Shakespeare's Second Period: Exploring Much Ado About
Nothing, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and the Histories
From Studies in Shakespeare by Richard Grant White, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
Our examination of Shakespeare's plays, in search of a course of reading them which, following the
order of their production, would enable us to trace the development of his mind as a poet, a playwright,
and a philosophical observer of human nature, has led us to the time when he entered upon the composition
of his remarkable series of historical plays, called by his fellow actors and first editors, in the first collected
edition of his works (1623), "histories." This kind of play is not peculiar to Shakespeare, nor was he by
any means the first either to introduce it upon the English stage or to bring it into popular favor. Indeed, it is to be remarked, and noted as a fact full of significance, that Shakespeare, the greatest of the creative minds who have left their mark upon the ages, produced nothing new in design. His supreme excellence was attained simply by doing better than any one else that which others had done before him, and
which others did after him, with the same purpose, upon the same plan, and with the same art motive.
This fact, and the other previously mentioned, that Shakespeare did his work with no other purpose what-ever, moral, philosophical, artistic, literary, than to make an attractive play which would bring him money,
should be constantly borne in mind by the critical and reflective reader of his plays. The clear apprehension of them will save him from wandering off, himself, or being led off by others profound people who
set themselves very solemnly to the task of seeing
what is not to be seen into various fantastical by-ways which will end in profound bogs and pitfalls,
or, like the road we have heard of, in a foot-path that tapers off into a squirrel-track that will leave him who
follows it "up a tree."
Shakespeare wrote "histories" because, others having written them before him, it was found that the
theatre-going people of the day liked them, and he, I feel quite sure, began at first to write them in connection with other playwrights, after the fashion of the time; when it was customary for two or three dramatic poets, or even more, to work together in the production of one play. When he first went into the
theatrical business there was no reason why he should
be exempted from any of its laws or customs. He was only a young man from the provinces who had
come up to London to seek his fortune; and he might well be glad, and we may be sure that he was glad, to
be admitted to write in company with other playwrights who had already established some reputation.
His first dramatic work that is, such work as was undertaken for a theatrical company and with prospect
of immediate performance, or, what was more important to him, payment would naturally be of this
kind. That he had already written poetry, I think much more than probable, almost certain; but his first
dramatic work that went before the public was, I am of the opinion, a part of two plays called "The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster," and "The True Tragedy of the Duke of York," which he wrote in collaboration with Christopher Marlowe, George Peele, and probably Eobert Greene, three
playwrights who were in very high repute when he
went up to London. These historical plays may be
found reprinted in Charles Knight's "Pictorial Edition," and in the Cambridge edition of Shakespeare's
Works; but I should not advise any person who has not
the desire and the intention to make a very thorough
critical study, not only of Shakespeare, but of Elizabethan dramatic literature generally, to undertake the
reading of them. They afford neither instruction nor pleasure. Parts of them are very dreary; and all that
is in them of Shakespeare's, I believe, he afterward
took out and incorporated in the Second and Third Parts of "King Henry VI," as they appeared in the
collected editions of his works. The reasons of this opinion will be found fully set forth in my "Essay on
the Authorship of the Three Parts of Henry VI;" and they were afterward ably summarized and enforced in an abridgment of that essay by another writer, which took the Harkness Shakespeare Essay prize at Cambridge University, England. 1
The reader who wishes really to study Shakespeare's mind in its peculiarities and its development
would do well to go carefully over my essay; and, as an ingenious setting forth of another theory, which I
regard as entirely untenable, that Shakespeare had no hand in the construction and real writing of these
plays, I commend to his attention an essay by the Rev. F. G. Fleay, in "Macmillan's Magazine" for November, 1875. Then let him read the Second and Third Parts of "King Henry VI." Part I. may be left unread; Shakespeare had little if anything to do with the writing of it; but possibly he may have touched its
substance and modified its form here and there, sufficiently to bring it into keeping, for stage purposes,
with Parts II and III, and with "Richard III," which was produced very soon afterward. In all these
plays the observant reader will find marks of Shakespeare's prentice hand, and also, if he is at all familiar
with the dramatic poetry of the early Elizabethan period, of the influence of Marlowe and Peele.
