Page images
PDF
EPUB

indicate the radical departures from the old texts, suggest the most probable readings in those passages in which the old texts are “incorrigibly corrupt," and supply such other information with regard to allusions, references, and other matters as are essential to a good understanding of the text.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

POET, DRAMATIST, AND MAN

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:

POET, DRAMATIST, AND MAN

CHAPTER I

THE FORERUNNERS OF SHAKESPEARE

The history of the growth of the drama is one of the most fascinating chapters in the record of the spiritual life of the race. So closely is it bound up with that life that the unfolding of this art appears, wherever one looks deeply into it, as a vital rather than a purely artistic process. That art has ever been conceived as the product of anything less rich and deep than an unfolding of life shows how far we have been separated by historic conditions from any first-hand contact with it, any deep-going and adequate conception of what it is, and what it means in the life of the race. It requires a great effort of the imagination to put ourselves into the attitude of those early men who had the passions and were doing the work of men, but who had the fresh and responsive imagination of childhood; who were so closely in touch with nature that the whole world was alive to them in every sight and sound. Personification was not only natural but inevitable to a race whose imagination was far in advance of its knowledge. Such a race would first create and then devoutly believe the story of Dionysus : the wandering god, master of all the resources of vitality; buoyant, enthralling, mysterious, intoxicating ; in whom the rising passion, the deep instinct for freedom, which the spring let loose in every imagination, found visible embodiment; the personification of the ebbing and rising tide of life in Nature, and, therefore, the symbol of the spontaneous and inspirational element in life; the personification of the mysterious force of reproduction, and therefore the symbol of passion and license.

The god was entirely real; everybody knew that a group of Tyrrhenian sailors had seized him as he sat on a rock on the seashore, bound him with withes, and carried him to the deck of their tiny piratical craft; and everybody knew also that the withes had fallen from him, that streams of wine ran over the ship, vines climbed the mast and hung from the yards, garlands were twined about the oars, and a fragrance as of vineyards was breathed over the sea. Then suddenly a lion stood among the sailors, who sprang overboard and were changed into dolphins; while the god, taking on his natural form, ran the ship into port. Such a being, appealing alike to the imagination and the passions, personifying the most beautiful mysteries and giving form to the wildest longings of the body and the mind, could not be worshipped save by rites and ceremonies which were essentially dramatic.

The seed-time and harvest festivals furnished natural

« PreviousContinue »