1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Shakespeare's Dramatic Career: Second Period

William Shakespeare
(Part 41)


Shakespeare's Dramatic Career: Second Period

Whatever question may be raised with regard to the superiority of some of the plays belonging to the first period of Shakespeare's dramatic career, there can be no question at all as to any of the pieces belonging to the second period, which extends to the end of the century.

During these years Shakespeare works as a master, having complete command over the materials and resources of the most mature and flexible dramatic art. "To this stage," says Mr Swinburne, "belongs the special faculty of faultless, joyous, facile command upon each faculty required of the presiding genius for service or for sport. It is in the middle period of his work that the language of Shakespeare is most limpid in its fulness, the style most pure, the thought most transparent through the close and luminous raiment of perfect expression."

This period includes the magnificent series of historical plays -- Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V -- and a double series of brilliant comedies. The Midsummer Night's Dream, All's Well that ends Well, and the Merchant of Venice were produced before 1598, and during the next three years there appeared a still more complete and characteristic group including Much ado about Nothing, As you Like it, and Twelfth Night.

These comedies and historical plays are all marked by a rare harmony of reflective and imaginative insight, perfection of creative art, and completeness of dramatic effect. Before the close of this period, in 1598, Francis Meres paid his celebrated tribute to Shakespeare's superiority in lyrical, descriptive, and dramatic poetry, emphasizing his unrivalled distinction in the three main departments of the drama, -- comedy, tragedy, and historical play. And from this time onwards the contemporary recognitions of Shakespeare's eminence as a poet and dramatist rapidly multiply the critics and eulogists being in most cases well entitled to speak with authority on the subject.

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