The pretence which has been made for Shakespeare, that none of his work at any period of his life resembles that of any other poet or playwright, and can always be separated from that of his co-workers, is entirely irreconcilable with the facts and the probabilities of the case, and with the history of all arts, poetry included. True, Shakespeare's mind was, in the highest and largest sense of the terms, original and creative.
But such minds, no less than others of narrower and inferior power, are imitative in their first essays.
They, like others, may attempt at first some new, strange thing; they may possibly strive to be original,
although they are less likely to do so than the smaller and weaker men. For a seeking after originality is
one of the sure accompaniments, or at least one of the unmistakable tokens, of a felt although perhaps an
unconscious mental weakness. To original creative minds their originality and their creative powers come
spontaneously and by a development more or less slow, and the originality always comes unsought. In the
early work of even such strong, original minds in art as Raphael and Michael Angelo, Mozart and Beethoven, we find not only traces of their predecessors, but such absolute assimilation to them in form and in
spirit that were it not for slight touches, manifestly in the least labored and least purposed passages, we could
believe them the productions of some one of their elder contemporaries.
In the Second and Third Parts of "King Henry VI," therefore, and in "Richard III," which contain
the earliest of his historical works, we find traces of the principal dramatic poets whom he found in possession
of the stage when he took to it for a living. Marlowe and Peele are those who seem to have impressed him
most. A likeness to both these, and largely to Peele, appears in "Richard III," which, although (because
of its rapid recurrence of exciting scenes and incidents, its turbulent action, and the centering of the interest upon one chief personage) it is the greatest favorite of all the histories for the stage, is yet the
poorest and thinnest in thought, the least free and harmonious in rhythm in a word, the least Shakespearean of them all. Compare it with "Richard II," which was written a year or two after it, and in which
Shakespeare seems to have taken his first great step toward originality in style and in the treatment of his
material. As not infrequently happens in such cases, he went too far, and produced a play the very reverse
in style and spirit of "Richard III." It is a tragic dramatic poem rather than an historical play. The
action, which in the earlier history of the later Richard is so vivid, lags; the movement is languid, and
passages of reflection and contemplation abound. It
has passages which are somewhat in Shakespeare's early and constrained manner both as to thought and
versification. Such are these:
Old John of Gaunt, time-honour'd Lancaster,
Hast thon, according to thy oath and band,
Brought hither Henry Hereford thy bold son,
Here to make good the boisterous late appeal,
Which then our leisure would not let us hear,
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
Act I. Sc. 1.
Alas, the part had in Glou'ster's blood
Doth more solicit me than your exclaims,
To stir against the butchers of his life!
But since correction lieth in those hands
Which made the fault that we cannot correct,
Put we our quarrel to the will of heaven;
Who, when they see the hours ripe on earth,
Will rain hot vengeance on offenders' heads.
Act I. Sc. 2.
Compare these passages with the blank verse of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Two
Gentlemen of Verona," and see the similarity between them; not, of course, in the thoughts, but in the
manner of thought and in the rhythm. Observe, in all, the frequency of the pause at the end of the line; the sense and the rhythm drooping together. These traits and the frequent recurrence of rhymed passages and of couplets in rhyme at the close of speeches in blank verse, a style of ending sometimes called
tag-rhymes, might lead a reader with whom the external and material had more weight than the internal
and spiritual to infer that "Richard II" was the earliest in production of all Shakespeare's historical
plays, before even "Richard III," as it is of all those which are wholly original. But such traits,
although they are of some value as guides in deciding the question of the succession in which Shakespeare's plays were produced, and so as to the order in which they should be read by those who wish to
follow the development of his genius, are of an inferior order, and cannot be relied upon. Their evidence
is to be accepted as confirmatory or accessory, and should be reckoned as a part only of that which must
be taken into consideration. For it could not be relied upon, even should we set aside all other as of
no account. Thus, for example, the tag-rhymes in "Love's Labour's Lost" and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" are very few in comparison with those in "Richard II" and "Richard III," although the comedies were produced at about the same
time as the histories and unquestionably before them. As to the order of production, such passages as the
following are of great weight:
To please the king I did; to please myself
I cannot do it. Yet I know no cause
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief,
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard. Yet again, methinks,
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune's womb,
Is coming towards me; and my inward soul
With nothing trembles : at some thing it grieves
More than with parting from my lord the king.
