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TRANSLATED FROM THE THIRD EDITION OF THE GERMAN, WITH
ADDITIONS AND CORRECTIONS BY THE AUTHOR,
By L. DORA SCHMITZ,
TRANSLATOR OF PROFESSOR ELZE'S 'ESSAYS ON SHAKESPEARE,' AND
DR. SCHLIEMANN'S 'TROY AND ITS REMAINS.'
GEORGE BELL AND SONS, YORK STREET.
PR 2978 0453 1876 VI Cop. a
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS
For the third, and in all probability the last time, this work (now thirty years old) is again presented to the public, or rather to that portion of it which has time and interest for poetry and æsthetic criticism. If I consider the three editions as one work I can say that I have, though with some interruptions, devoted almost my whole life to it. Accordingly it must be self-evident that these three editions are not exactly the same. The second appeared twenty years ago; and still contains an echo of that youthful enthusiasm which originally gave rise to the work. This enthusiasm has long since given way to the calmer, cooler and more accurately weighing reflection of maturer years, which no longer has an eye merely for the excellencies, but also for the defects of its object, I do not know whether to the advantage or the detriment of my work. At all events, I have endeavoured to be just, not only in dealing with the censure which my views and interpretations have met with, but also as regards the enumeration of faults and failings which have recently been pointed out in Shakspeare's works and been set forth in opposition to the German Shakspeare-enthusiasts. Should I have succeeded in coming but one step nearer to the truth, this at least would be a merit of the new edition.
As regards the first Books, however, I have found but little to alter. These Books I may call the historical part, inasmuch as their substance consists chiefly in an account of the development of the English drama before Shakspeare's time, a biography of the poet and a characterisation of his immediate predecessors, contemporaries and direct successors in the domain of dramatic poetry. In these parts, almost the only omissions I have had to make refer to those documents which had been admitted into the second edition of J. P. Collier's work, and had generally been considered genuine, but are probably forgeries. Connected with these negative corrections are the positive ones which, however, taken as a whole, are but the unimportant results of recent investigations into the literary history concerning Shakspeare and his time. My judgment on the dramatic poets of Shakepeare's age has also been but little questioned, and has in all essential points been corroborated by Fr. Bodenstedt and by A. Mezières, the eminent French critic and literary historian. In the few points in which they differ from my views, I have either modified my opinions or endeavoured, by further remarks, to justify them.
I must, however, observe that Shakspeare's predecessors and successors are of importance only in so far as they form, so to say, the foil, the framework and the background to the poetical figure of Shakspeare. I have characterised them only in order to place Shakspeare's dramatic style and artistic greatness in a clearer light. This greatness, in my opinion, does not consist merely in his eminent genius for dramatic art, but quite as much in the inner nature of his own personal character and his view of life, which is as deeply ethical as it is highly poetic. And in regard to this point I have been able to concede but little to those who oppose Shakspeare and find fault with my views.
Renewed and careful investigation and consideration have, in all essential points, rather confirmed me in what I had said concerning the spirit and style of Shakspeare's works in the second edition. But I admit that it is natural, nay that every one has a certain right to find that which he looks for in a great poet, and to interpret his works in that spirit which to him is truth and beauty. Hence I am no longer surprised that Shakspeare has been made a pantheist, a naturalist, a sensualist, and an atheist. I claim only the right to establish my opposite view, and demand from the unprejudiced student a conscientious examination of the proofs to which I appeal. In this respect the principal question to be discussed must refer to the ethical character of Shakspeare's dramas. For a truly ethical view of life is not compatible either with atheism or with a consistent pantheism or naturalism.
The aim and object of my work, as I think I may here repeat, was at the very outset pre-eminently of an æsthetic nature. Hence I have pursued the study of the historical development of the English drama-of the spirit of Shakspeare's age, of the style and character of the dramatic poets before and contemporaneous with Shakspearefarther than has usually been done in the interest of æsthetic inquiries, solely in order to ascertain more accurately, and to throw a clearer light upon, the æsthetic fundamental views of Shakspeare, his conception of the tragic and the comic, his manner of treating history, the laws of his composition, his delineation of character, and his style and diction. For æsthetic criticism, also, has its history; and the taste of every artist, even of the greatest, his sense of the beautiful, and consequently his æsthetical principles, or more correctly the motives which guide him in determining form and construction, are dependent upon