Books > Old Books > A BRIEF HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE (1914)


Page 118

CHAPTER VII
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY - PURITANS AND CAVALIERS I

Shakespeare in the Seventeenth Century. In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died and James of Scotland became the sovereign of England. The inspiration of the age of Elizabeth lingered for some years after her death, and the work of Shakespeare, its greatest glory, extended far into the reign of James. His genius broadened and deepened, and he gave to the new century his deeper comedies and a superb group of tragedies, Hamlet, King Lear, and others. His plays grow more intense, more powerful. Sometimes he uses bitter irony. Stern retribution is visited upon both weak and wicked. There is a touch of gloom. Magnificent as these dramas are, it is good to come away from them to the ripple of the sea, to the breeze of the meadow land, to his last group of plays, the joyous and beautiful romantic dramas, such as the Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and, last of all, it may be, The Tempest, that marvellous production in which a child may find a fairy tale, a philosopher suggestion and mystery and that "solemn vision" of life that comes in the midst of the wonders of the magic island.
When Shakespeare's sonnets were written and to whom they were written is not known. If the whole aim of their author had been to puzzle

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CHAPTER VII
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY - PURITANS AND CAVALIERS I

his readers, he could not have succeeded better. Some seem to have been written to a man, others to a woman. Some are exquisitely beautiful, some are fairly rollicking in boyish mischievousness. Some express sincere love, some are apparently trying to see how far a roguish mock devotion can be concealed by charm of phrase and rhythm. Here are such perfect lines as
Bare, ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
Here is his honest
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,
Coral is far more red than her lips' red,

wherein he makes fun of the poetic rhapsodies of Elizabethan lovers. Here, too, is his mischievous sonnet,

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