Act II. Sc. 2.
Glad am I that your highness is so arm'd
To bear the tidings of calamity.
Like an unseasonable stormy day,
Which makes the silver rivers drown their shores
As if the world were all dissolved to tears,
So high above his limits swells the rage
Of Bolingbroke, covering your fearful land
With hard bright steel, and hearts harder than steel.
White beards have arm'd their thin and hairless scalps
Against thy majesty ; and boys with women's voices
Strive to speak big, and clap their female joints
In stiff unwieldy arms against thy crown.
Thy very beadsmen learn to bend their bows
Of double fatal yew against th' state.
Yea, distaff-women manage rusty bills
Against thy seat. Both young and old rebel,
And all goes worse than I have power to tell.
Act III. Sc. 2.
Compare these with any parts of the four plays that we took up for examination in our previous section, and see in them unmistakable evidence of greater maturity of thought, freer command of language,
more skilful construction of verse. There can be no doubt, I think, that they are the product of Shakespeare's mind at its first attainment of free and independent action, while, however, other passages in
the same play show that it was yet somewhat restrained in its action by a memory of his predecessors and by
the influence of his contemporaries.
It would be well, therefore, to begin acquaintance with Shakespeare's historical plays by reading the
mixed play "Richard III" first, then "Richard II", and then "King John." This, it will be seen, reverses the order of these histories according to the chronology of their events, which would place "King John" first and "Richard III" last of these three, and of all the histories except "Henry VIII;" which is the order in which they have always been
printed. But chronology should be entirely disregarded by the student, and even by the general reader
of Shakespeare's plays. He took very little thought of it himself; and only the "Henry VI" series and
"Richard III" have any connection or relations of interdependence. Indeed, as to historical fact, the
histories are in some cases inconsistent with each other; but it is in minor and unessential fact which
does not affect the dramatic motive of the play. Such points as this are not to be regarded by the reader
of Shakespeare, whether in historical play, tragedy founded upon history, or in comedy. In all alike
Shakespeare regarded his facts, i.e., the story, as mere material on which he was to work. He was as indifferent in regard to anachronism as he was in regard to the unities of time and place.
Nothing, however, affecting Shakespeare's mental development or his dramatic art can be inferred from
his practice in these respects. The unities of time and place, for example, are preserved in his first two
plays, "Love's Labour's Lost" and "The Comedy of Errors," absolutely; in his third, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," he began that disregard of them which he observed throughout his career, and which
culminates in "The Winter's Tale," one of his very latest plays, in which the very semblance of them is
so disregarded that it affects to a certain degree even a reader's enjoyment of it. But on the other hand,
in "The Tempest," written in the same year, or at least the same twelvemonth, as "The Winter's Tale,"
the unities of time and place are observed with a strictness which cannot be surpassed.
I do wrong to say that they are observed, which implies purpose on the part of the dramatist; and nothing is clearer to me, the more I read and reflect upon his works, than that, after his first three or four years' experience as a poet and a dramatist, he was entirely without even any art-purpose or aim whatever, and used his materials just as they came to
his hand, taking no more pains with them than he thought necessary to work them into a play that would
please his audience and suit his company; while at the same time, from the necessities of his nature and
the impulse that was within him, he wrought out the characters of his personages with the knowledge of a
creator of human souls, and in his poetry showed himself the supremest master of human utterance. "The Tempest" conforms to the unities of time and place merely because the story made it convenient for the writer to observe them; "The Winter's Tale" defies them because its story made the observance of them very troublesome, and indeed almost, if not quite, impossible. There has been a great deal of ingenious speculation about Shakespeare's system of dramatic
art. It is all unfounded, vague, and worthless. Shakespeare had no system of dramatic art.
In "King John" the true dramatic history first appears. "Henry VI" is rather a chronicle dramatized, and so, almost, is "Richard III;" while "Richard II," as I have before remarked, is a tragic dramatic poem founded upon historical events.
