The second of Mr. E. Charlton Black's delightful literature lectures was given last evening, and Sever 11 was filled with a large and appreciative audience. Last week, Mr. Black began by saying, we saw that Shakespeare was a man of good common sense, and excellent judgment. Regarding the extent of his education, there has been not a little discussion, but it is significant that Ben Jonson, with his large Latin, and much Greek, has now become no more than a subject for antiquarian investigation. The education, therefore, is not of supreme importance. It is the fact that Shakespeare is always alive, which has made him immortal. He was a wonderful observer; he did not conceive things at all, and this, combined with his universal sympathies, makes him preeminent.
If one will study the writings of Francis Bacon, it will be seen that his intellectuality was of a character totally different from that of Shakespeare, and the absurdity of attributing the plays to him, will at once be realized. Critics have asserted that Shakespeare put no deep moral meaning into his writings; such criticism is shallow and idle. The poet has created a world of imagination - a real sensuous world filled with life, where everybody is at the highest pitch of vitality. Around this world is a demoniac, a superhuman covering. It is absurd to assert that these supernatural characters are introduced for stage effects only. Shakespeare believed that the world was not summed up by what could be comprehended by our five senses, or by what was simply of this earth.
His tendency was to make life synchronus. Humanity is the same all down the ages, and it is a gracious and likeable humanity, which he presents to us. His sympathies are always with the subjects. In Titus Andronicus alone, are we introduced to a state which is rotten, and, be it remarked, there is great doubt concerning the authorship of that play. Shakespeare is much more moral than his contemporaries, and always, there is a tendency towards something better.
Dowden and other Shakesperian critics, have divided the range of the poet's composition into four periods. I should prefer to divide it into five, as follows: 1586-97 - the period which we will designate as marking the Romeo-Proteus-Biron mood. It is Shakespeare's lightest period, when the moral tendency is not really settled. The second period is from 1597-1603, marking the Jacques-Hamlet mood. The melancholy Jacques is a preparation for Hamlet. During this period, most of the sonnets were composed. Dur-the years 1603-1609, Shakespeare has returned to Stratford. This is his tragic period, and is distinguished by the composition of Julius Caesar, Measure For Measure, Macbeth, Othello, Troilus and Cressida and Anthony and Cleopatra. The fourth period is the Coriolanus-Timon of Athens mood, and the tendency is aristocratic and misanthropic. The last period is that of the Cymbeline-Tempest-Winter's Tale mood. It is a quieter, calmer period, and the spirit is contemplative and benevolent.
We can learn not a little of a man by studying the frequent recurring ideas in his work. For instance, we judge that Julius Caesar was Shakespeare's hero, since reference is made to him nearly thirty times in the various plays. Ideas of time, change and mutability, are frequently expressed, and Shakespeare's familiarity in imagination with death is very striking.
The reasons for the poets' greatness, lie in the fact that he adequately expressed in words, what he felt and saw. Whether he was the greatest man that ever lived or not, is a question for controversy, but I think no one will deny that he was the greatest expresser the world has ever seen. He remains to this time the world's greatest achievement. To adapt a phase of Sir Richard Stelle's, we may say, that to know Shakespeare is a liberal education - a revelation of truth. The magic of his genius will confer a blessing upon the young and old alike, and you will find in his works whatever you seek - provided you are searching for truth.