A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
JOYOUS COMEDIES; HAMLET

WITH the building of the Globe Shakespeare had almost reached the summit of his remarkable career. It may be worth our while to glance back in rapid survey over his achievements. Coming to London unknown and in poverty, he had earned recognition as one of England's greatest poets; he had made himself the most successful playwright of his age; he had acquired wealth, heraldic honors, and a splendid country home in Stratford; and by sheer force of genius he had placed his company in a position of undisputed supremacy in the dramatic world. And he was. now just thirty-five years of age. It is not strange, therefore, that in the exhilaration of success he should produce some of his finest and most exuberant plays. He celebrated the first year of his company's stay at the Globe by composing a magnificent comic trilogy, the very titles of which reflect the buoyancy of good health and a consciousness of worldly success -- Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and What You Will.

The first of these comedies, Much Ado, was probably acted by the Chamberlain's Men shortly after they opened the Globe in the early summer of 1599. For the main theme Shakespeare used an Italian love-romance based on one of the novels of Bandello; but then, as now, the chief appeal the play had for the public lay in the comic scenes, English in color and spirit, which the dramatist spun from his own rich imagination. In particular, Benedick and Beatrice, with their superabundant

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