Marlowe.—Read Dr. Faustus, in Masterpieces of the English Drama (American Book Company) or in Everyman’s Library. This play may also be found in Morley’s English Plays, pp. 116-128, or in Morley’s Universal Library. Selections from various plays of Marlowe may be found in Oxford Treasury, 61-85, 330-356; and in Williams’s Specimens, 25-34.
Does Dr. Faustus observe the classical unities? In what way does it show the spirit of the Elizabethan age? Was the poetic form of the play the regular vehicle of dramatic expression? In what does the greatness of the play consist? What are its defects? Why do young people sometimes think Marlowe the greatest of all the Elizabethan dramatists?
Shakespeare.—The student should read in sequence one or more of the plays in each of Shakespeare’s four periods of development (pp. 185, 188), such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, for the first period; As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice, for the second; Hamlet and King Lear or Macbeth or Julius Caesar, for the third; and The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, for the fourth.
Among the many good annotated editions of separate plays are the Clarke and Wright, Rolfe, Hudson, Arden, Temple, and Tudor editions. Furness’s Variorum Shakespeare is the best for exhaustive study. The best portable single volume edition is Craig’s Oxford Shakespeare, India paper, 1350 pages.
The student cannot do better than follow the advice of Dr. Johnson: “Let him who is unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play, from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators... Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness and read the commentators.”
Shakespeare’s three greatest tragedies, Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, should be read several times. After becoming familiar with the story, the student should next determine the general aim of the play and analyze the personality and philosophy of each of the leading characters.
After reading some of all classes of Shakespeare’s plays, point out his (a) breadth of sympathy, (b) humor, (c) moral ideals, (d) mastery of English and variety of style, and (e) universality. What idea of his personality can you form from his plays? If you have read them in sequence, point out some of the characteristics of each of his four periods. Why is Shakespeare often called a great dramatic artist? How did his audience and manner of presentation of his plays modify his treatment of a dramatic theme?