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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, dramatist and poet, was born at Stratford-on-Avon, England, in April, 1564. Of his early life almost nothing is known. It is believed that he was a student in the free school at Stratford, and that in his youth he assisted his father in the latter's business, which was that of a wool-dealer and glover. That he formally entered upon any definite calling we have no proof; but critics have found evidence in his writings of his familiarity with various professions: Malone, one of his acutest commentators, firmly insisted that Shakespeare was a lawyer's clerk. At the age of eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, then eight years his senior. Of this union only a vague report that it proved uncongenial has come down to us. In 1586 or 1587 Shakespeare seems to have gone to London, and two years later appears as one of the proprietors of the Blackfriars Theater. In the few years next following he became known as a playwright, and in 1593 he published his first poem, Venus and Adonis. The dates of publication of his plays are not settled beyond doubt; but the best authorities place Henry VI. first and The Tempest last, all included between 1589 and 1611. Shakespeare was an actor as well as a writer of plays, and remained on the stage certainly as late as 1603. Two years later he bought a handsome house at Stratford, and lived therein, enjoying the friendship and respect of his neighbors till his death in 1616.

Meager as is the foregoing sketch, it yet embodies, with a few trifling exceptions, all the known facts as to Shakespeare's life. A mist seems to have settled over "the most illustrious of the sons of man," almost wholly hiding his personality from curious and admiring posterity. Of many of his contemporary writers, and of some who preceded him, comparatively full particulars have come down to us: Edmund Spenser stands out conspicuous among the bright lights of the Elizabethan age; the genial face and the personal habits of "rare Ben Jonson" are almost familiar to us; and even of Chaucer, the father of English literature, we possess a reasonably distinct portraiture; but Shakespeare, the man, is lost to us in the darkness of the past. In his works, however, he lives, and will live while written records survive.

The name of Shakespeare is so pre-eminently famous, standing out in the firmament of literature "like the moon among the lesser stars," that no attempt to convey an idea of his greatness seems to be necessary here. We content ourselves, therefore, with quoting the opinions of a few of those who have been worthy to judge him.

Dr. Samuel Johnson says: "The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissolvable fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare."

Thomas De Quincey says: "In the gravest sense it may be affirmed of Shakespeare that he is among the modern luxuries of life; it was his prerogative to have thought more finely and more extensively than all other poets combined."

Lord Jeffrey says: "More full of wisdom and ridicule and sagacity than all the moralists that ever existed, he is more wild, airy, and inventive, and more pathetic and fantastic, than all the poets of all regions and ages of the world."

Lord Macaulay pronounced Shakespeare "the greatest poet that ever lived," and esteemed

Othello, the play from which our first selection is taken, as "perhaps the greatest work in the world."

Thomas Carlyle bears this characteristic testimony: "Of this Shakespeare of ours, perhaps the opinion one sometimes hears a little idolatrously expressed is, in fact, the right one; I think the best judgment is slowly pointing to the conclusion that Shakespeare is the chief of all poets hitherto, the greatest intellect who, in our recorded world, has left record of himself in the way of literature. On the whole, I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man. Such a calmness of depth, placid, joyous strength, all things imaged in that great soul of his so true and clear, as in a tranquil, unfathomable sea!"


MOST potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approved good masters,
That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her;
head and front of my offending


Hath this extent, no more.

Rude am I in speech,
And little blessed with the set phrase of peace;
For since these arins of mine had seven years' pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field;

And little of this great world can I speak,

More than pertains to feats of broil and battle;

And therefore little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnished tale deliver



whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
What conjuration, and what mighty magic

(For such proceeding I am charged withal),
I won his daughter with.

Her father loved me; oft invited me;

Still questioned me the story of my life,
From year to year; the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.

I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it.
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,

Of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach;
Of being taken by the insolent foe,

And sold to slavery; of my redemption thence,

And portance in my travel's history;
Wherein of antres vast, and deserts idle,

Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
- such was the process;

It was my hint to speak;

And of the cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear,
Would Desdemona seriously incline :

But still the house affairs would draw her thence;
Which ever as she could with haste despatch,

She'd come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse: which I observing,
Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart,
That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively. I did consent;
And often did beguile her of her tears,
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffered. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore

In faith, 't was strange, 't was passing strange;

'T was pitiful, 't was wondrous pitiful :

She wished she had not heard it; yet she wished

That Heaven had made her such a man: she thanked me;

And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,

I should but teach him how to tell my story,

And that would woo her. Upon this hint, I spake :

She loved me for the dangers I had passed;

And I loved her, that she did pity them.

This only is the witchcraft I have used.


JULIET. Thou know'st the mask of night is on my face:

Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek,

For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.

An extract from the love scene in the garden, in the play of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, in ambuscade at night, is discovered by Juliet listening to her declaration of love for him.

Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say, Ay:
And I will take thy word; yet, if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries,
They say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully :
Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse, and say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond ;
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light.
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was 'ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me;
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.

ROMEO. Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops-

JULIET. O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb,

Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
ROMEO. What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all,

Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,

And I'll believe thee.


If my heart's dear love-
JULIET. Well, do not swear: although I joy in thee,

I have no joy of this contract to-night;

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden :
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say, It lightens. Sweet, good night!
This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart, as that within my breast!

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