; but its influence is quickly apparent, for almost at once he turned his pen to imitation, and produced works that placed his name in the front rank of contemporary artists. Marlowe, whom in all probability he numbered among his close acquaintances, was engaged on an amorous poem, Hero and Leander; Lodge