The dramatic opportunities of Stratford counted for something in his history. Primitive drama flourishes everywhere in children's games. The rural communities of Elizabethan England did not leave the drama to children, but enlivened the festivals of the year with ancient plays and pastimes, which served to break the dull round of country life. The Morris dance was a kind of drama; Shakespeare knew it well, and alludes to Maid Marian and the hobbyhorse. The rustic play of St. George has lasted in quiet districts down to our own day; Shakespeare had often been entertained by this uncouth kind of acting, and preserves memories of it in A Midsummer Night's Dream, or, better, in Love's Labour's Lost. The pageant of the Nine Worthies, presented by the schoolmaster, the curate, the unlettered Costard, and the refined traveller from Spain, is a fair specimen of the dramatic art as it was practised in villages. The chief business of each actor is to dress himself up and explain in doggerel rhyme who he is. Sir Nathaniel, who is a foolish, mild man, and a good bowler, is something over-weighted with the part of Alexander. But he puts on his armour and speaks his lines:

When in the world I liv'd, I was the world's Commander; By East, West, North, and South I spread my conquering might: My Scutcheon plain declares that I am Alisander.

Here he is interrupted by Biron's jests, and, after a feeble attempt to regain the thread of his discourse by beginning all over again, he is driven off the stage by Costard. The whole pageant, so grievously flouted and interrupted, is probably a very close study from the life, down to its very speeches, which, being written by the schoolmaster, are full of classical

-95-

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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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