CHAPTER III

BOOKS AND POETRY

IT is safe to assert that Shakespeare was a poet before he was a dramatist. Of his first steps in the practice of poetry nothing is known; but the study of his plays and poems has thrown some light on his dealings with literature. Books served him in two ways; as a mine, and as a school: he lifted from them the tales that he rehandled, and he learned from them some part of his poetic and dramatic method.

His literary sources have been so carefully identified and so exhaustively studied, that it is possible to make a long catalogue of the books that he read or consulted. The slow-footed and painstaking pursuit of him by the critics through ways that he trod so carelessly and lightly would furnish a happy theme for his own wit and irony. The world lay open to him, and he had small patience with the tedious processes of minute culture. He was a hungry and rapid reader; and has expressed, with something of a witty young man's intolerance, his contempt for more laborious methods:

Study is like the heaven's glorious sun,
That will not be deep-search'd with saucy looks;
Small have continual plodders ever won
Save base authority from others' books.

In Stratford he can have had no great choice of books, though we may assume that he read most of those he

-63-

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Shakespeare
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Chapter I - Shakespeare 1
  • Chapter II - Stratford and London 29
  • Chapter III - Books and Poetry 63
  • Chapter IV - The Theatre 95
  • Chapter V - Story and Character 128
  • Chapter VI - The Last Phase 209
  • Index 229
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