Shakespeare was wholly a man of the hour. Artist though he was, he never lost sight of the fact that the productions of his art were to appeal to his own people. I can hardly fancy that he thought much of posterity; but, if he did, I cannot believe that he ever catered to the understanding of later generations at the expense of his own. Doubtless, had Shakespeare lived to-day, he would have omitted the closing lines of Hamlet. But I fancy that the people who first saw that play upon the boards considered the entrance of Fortinbras and his followers not as an anti-climax but as a most ingenious device for gracefully ridding the stage of the dead bodies preparatory to the coming jig.
In the following pages I have continued an attempt, already begun, to lay before the modern reader a wide view, not too much hampered by encyclopædic detail, of how the Elizabethans lived and what they thought about things in general, hoping that this knowledge will help to set the scenes of Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights before the modern audience in a more consistent and rational simplicity.
It may be true that human nature changes but little in its fundamental characteristics from generation to generation, from century to century;