The Age of Shakespeare eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 198 pages of information about The Age of Shakespeare.
triviality so happy, so humorous, or so exact as this.  But it is not on his capacity as a satirist or humorist, it is on his occasionally triumphant success as a serious or tragic poet, that the fame of Marston rests assuredly established.  His intermittent power to rid himself for a while of his besetting faults, and to acquire or assume for a moment the very excellences most incompatible with these, is as extraordinary for the completeness as for the transience of its successful effects.  The brief fourth act of “Antonio and Mellida” is the most astonishing and bewildering production of belated human genius that ever distracted or discomfited a student.  Verses more delicately beautiful followed by verses more simply majestic than these have rarely if ever given assurance of eternity to the fame of any but a great master in song: 

   Conceit you me:  as having clasped a rose
   Within my palm, the rose being ta’en away,
   My hand retains a little breath of sweet,
   So may man’s trunk, his spirit slipped away,
   Hold still a faint perfume of his sweet guest. 
   ’Tis so:  for when discursive powers fly out,
   And roam in progress through the bounds of heaven,
   The soul itself gallops along with them
   As chieftain of this winged troop of thought,
   Whilst the dull lodge of spirit standeth waste
   Until the soul return.

Then follows a passage of sheer gibberish; then a dialogue of the noblest and most dramatic eloquence; then a chaotic alternation of sense and nonsense, bad Italian and mixed English, abject farce and dignified rhetoric, spirited simplicity and bombastic jargon.  It would be more and less than just to take this act as a sample or a symbol of the author’s usual way of work; but I cannot imagine that a parallel to it, for evil and for good, could be found in the works of any other writer.

The Muse of this poet is no maiden of such pure and august beauty as enthralls us with admiration of Webster’s; she has not the gypsy-brightness and vagrant charm of Dekker’s, her wild soft glances and flashing smiles and fading traces of tears; she is no giddy girl, but a strong woman with fine irregular features, large and luminous eyes, broad intelligent forehead, eyebrows so thick and close together that detraction might call her beetle-browed, powerful mouth and chin, fine contralto voice (with an occasional stammer), expression alternately repellent and attractive, but always striking and sincere.  No one has ever found her lovely; but there are times when she has a fascination of her own which fairer and more famous singers might envy her; and the friends she makes are as sure to be constant as she, for all her occasional roughness and coarseness, is sure to be loyal in the main to the nobler instincts of her kind and the loftier traditions of her sisterhood.

THOMAS MIDDLETON

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The Age of Shakespeare from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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