Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies

By George Gordon | Go to book overview

IV
SHAKESPEARE THE ENGLISHMAN

SHAKESPEARE to-day is not only an English but an international author; and no doubt the international importance of England has contributed to make him so. But this, as you are well aware, is a very small part of the explanation. The things of the spirit do not work in that way. It is by no means the largest or most powerful nations that necessarily produce the finest writers. Literature, thank God, depends on other things than population, and money, and guns. It is more than three hundred years since Shakespeare lived, and the England he lived in was a small and scattered nation: a nation of some five or six million people, whom he studied and loved and laughed at, after the manner of Englishmen. For it is a way of the English to laugh at themselves a little, now and then, for the good of their souls; to make jests about the things they would die for next minute, such as their country, or their regiment, or their countrymen and countrywomen, and all the things they love best. Why? I suppose, from some sense of decency and proportion, lest, like some nations known in history, they should fall into the sins of exaggeration and pomposity, and the madness of self-love. Shakespeare has been much studied in the last hundred years both on the continent of Europe and in America. You might pave the city of London with the books that have been written about him, and some will be left over. The authors of these books have been many of them learned men, and their work has its value; but you cannot read ten pages in most of them without discovering that they have never even begun to learn the principal lesson which Shakespeare has to teach. It is a lesson of the Comic Spirit; a lesson of humour and tolerance and understanding; of seeing

-39-

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Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • I - What is Comedy? 1
  • II - Shakespeare's Answer 14
  • III - The Dislike of Comedy 35
  • IV - Shakespeare the Englishman 39
  • V - Shakespeare's Periods 41
  • VI - The World of the Comedies 45
  • VII - Shakespeare's Women 52
  • VIII - Shakespeare's Clowns 60
  • IX - The Tempest 72
  • X - Othello, or The Tragedy of the Handkerchief 95
  • XI - A Note on the World of King Lear 116
  • XII - Shakespeare's English 129
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