"King John" presents the events of a whole reign such as were capable of dramatic treatment
wrought into a dramatic form, but without any true dramatic motive, and with a conclusion which, while
it is an impressive close of the action, is not a dramatic catastrophe. We know very little of Shakespeare's real life, and still less of the influence that his experience as a man had upon his utterance as a
poet; but it is to be remarked that his only son Hamnet died, at the age of eleven years, in 1596, and that
"King John" was written in that year. It would seem as if the lovely character of Arthur (which is
altogether inconsistent with the facts of history) was portrayed, and the touching lament of Constance for
his loss written, by Shakespeare, with the shadow of this bereavement upon his soul.
Premising that one at least of the earlier comedies and the earliest tragedy are almost necessarily passed
over, it would be well next to take up "King Henry IV" in its two parts, this having been written directly
after "King John." In these plays, which, like "King John," are true "histories" as far as the treatment of
their main incidents is concerned, and in the poetical parts of which an increased weight of thought and
momentum of utterance is observable, with a freedom of versification required, and to a certain degree
caused, by the former qualities, Shakespeare introduced for the first time a representation of English social
life. It was the social life of his own day; for never was there less the spirit of a literary antiquarian than
in William Shakespeare. He was no more antiquarian than prophet. He showed things as they were, or
rather as he saw them; thoughtless as to the past, except as it furnished him material for dramatic treatment; careless of the future, because it could give him no such help.
In "Henry IV" we have the highest manifestation of Shakespeare's humor; but not in Falstaff only,
whose vast unctuosity of mind as well as body has, to the general eye, unjustly cast his companions into
eclipse. Prince Hal himself is no less humorous than Falstaff, while his wit has a dignity and a sarcastic
edge not observable in the fat knight's random and reckless sallies. Falstaff, however, is peerless in a
great measure because he is reckless, and because Shakespeare, fully knowing the moral vileness of his
creature, had yet, as a dramatist, a perfect intellectual indifference to the character of the personage by whom
he effected his dramatic purpose. But besides these principals, the attendants upon their persons and the
satellites of their blazing intellects, Pointz, Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Mrs. Quickly, Justice Shallow, Silence,
and the rest, form a group which for its presentation of the humorous side of life has never been equalled
in literature. It surpasses even the best of "Don Quixote," as intellectual surpasses practical joking.
This history, take it all in all, is the completest, although far from being the highest, exhibition of
Shakespeare's varied powers as poet and dramatist. No other play shows his various faculties at the same
time in such number and at such a height. The greatest Falstaff is that of the Second Part. He is in every
trait the same as he of Part First; but his wit becomes brighter, his humor more delicate, richer in allusion,
and more highly charged with fun; his impudence attains proportions truly heroic.
As the Falstaff of Part Second of "Henry IV" is the best, that of "The Merry Wives" is the least admirable of all the three. In this comedy the Falstaff is comparatively feeble, and the laughter provoked by the scenes in which he appears is in a great measure due to practical joking. This deterioration in the fat knight's quality, and in that of the pleasure
that he gives, agrees with and supports the tradition that the comedy was written in compliance with the
request of Queen Elizabeth, that Falstaff should be shown in love. It is not reasonable to suppose that
the man who conceived Falstaff would, without external and superior suggestion, present him as a lover, or
had conceived him as capable of the amorous passion; and his part of this comedy, charming in other respects,
has all the air of being produced under constraint. "The Merry Wives" has the distinction and the
peculiar interest of being Shakespeare's only comedy of contemporary social life, of which we may be sure
that he has given a faithful representation; and to a desire to do this may be attributed a realistic air
which pervades the whole play. Indeed, this is Shakespeare's only play in the real school. We owe to
Queen Elizabeth's command, if indeed she gave it, the occasion which offered him an opportunity to show
that he could surpass all other dramatists in the real no less than he did in the ideal presentation of daily
life and of human nature. This comedy, as we have it in the folio and in subsequent collected editions of
the plays, is not as Shakespeare first wrote it. His first sketch, which has come down to us, although
imperfectly, shows unmistakable marks of haste in its composition. It was greatly improved in the
"The Merry Wives" leads our reader back to Shakespeare's early comedies of social life, of which,
although he has read all of them once, he is supposed to have thus far studied only one, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," its author's first attempt in this department of the drama. How rapidly Shakespeare's power developed, both as dramatist and poet, could not be more clearly apprehended than by the
comparison of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" with his next comedy of its kind, "The Merchant of Venice." At most only four or five years and there is some reason to believe even less elapsed between
the composition of the former and that of the latter play. The former is, for Shakespeare, very weak; faulty in construction, crude in characterization, and, although it contains some charming passages which give promise of the coming man, notably Julia's third speech in Act II. Sc. 7, tame in its poetry. But it is to be observed that, although this is one of
his earliest plays, his peculiar mastery of blank verse, in which the dialogue seems perfectly easy, and as
natural as Monsieur Jourdain's prose, while its rhythm is as marked as that of a minuet, is shown, although
with intervals, from the first scene to the last. Observe it in Valentine's and Proteus's first speeches;
and in the following passage, in which the "unstopped" lines and the occurrence in nine of three with double
endings show us that we should not trust too much to such tokens as a test of the date of composition:
Ant. Why, what of him?
