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(1) Psychological Legacy:

The psychological legacy of the Renaissance and Reformation movement was twofold: a splendid access of self-confidence, and an irrepressible faculty for self-expression whether in action or in literature. Man believed in himself, trusted in his powers, dared the Fates as he had never done before. In Shakespeare’s time just as in Chaucer’s, the gay and jocund crowds and put against the dark, mysterious background of the Unknown. Chaucer’s privy thief called Death remains yet a gaunt sinister figure. But in Shakespeare’s day there is one difference.

The helplessness of man in the hands of the inscrutable. Fates which was strongly and constantly present to the medieval mind, carries no longer the same appeal. Chaucer faced the tragic issues of life with a kind of stoical reticence, as if to say, “The less said of these things the better. Accept them we must, we can’t help ourselves, why dwell on them?” This was not the way of Shakespeare, he faced them boldly, and although he had too tenacious a grasp of the concrete facts of life to cry “Peace” where there was no Peace, yet throughout his plays there breathes a sturdy self- reliance and sense of human responsibility.

(2) Self Reliance and Self-Expression:

Self-reliance, was a characteristic of the age. Self- expression was another.

Just as a man relied on himself; believed in his own powers, and buoyed with hope, though enterprise too perilous to attempt; so did the Elizabethan give amplest expression to passion and instinct. After the self-repression and austerity of the Middle Ages, they exulted in their new-found freedom, like men let out of the Old Bastille. In literature and life alike, they were impatient of rule and convention, caring only to give expression to their own special characteristics. To be different from your neighbor; to borrow whatever style in dress or in letters seemed best to suit your disposition. That was the aim. Naturally this led to some excess.

Alongside of the coarseness, the violence, the brutality, may be found splendid endurance, exalted passion, and a broad and tolerant humanity. The people who loved the crude delights of the cockfight and the bear garden, delight nonetheless in the self-questioning of a Hamlet and the sentimental refinements of a Fiery Queen. It was an age of intense curiosity, and exuberant joy of life.

The aggrandizement of wealth, the discovery of other worlds, the acquisition of knowledge; these matters which our more prosaic age seeks after with cooler calculation, and more scientific precision, were sought after by the Elizabethans in the eager, idealizing, adventurous spirit of youth. Life was a glorious adventure; and knowledge itself a fantastic game.

His literary career starts in 1590. Since then he was under dramatic apprenticeship and experiments. During this period be wrote white – “Man are fools that wish to die”- that was the burden of Elizabethan song. To suck the marrow out of life; to find out all that was worth knowing; to realize all that was worth the feeling such as the ideal of Shakespeare’s age.

Shakespeare’s exact birth-date is inferred to have been 23rd April 1564. He had the usual grammar School education with some knowledge of Latin and less of Greek. He was married and became father of a child before he was twenty one; and then he approached for a theatrical company in which he began as an actor, and later came to be a leading share-holder. In the next twenty years he composed thirty-seven plays, two narrative poems, about 150 sonnets and some lyrics.

His only son had died in 1600; he saw his two daughters well married, made his will in March 1616, and died a month later on April 23, 1616. Man’s tragedy, strong in lyric beauty though lacking the grandeur and breadth of the later tragedies; while The Merchant of Venice (1594) though in a form a comedy, is in somber framework of tragic irony, relieved by a golden thread of romance.

For the rest, he writes in buoyant spirits a social extravaganza, Love’s Labor’s Lost (1591); a rollicking farce, the Comedy of Errors (1592); a sentimental romance. Two Gentlemen of Verona (1591); and a fantastic romance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594-5)

Marlowe probably had a share in the Henry VI plays; he frankly inspired Richard III and Richard II; King John being the first of the domination of Marlowe.

After 1595 he become perfect in dreamy writing. There are three historical plays here, finer in quality than those preceding, the two plays of Henry IV (1597) and Henry V(1598). Henry V is the more showy, and has been well described as a “National Anthem in five acts”, but the Henry IV plays are far richer in humor and psychological power. Of the comedies, The Taming of the Shrew (1595) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1598) are cast in the early farcical vein, though the handling is easier and stronger; Much Ado about Nothing (1599) is on a higher plane of wit; while in As You Like It (1600) and Twelfth Night (1600) humor and romance blend in perfect proportion.

Meanwhile, in 1594, a fresh essay in poetry is signalized.

The majority of the sonnets were written probably in 1594, when Shakespeare had gained the patronage of the Earl of Southampton. The popularity of the sonnet was then at its height. And already we have seen what men like Daniel and Drayton, Spenser and Sidney made of it. The form he chose was not the Italian form, and consisted of three decasyllabic quatrains, each rhyming alternately and rhyming couplet to conclude. Although unequal in power and beauty, they show a far mature touch than that displayed in the splendid though undisciplined Venus and Adonis and Tarquinii and Lucerne.

Tragedy predominates after 1600 and we reach here the culminating point of Shakespeare’s power as a dramatist. The romances of the period, All’s Well that Ends Well (1595), Measure for Measure (1604) and Troilus and Cressida (1603), are essentially tragedies set in a key of forced comedy; they are rich in poetry, but leave a confused and unpleasant impression upon the mind.

Incomparably greater are the tragedies. Starting in grave measured style with Julius Caesar(1601), he rises to greater heights of drama and reflective poetry in Hamlet (1602); while in Othello (1604), King Lear( 1605), and Macbeth (1606)- that superb trilogy of plays- imaginative subtlety and passionate intensity make these dramas the most superb and compelling in English literature.

The last period opens with Tragedy; Antony and Cleopatra (1608). With weaker dramatic grip than its immediate predecessors, but fully as ripe in the strength of its characterization. Coriolanus (1609), Timor Athens (1608) are only fitfully great, the three latter, perhaps only Shakespearean in part: but when in the eventide of his career he turned again to his first love, Romance, we get Cymbeline (1610), The Tempest (1611) and The Winter’s Tale (1611).

The tragic period has left behind it a legacy of spiritual power and imaginative subtlety that make the last works of the dramatist a fitting paean of farewell.

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