1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Conditions Favourable to Shakespeare's Success

William Shakespeare
(Part 34)





SHAKESPEARE GOES TO LONDON (cont.)

Conditions Favourable to Shakespeare's Success


Nor after all is this result so very surprising. Shakespeare entered on his London career at the very moment best fitted for the full development of his dramatic genius. From the accession of Elizabeth all the dominant impulses and leading events of her reign had prepared the way for the splendid triumph of policy and arms that closed its third decade, and for the yet more splendid literary triumph of the full-orbed drama that followed.

After the gloom and terror of Mary's reign the coming of Elizabeth to the crown was hailed with exultation by the people, and seemed in itself to open a new and brighter page of the nation's history. Elizabeth's personal charms and mental gifts, her high spirit and dauntless courage, her unfailing political tact and judgment, her frank bearing and popular address, combined with her unaffected love for her people and devotion to their interests, awakened the strongest feelings of personal loyalty, and kindled into passionate ardour the spirit of national pride and patriotism that made the whole kingdom one.

The most powerful movements of the time directly tended to reinforce and concentrate these awakened energies. While the Reformation and Renaissance impulses had liberalized men's minds and enlarged their moral horizon, the effect of both was at first of a political and practical rather than of a purely religious or literary kind. The strong and exhilarating sense of civil and religious freedom realized through the Reformation was inseparably associated with the exultant spirit of nationality it helped to stimulate and diffuse.

The pope, and his emissaries the Jesuits, were looked upon far more as foreign enemies menacing the independence of the kingdom than as religious foes and firebrands seeking to destroy the newly established faith. The conspiracies, fomented from abroad, that gathered around the captive queen of Scots, the plots successively formed for the assassination of Elizabeth, were regarded as murderous assaults on the nation's life, and the Englishmen who organized them abroad or aided them at horne were denounced and prosecuted with pitiless severity as traitors to their country. Protestantism thus carne to be largely identified with patriotism, and all the active forces of the kingdom, its rising wealth, energy, and intelligence, were concentrated to defend the rights of the liberated empire against the assaults of despotic Europe represented by Rome and Spain.

These forces gained volume and impetus as the nation was thrilled by the details of Alva's ruthless butcheries, and the awful massacre of St Bartholomew, until at length they were organized and hurled with resistless effect against the grandest naval and military armament ever equipped by a Continental power, -- an armament that had been sent forth with the assurance of victory by the wealthiest, most absolute, and most determined monarch of the time.

There was a vigorous moral element in that national struggle and triumph. It was the spirit of freedom, of the energies liberated by the revolt from Rome, and illuminated by the fair humanities of Greece and Italy, that nerved the arm of that happy breed of men in the day of battle, and enabled them to strike with fatal effect against the abettors of despotic rule in church and state.

The material results of the victory were at once apparent. England became mistress of the seas, and rose to an assured position in Europe as a political and maritime power of the first order. The literary results at horne were equally striking. The whole conflict reacted powerfully on the genius of the race, quickening into life its latent seeds of reflective knowledge and wisdom, of poetical and dramatic art.





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