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EARLY LIFE AND WORK
HAKESPEARE was a popular au
thor and dramatist in his own day.
His later reputation, however, is not simply the continuation of the judgment of his contemporaries. How is it that at the present time and for generations he has been accorded the first place in English literature? Of how many is this the independent judgment? could suppose his works to be a discovery of the present day, what would be the popular opinion concerning him? His writings consist so much of unrelated compositions that they are not easily compacted into a unity. His most brilliant passages are so isolated that they are liable to be passed unnoticed and in any case are not readily retained in memory by association. Then again the topics of which he treats are so varied and, to a superficial view, so common-place, that, as mere objects of thought, they excite but little interest. The more striking subjects of which he treats, like the stories of Hamlet, Macbeth and others, are so slightly historical that they do not call for serious investigation. Under these circumstances each admirer of Shakespeare must find in his writings something which pleases him personally. While such plays as Lear and Tempest make a profound impression as a whole, the general impression which they make is not their chief value as literary productions. Their manifold excellences are appreciated only by readers trained to notice and gather on the broad fields over which they roam the scattered passages that have intrinsic merit.
A fame attained both by incidental strokes of genius and prolonged exhibitions of power may well attract our attention. I bring forward first some biographical items.
It has often been said that of Shakespeare's life we know almost nothing. And this is true, if we mean by life external deeds. We often wish we could find in his own hand-writing some such assertion as
this: “When I was a boy I went up to Kenilworth to see a display of fire-works, or “On such a day I bought stock in the Globe Theatre," but no trace of a report about himself has ever been found. Still there are few men of whom we have more intimate knowledge. The working of his mind in the days of his maturity, if not laid open before us, is an object of successful investigation. Admirers of his genius have studied his writings with the utmost care, and by noting his words, forms of expression and various and changing tendencies of thought, have been able to bring into view very much of his career in the last thirty years of his life. His occupation, the most prominent portion of which was preparing plays to be enacted on the stage, disclosed from year to year the subjects to which he gave attention, and in some degree his personal feelings. Moreover his sonnets, if not an autobiography, must at least embrace experiences through which he passed in the joys and trials of life.
Shakespeare was born at Stratford upon Avon, on the twenty-third of April, 1564. He was the oldest of ten children. He attended such schools as the town afforded,