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illusion, although excess of scenery or scenic machinery may destroy it altogether. Dramatic illusion must ultimately spring from the active and unrestricted exercise of the imaginative faculty by author, actor, and audience in joint-partnership.

What is the moral to be deduced from any examination of the Elizabethan playgoer's attitude to Shakespeare's plays? It is something of this kind. We must emulate our ancestors' command of the imagination. We must seek to enlarge our imaginative sympathy with Shakespeare's poetry. The imaginative faculty will not come to us at our

it will not come to us by the mechanism of study; it may not come to us at all. It is easier to point out the things that will hinder than the things that will hasten its approach. Absorption in the material needs of life, the concentration of energy on the increase of worldly goods, leave little room for the entrance into the brain of the imaginative faculty, or for its free play when it is there. The best way of seeking it is by reading the greatest of great imaginative literature, by freely yielding the mind to its influence, and by exercising the mind under its sway. And the greatest imaginative literature that was ever penned was penned by Shakespeare. No counsel is wiser than that of those two personal friends of his, who were the first editors of his work and penned words to this effect: “Read him therefore, and again and again, and then if you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger” of losing a saving grace of life.




BIOGRAPHERS did not lie in wait for men of eminence on their death-beds in Shakespeare's epoch. To the advantage of literature, and to the less than might be anticipated disadvantage of history (for your death-bed biographer, writing under kinsfolk's tearladen eyes, must needs be smoother-tongued than truthful), the place of the modern memoir-writer was filled in Shakespeare's day by friendly poets, who were usually alert to pay fit homage in elegiac verse to a dead hero's achievements. In that regard, Shakespeare's poetic friends showed at his death exceptional energy. During his lifetime men of letters had bestowed on his “reigning wit,” on his kingly supremacy of genius, most generous stores of eulogy. Within two years of the end a sonneteer had justly deplored that something of Shakespeare's own power, to which he deprecated pretension, was needful to those who should praise him aright. But when Shakespeare lay dead in the spring of 1616, when, as one of his admirers topically phrased it, he had withdrawn from the stage of the world to the “tiring-house" or dressing-room of the grave, the flood of panegyrical lamentation was not checked by the sense of literary inferiority which in all sincerity oppressed the spirits of surviving companions.

* This paper was first printed in The Nineteenth Century and After, February, 1902.

One of the earliest of the elegies was a sonnet by William Basse, who gave picturesque expression to the conviction that Shakespeare would enjoy for all time an unique reverence on the part of his countrymen. In the opening lines of his poem Basse apostrophised Chaucer, Spenser, and the dramatist Francis Beaumont, three poets who had already received the recognition of burial in Westminster Abbey-Beaumont, the youngest of them, only five weeks before Shakespeare died. To this honoured trio Basse made appeal to "lie a thought more nigh" one another, so as to make room for the newly-dead Shakespeare within their “sacred sepulchre.” Then, in the second half of his sonnet, the poet, developing a new thought, argued that Shakespeare, in right of his pre-eminence, merited a burial-place apart from all his fellows. With a glance at Shakespeare's distant grave in the chancel of Stratford-on-Avon Church, the writer exclaimed:

Under this carved marble of thine own
Sleep, brave tragedian, Shakespeare, sleep alone.

The fine sentiment found many a splendid echo. It resounded in Ben Jonson's lines of 1623:

My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further to make thee a room.
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live
And we have wits to read and praise to give.



Milton wrote a few years later, in 1630, how Shakespeare, "sepulchred” in “the monument” of his writings,

in such pomp doth lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

Never was a glorious immortality foretold for any man with more solemn confidence than it was foretold for Shakespeare at his death by his circle of adorers. When Time, one elegist said, should dissolve his “Stratford monument,” the laurel about Shakespeare's brow would wear its greenest hue. Shakespeare's critical friend, Ben Jonson, was but one of a numerous band who imagined the "sweet swan of Avon,” “the star of poets,” shining for ever as a constellation in the firmament. Such was the invariable temper in which literary men gave vent to their grief on learning the death of the “beloved author,” “the famous scenicke poet,” “the admirable dramaticke poet,” “that famous writer and actor," "worthy master William Shakespeare” of Stratford-on-Avon.


Unqualified and sincere was the eulogy awarded to Shakespeare, alike in his lifetime and immediately after his death. But the spirit and custom of the age confided to future generations the duty of first offering him the more formal honour of prosaic and critical biography. The biographic memoir, which consists of precise and duly authenticated dates and records of domestic and professional experiences and achievements, was in England a comparatively late growth. It had no existence when Shakespeare died. It began to blossom in the eighteenth century, and did not flourish luxuriantly till a far more recent period. Meagre seeds of the modern art of biography were, indeed, sown within a few years of Shakespeare's death; but outside the unique little field of Izaak Walton's tillage, the first sproutings were plants so different from the fully developed tree, that they can with difficulty be identified with the genus. Apart from Izaak Walton's exceptional efforts, the biographical spirit first betrayed itself in England in slender, occasional pamphlets of rhapsodical froth, after the model of the funeral sermon. There quickly followed more substantial volumes of collective biography which mainly supplied arbitrarily compiled, if extended, catalogues of names. To each name were attached brief annotations, which occasionally offered a fact or a date, but commonly consisted of a few sentences of grotesque, uncritical eulogy.

Fuller's Worthies of England, which was begun about 1643 and was published posthumously in 1662, was the first English compendium of biography of this aboriginal pattern. Shakespeare naturally found place in Fuller's merry pages, for the author loved in his eccentric fashion his country's literature, and he had sought the society of those who had come to close quarters with literary heroes of the past generation. Of that generation his own life just touched the fringe, he being eight years old when Shakespeare died. Fuller described the dramatist as a native of Stratford-on-Avon, who was in some sort a compound of three eminent poets”—Martial, "in the warlike sound of his

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