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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Had themselves conducted the representation


What

better legacy can one generation leave to another than the sum of its experiences which have an importance extending beyond the fleeting moment, when they are couched in a form which makes them useful for all time? Herein consists the earthly immortality of the soul.

But another possession of still richer contents and of incomparable value was secured to the English nation by the development of the drama, which falls just within this epoch.

In former times there had been theatrical representations in the palaces of the kings and of great men, in the universities, and among judicial and civic societies. They formed part of the enjoyments of the Carnival or contributed to the brilliancy of other festivities; but they did not come into full existence until Elizabeth allowed them to the people by a general permission. In earlier times the scholars of the higher schools or the members of learned fraternities, the artisans in the towns, and the members of the household of great men and princes, had themselves conducted the representation. Actors by profession now arose, who received pay and performed the whole year round.[380] A number of small theatres grew up which, as they charged but low entrance-fees, attracted the crowd, and while they influenced it, were influenced by it in turn. The government could not object to the theatre, as the principal opposition which it had to fear, that of the Puritans, shut itself

out from exercising any influence over the drama, owing to the aversion of their party to it. The theatres vied with one another: each sought to bring out something new, and then to keep it to itself. The authors, among whom men of distinguished talent were found, were not unfrequently players as well. All materials from fable and from history, from the whole range of literature, which had been widely extended by native productions and by appropriation from foreign sources, were seized, and by constant elaboration adapted for an appreciative public.

While the town theatres and their productions were thus struggling to rise in mutual rivalry, the genius of William Shakspeare developed itself: at that time he was lost among the crowd of rivals, but his fame has increased from age to age among posterity.

It especially concerns us to notice that he brought on the stage a number of events taken from English history itself. In the praise which has been lavishly bestowed on him, of having rendered them with historical truth, we cannot entirely agree. For who could affirm that his King John and Henry VIII, his Gloucester and Winchester, or even his Maid of Orleans, resemble the originals whose names they bear? The author forms his own conception of the great questions at issue. While he follows the chronicle as closely as possible, and adopts its characteristic traits, he yet assigns to each of the personages a part corresponding to the peculiar view he adopts: he gives life to the action by introducing motives which the historian cannot find or accept: characters which stand close together in tradition, as they probably did in fact, are set apart in his pages, each of them in a separately developed homogeneous existence of its own: natural human motives, which elsewhere


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