Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/21

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THE ELIZABETHAN PEOPLE


CHAPTER I

THE ELIZABETHAN CHARACTER

THE result of the prolonged and often superficial consideration of Shakespeare's plays during the nineteenth century has resulted in an idealisation of that dramatist which places him in an incorrect relation to his time and to all other literary artists. To assume, as some recent critics have done, that we appreciate Shakespeare truly only when we are able to prove that every detail of his work is perfectly planned and executed is equivalent to a denial of the fact that, during twenty years of writing, Shakespeare made any progress towards perfection in his art. To assert that an early play of Shakespeare's is as excellent as a later is to assume that he began his literary career a finished artist, unhumanly god-like in his perfection—a man who does, not having learned. Yet Shakespeare is of supreme value to us to-day mainly because he is so human, human in his feelings, and human in his faults. To me, one of the most delightful elements of the contemplation of Shakespeare is the recognition of that steady progress which is the result of a persistent profit-