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soon will get, from his study of English history. The learn. er's attention may properly be called to the facts that Shakespeare's opportunity for education and observation was by no means a peculiarly restricted one, and that he was early recognized by his contemporaries as a poet and playwright of surpassing power. About his life there remains great obscurity, for the records of it are, at least in comparison with our desire to know about it, painfully meagre.
But this scantiness of information about the poet's life is altogether natural: there is about it no element of the marvelous, nothing that requires or suggests the invention of startling hypotheses to account for the existence of the works that bear his name.
Lives of Shakespeare are to be found in many of the standard editions of his works, and in all the encyclopædias. The great authority is Halliwell-Phillips, whose Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, although not interesting to young persons as reading-matter, may often, even by them, be profitably consulted on special topics. Much the same may be said of F. G. Fleay's Chronicle History of the Life and Works of William Shakespeare. Quite within the range of young readers is the little book of Samuel Neil, Shakespeare, a Critical Biography. More easily accessible will be found Mrs. Caroline H. Dall's What we really know about Shakespeare. The article on Shakespeare in the Encyclopædia Britannica, by Professor Baynes, is of moderate length and readable. It presents a concise bibliography of Shakespearian literature, which will sometimes prove convenient for reference. Professor Dowden's Shakespeare Primer contains, or hints, the essentials of Shakespearian study. This book is so easily procurable, and is so entirely trustworthy, that it may be recommended to the young student as a desirable possession. The life of the poet by Richard Grant White, prefixed to his edition of the works, is eminently vivacious in style, if not altogether pleasing in tone and spirit.
Whenever a play of Shakespeare is on the docket of the English class, it is indispensable that there lie on the table for easy reference a copy of the play in Furness' Variorum edition, if indeed the play in question is among those which at the time have appeared in this form. The Merchant of Venice is happily one of these. Whether the notes in this volume refer to Furness or not, the eye of the class should be kept on his pages for the sake of the broad outlook which they give into the world of Shakespearian speculation and research.
As the plays studied in school are read aloud, under correction, and with opportunity for discussion, great pains should be taken with inflection, emphasis, and pronunciation, — in fact, with every element of expression. The metre should be sacredly observed. The poet's lines rarely refuse to be scanned. He is great in his rhythm as well as in his thought. Then it must be remembered that the fivefoot iambic line, either riming or unrimed, is the great staple of English verse-forms, and thorough habituation to its movement is a prime condition of ability to read poetry with appreciation of its charm for the ear. Shakespeare uses this measure with infinite freedom. Sometimes he oversteps its limits with seeming wantonness. But this disdain of restraint occurs much less frequently than to the beginner seems to be the case. The verse usually reads aright when we know how to read it.
Believing that a due regard for the poet's rhythm is an essential part of Shakespearian culture, I give frequent notes to warn or instruct the reader in this matter. For further study of the subject, the learner may resort to Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar. No outside study, however, will take the place of careful examination and comparison of the lines themselves, and of frequent reading of them aloud with the purpose to bring out as fully as possible both their melody and their meaning. The poet notably wrote his plays, not for the closet, but for the stage : he had in mind espe
cially how they would sound. We cannot neglect, therefore, to speak his verses with all deference to the laws which he observed in composing them ; and the endeavor to ascertain these laws is a fundamental part of the study of his works.
In his grammar and vocabulary, again, the poet is almost as interesting as he is in his metre. The young learner finds new words, and old words in new meanings ; new forms of inflection ; new applications of mode and tense ; new arrangements of phrase and sentence. To the beginner the poet's diction is a chief perplexity. This trouble must of course be overcome by resolute study. The language of Shakespeare is not merely the current speech of his contemporaries. There is in it something of the poet's own which it is profitable to explore, just as it is profitable to investigate his life and his art.
Many questions concerning the story or the characters of the Merchant of Venice will suggest themselves as the play is read by a class of bright young persons. Some of these questions are hinted at in the notes. Those which have to do with the origin of the plot and the period of the poet's life to which the play belongs will be solved by reference to Furness or to the introductions in the standard editions, as, e. g., in Grant White. But there remains one question of profound interest, the indications for whose solution should be watched for in the development of every Shakespearian play. This is the question of dramatic time. In Furness' Variorum Merchant of Venice the subject is discussed in its bearings on this play, and reference is made to the theory of Professor Wilson (Christopher North) as to dramatic time in Shakespeare. Wilson's theory is presented in the Variorum Othello. It first appeared in the series of papers called Dies Boreales in Blackwood's Magazine.
According to Professor Wilson, we are to look, in a play of Shakespeare, for indications both of quick movement and of slow movement. This is no inconsistency in a drama, where the purpose is not to chronicle events, but to produce
an illusion. Most persons read the Merchant of Venice without wondering where the lapse of three months is provided for. They have seen things ripening at a pace and to a degree that implies all this time ; and they have seen the persons moving and speaking with a haste and energy that seems to account for but two or three days. Not until we dissect the drama as literature and treat it as a chronicle do we begin to be querulous about the time.
It will be extremely interesting to young students to watch for the touches that convey the impression of haste, and for those that seem to retard the movement and to deepen our impression of time adequate to the maturing of the business of the drama. In this connection help will be found in Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke's Shakespeare Key, a book which for many other purposes also will prove useful in the school library. Once warned, however, to be on the alert, the young student will easily detect the
passages of the two kinds. In The Tempest the two kinds of time coincide, and the play conforms to the classic rule of unity of time. In nearly all the other plays they diverge.
Such hints as are offered in this introduction and in the notes appended to the text should be considered by the teacher of the Shakespeare class only as specimens of the matters that may rightly be brought under review in school. The possibilities of interesting discussion, research and speculation are, to the Shakespeare scholar, infinite. It must not be thought for a moment that it is well, with beginners, to try even approximately to exhaust these possibilities. Matters that are clearly beyond the reach of the learner must be let alone. It is a mistake, however, to withhold from readers the matters that are best fitted to stimulate their curiosity and invigorate their faculties. It will do no harm to attempt some feats that cannot be achieved.
The DUKE OF VENICE.
OLD GOBBO, father to Launcelot. The PRINCE OF MOROCCO, Suitors to LEONARDO, servant to Bassunio. The PRINCE OF ARRAGON, Portia.
servants to Portia. ANTONIO, a merchant of Venice.
PORTIA, a rich heiress.
JESSICA, duughter to Shylock.
Magnificoes of Venice, Officers of the SHYLOCK, a rich Jew.
Court of Justice, Gaolei, Servants to TUBAL, á Jew, his friend.
Portia, and other attendants. LAUNCELOT GOBBO, a clown, servant to
SCENE: Partly at Venice and partly at Belmont, Portia's seat, on the Continent.