The Age of Shakespeare eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 198 pages of information about The Age of Shakespeare.
“Is this a fit habit for a handsome young gentlewoman’s mother? as I hope to be a lady, you look like one o’ the Scottish wayward sisters.”  The still more broadly comic interlude of the bewitched rustic bridegroom and his loudly reclamatory bride is no less humorously sustained and carried through.  Altogether, for an avowedly hasty and occasional piece of work, this tragicomedy is very creditably characteristic of both its associated authors.

How small a fraction of Heywood’s actual work is comprised in these twenty-six plays we cannot even conjecturally compute; we only know that they amount to less than an eighth part of the plays written wholly or mainly by his indefatigable hand, and that they are altogether outweighed in volume, though decidedly not in value, by the existing mass of his undramatic work.  We know also, if we have eyes to see, that the very hastiest and slightest of them does credit to the author, and that the best of them are to be counted among the genuine and imperishable treasures of English literature.  Such amazing fecundity and such astonishing industry would be memorable even in a far inferior writer; but, though I certainly cannot pretend to anything like an exhaustive or even an adequate acquaintance with all or any of his folios, I can at least affirm that they contain enough delightfully readable matter to establish a more than creditable reputation.  His prose, if never to be called masterly, may generally be called good and pure:  its occasional pedantries and pretentions are rather signs of the century than faults of the author; and he can tell a story, especially a short story, as well as if not better than many a better-known writer.  I fear, however, that it is not the poetical quality of his undramatic verse which can ever be said to make it worth reading:  it is, as far as I know, of the very homeliest homespun ever turned out by the very humblest of workmen.  His poetry, it would be pretty safe to wager, must be looked for exclusively in his plays:  but there, if not remarkable for depth or height of imagination or of passion, it will be found memorable for unsurpassed excellence of unpretentious elevation in treatment of character.  The unity (or, to borrow from Coleridge a barbaric word, the triunity) of noble and gentle and simple in the finest quality of the English character at its best—­of the English character as revealed in our Sidneys and Nelsons and Collingwoods and Franklins—­is almost as apparent in the best scenes of his best plays as in the lives of our chosen and best-beloved heroes:  and this, I venture to believe, would have been rightly regarded by Thomas Heywood as a more desirable and valuable success than the achievement of a noisier triumph or the attainment of a more conspicuous place among the poets of his country.

GEORGE CHAPMAN

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The Age of Shakespeare from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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