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PREFACE

These six short studies upon Elizabethan literature are based upon thirteen out of a course of forty lectures delivered at the Egyptian University. A great deal of explanatory matter has been left ont, and each study made complete in itself. I have given to this book the title of my course of lectures, although it obviously gives mere glimpses of the subject. My aim in publishing these heterogeneous essays is mainly to illustrate my manner of introducing Shakespeare to an audience which had as yet made no systematic study of his works and of his epoch.

When H. II. Prince Fouad Pasha, whose encouragement has since been invaluable, called me to lecture at the Egyptian University upon the English drama, there was no hesitation possible as to the snbject of such lectures. Yet the responsability of interpreting Shakespeare is always great, particularly in such a case. The general outcry of Egypt for literary culture is earnest and sincere, and cannot be ignored. It was therefore no unattractive task to help Egyptians to enter upon the rich heritage that Englishmen already enjoy, though failure in such a task must in the main fall upon the teacher. My excuse for undertaking it lies in a certain experience in lecturing to foreign students upon English literature, and in my enthusiasm and love for Shakespeare; any success may have met with must be ascribed to the greatness of my subject and to the honest attention of the audience.

I

The suddenness of my call from France to Egypt, and the grievous lack of material in the young library of the University, made my task more difficult to accomplish, and I was forced to trust to a fickle memory more than I care to do. The candid critic is therefore prayed to accord that courteous indulgence which has always been shown by my students.

Cairo,

April, 1910.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ELIZABETHAN AGE.

Before I speak of individual authors of the Age of Elizabeth and of their work it is necessary to give some general account of the Age, to define the term "Elizabethan" as it is used in the history of literature, and to endeavour to explain, as far as may be, the peculiar and unique qualities which characterize the literary productions of the Elizabethans.

I know well that too often in literary criticism the desire to explain a particular phenomenon of excellence results almost unconsciously in an endeavour to explain it away. Too often the learned critic is more anxious to demonstrate his own critical powers than to maintain the literary genius of his author. He adopts the role of detective-inspector, with his critical microscope and bullseye lantern, and a host of small keys for opening little doors, following hard on the tracks of that elusive villain, Genius, who, he swears it upon his critical honour, shall no longer escape law and order, but shall be bound and led captive, though he be a very will o' the wisp. Such are the entomologists of criticism, to change the metaphor, who dearly love to have their man nailed. like a beetle or a butterfly, an indubitable specimen of a wellascertained species. This lust of logic is best exemplified in the scientific theory of Taine, whereby literature is reduced to a mere problem of mechanics, and elaborate formulae are established to measure the wind of genius which bloweth where it listeth.

The sober critic, avoiding such extreme literary materialism, must endeavour merely to point out certain phenomena in the various domains of political, ethical, and social life, parallel to similar phenomena in the world of literature which may, or may not, adequately explain one author. For Genius, by definition, is inexplicable.

Limit to external ex

planation of literature,

Definition of
Elizabethan
Literature

Freedom

The term "Elizabethan" in very wide and very elastic. Elizabethan literature does not by any means denote the literature written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). Much Elizabethan literature, much of the best of it, was the product of the reigns of James I and of Charles I. The epoch comprised in the term may be taken to include these three reigns, from the beginning of the reign of the Virgin Queen up to the Great Rebellion. Why, then, is the name Elizabethan applied to the whole mass of this literature, produced during a long period of some ninety years? It is a question of literary quality.

The manifold productions of this period of literature bear a sort of family likeness one to another, and certain characteristics repeat themselves, pervading prose, drama, lyric and epic poetry alike, extremely difficult to define, but most unmistakable. There is a universal touch of noble freshness, of gallant vigour, of sincerity, of romance and high passion, of enthusiasm and exuberance, of deep reality, unfettered, defying all rules, fearing nothing, finding no problem too difficult or too delicate.

The essential roots of this literature are freedom, strength and imagination, and from these spring up all those qualities which make it unique among the great literatures of the world.

Let us see, in hurried and meagre example, how these root qualities signalize their influence, more particularly in the popular literature of the stage, with which I am at present engaged.

The Elizabethans were free of all literary rules. Just as England set at naught the political power of France and Spain, and the religious power of Rome, so she was strong enough to claim literary liberty and to throw aside the yoke of bondage which Greece and Rome imposed and to which France bowed the neck. The famous unities, based unjustly upon the authority of Aristotle, had but little influence on Elizabethan England. Its popular literary genius was utterly unconventional. It imposed no restraint upon matter, style or construction. The conventions of the French drama demand, for example, that the style of tragedy shall be noble. The

English drama demands that it shall be real. Thus we find Snakespeare and his fellows putting such language into the mouths of their characters as a French audience would have hissed, coarse, vulgar, trivial, obscene often enough, but infinitely true to life.

even.

Our Elizabethans, again, were no timid race of folk. They feared no problem of life, and shrank back before no dramatic situation, however delicate, however appalling, however loathsome The very title of certain masterpieces of Ford, Massinger or of Beaumont and Fletcher indicate sufficiently the strength and courage of treatment necessary to attack successfully such difficult subjects. The Elizabethans were indeed a race of deep-sea sailors. Very unlike such longshoremen as view the storm from afar and admire delicately, they set full sail on the sea of life and, braving ils dangers, were tossed about in the tempest itself, fearless and high-browed. We believe almost that even Shakespeare, with his strong sane genius, was indeed driven near the reefs, for King Lear and Hamlet mirror, as it were, devastating storms whence the great Explorer has returned, safe, but tempest-torn. In such plays as these, in Othello, in The Maid's Tragedy, in The Duchess of Malfy, in The Changeling, to name only supreme works, the poet sees life in its most painful aspect, nor turns away his face from the Medusan horror, but carries out the tragedy remorselessly to the bitter end, "even to the edge of doom". There is no trace in such productions of that complacent pity ("pitié charmante", says Boileau) which, on the French stage, sent away Romeo and Juliet after all to connubial bliss, and timidly comforted the weaker brethren by the childish bestowal of life upon the wrecked souls of Hamlet and his Ophelia.

In the creations, finally, of this great race there breathes a fiery spirit of poetry, illuminating even the darkest tragedy with the "light that never was on sea or land". Ever-present in the great masters, Marlowe and Shakespeare, it flashes out at times also in the lesser poets, even in the later days of decadence. In that gloomy desperate play The Duchess of Malfy for example, such a lightning flash of

Strength

Imagination

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