1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Stratford-upon-Avon: Moral Influences of Stratford's Scenery

William Shakespeare
(Part 13)


Moral Influences of Stratford's Scenery

On its moral side such scenery has an expanding illuminating power which links it to the wider and deeper interests of humanity as a whole. Nature seems to put forth her vital energies expressly for the relief of man's estate, appearing as his friend and helper and consoler.

Instead of being absorbed in her own inaccessible grandeurs and solitary sublimities, she exerts her benign influences expressly as it were for his good, to cheer and brighten his evanescent days, and beautify his temporary home. Bolder and more ragged landscapes, gloomy glens, and thunder-scarred peaks may excite more passionate feelings, may rouse and strengthen by reaction the individualistic elements of mind and character, and thus produce the hardy, daring type of mountaineer, the intense self-centred and defiant local patriot or hero, the chieftain and his clansmen, contra mundum. No doubt it is also true that the vaster and loftier mountain ranges have a unique power of exciting in susceptible minds the emotions of awe, wonder, and sublimity. But the very power and permanence of these mighty solitudes, the grandeur and immobility of their measureless strength and imperial repose, dwarf by comparison all merely human interests; and to the meditative mind swept by the spirit of such immensities the moments of our mortal life seem to melt as dew-drops into the silence of their eternal years. The feelings thus excited, being in themselves of the essence of poetry, may indeed find expression in verse and in verse of a noble kind, but the poetry will be lyrical and reflective, not dramatic, or if dramatic in form it will be lyrical in substance.

As Mr. Ruskin has pointed out, the overmastering effect of mountain scenery tends to absorb and preoccupy the mind, and thus to disturb the impartial view the universal vision of nature and human nature as a complex whole, or rather of nature as the theatre and scene of human life, which the dramatist must preserve in order to secure success in his higher work. Mountain scenery is, however, not only rare and exacting in the range and intensity of feeling it excites, but locally remote in its separation from the interests and occupations of men. It is thus removed from the vital element in which the dramatist works, if not in its higher influence antagonistic to that element. Mr. Hamerton, who discusses the question on a wider basis of knowledge and experience than perhaps any living authority except Mr. Ruskin, supports this view. "As a general rule," he says, "I should say there; is an antagonism between the love of mountains and the knowledge of mankind, that the lover of mountains will often be satisfied with their appearances of power and passion, their splendour and gloom, their seeming cheerfulness or melancholy, when a mind indifferent to this class of scenery might study the analogous phases of human character." Where, indeed, the influence of nature is overpowering, as in the East, wonder, -- the wonder excited by mere physical vastness, power, and infinitude, -- takes the place of intelligent interest in individual life and character.

But the dramatic poet has to deal primarily with human power and passion; and not for him therefore is the life of lonely raptures and awful delights realized by the mountain wanderer or the Alp-inspired bard. His work lies nearer the homes and ways of men, and his choicest scenery will be found in the forms of natural beauty most directly associated with their habitual activities, most completely blended with their more vivid emotional experiences. A wooded undulating country, watered by memorable streams, its ruder features relieved by the graces of cultivation, and its whole circuit rich in historical remains and associations, is outside the domain of cities, the natural stage and theatre of the dramatist and story-teller. This was the kind of scenery that fascinated Scott's imagination, amidst which he fixed his chosen home, and where he sleeps his last sleep. It is a border country of grey waving hills, divided by streams renowned in song, and enriched by the monuments of the piety, splendour, and martial power of the leaders whose fierce raids and patriotic conflicts filled with romantic tale and minstrelsy the whole district from the Lammermoors to the Cheviots, and from the Leader and the Tweed to the Solway Firth.

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