Shakespeare's Life and Art

Shakespeare's Life and Art

Shakespeare's Life and Art

Shakespeare's Life and Art

Excerpt

The idea that Shakespeare is a dramatist of sovereign genius, a poet with a gift of expression 'eminent and unrivalled,' and yet, for all his powers, entitled to no more than secondary rank among the literary artists of the world, is the root of almost every error about the man and his work.

To explain this imagined discrepancy some have dwelt on the accidents of his birth and education. David Hume thought of Shakespeare as born in a rude age and educated in the lowest manner, without any instruction from the world and from books. Shakespeare's plays were, it was argued, for the amusement of the least refined of his ignorant contemporaries, and the playwright could not have afforded to cherish artistic ideals, especially with a mind as set as Shakespeare's seemed to his critics to be on financial success. Such was the slander which Pope, the most business-like of men of letters, put in circulation, when he told how Shakespeare

For gain not glory winged his roving flight,
And grew immortal in his own despite.

For what he envied Shakespeare as a man he could, as a critic, put to the dramatist's discredit. 'That all these contingencies,' he wrote in his Preface to his edition of the Plays, 'should unite to his disadvantage seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay, contrary) Talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.' In the later judgment of Warton, an age so unversed in criticism as the Elizabethan did not permit of the sustained propriety of thought desiderated by Hume . . .

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