Panth. He wondered that your lordship
Would suffer him to spend his youth at home,
While other men, of slender reputation,
Put forth their sons to seek preferment out:
Some to the wars to try their fortune there;
Some to discover islands far away;
Some to the studious universities.
For any or for all these exercises
He said that Proteus, your son, was meet.
Act I. Sc. 3.
This comedy has been pronounced careless in its composition. I cannot so regard it; rather it seems to me labored and constrained. The reasons given are chiefly that Valentine is sent to Milan by sea, and that
Verona twice occurs in the text where plainly Milan is required. But so did Shakespeare give Bohemia a
seacoast in "The Winter's Tale," a play written in his maturity. About geography Shakespeare seems to
have known little and cared less. And why should it have been otherwise? As it was, he knew more than
was known to ninety-nine in a hundred of his audience. As to the writing twice of Verona instead of
Milan, it seems plainly a mere case of heterophemy.
Careless or labored, however, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" stands low in the list of Shakespeare's
works, and he seems to have risen almost at a bound into the period when he produced the poetry of "The
Merchant of Venice," of "Richard II," and of "Romeo and Juliet," which were written at about the same
time. No more instructive study of Shakespeare could be undertaken than the comparison of "The Merchant
of Venice " with "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." The differences most to be noted are in characterization and, as to poetry, sustained power. As to the former, compare Antonio with Valentine or Sir Thurio, Portia with Silvia, Nerissa with Lucetta, and see how much more clearly outlined are the former than the latter; how much more vital their fibre; how much more brain they have behind their eyes. Then look in vain in the earlier play for any figure
with which to compare the fierce, fawning, crafty, eager, bloodthirsty Shylock. "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is a love-play, pure and simple (for the friendly devotion of the two gentlemen, a
common incident in the romances of Shakespeare's day, is plainly introduced merely for the purpose
of the complications that it brings about); and yet compare any or all of it with Scene 2 of Act V., or with the whole fifth act of "The Merchant of Venice." The superior charm of the latter, the
greater warmth and earnestness of its passion, must
be at once apparent to the most superficial reader. But the author's advance is shown perhaps more than
in any other point in the boldness and freedom with which he handles his material, and in the skill shown
in the dramatic construction of his play. In humor the difference is not so greatly in favor of the later
work. Launce and his dog are little, if at all, inferior to Launcelot Gobbo. In both this play and its
predecessor there is a pair of friends; but beware of being led by that fact into the assumption that they
are companion plays, having friendship for their central idea, and illustrating it by the opposite conduct
of Proteus and Antonio. Shakespeare did not write plays with central ideas; and in all such incidents as
those referred to he merely followed the course or the indications of the stories upon which he worked, as
will appear in a very marked manner in the next play that we shall examine.
About the period of his life when "The Merchant of Venice" was produced Shakespeare's attention
seems to have been chiefly given to Italian literature, then the first and almost the only national literature
in the world, and the school and the storehouse of writers of other races. An Italian story of a pair
of hapless lovers, which had been repeated in a long and tedious English ballad version, was taken by him
as the plot and almost as the substance of his first tragedy. "Romeo and Juliet" was written very soon
after "The Merchant of Venice;" within a year or a year and a half of it. It is in its spirit and sentiment the most youthful of all Shakespeare's plays, not to say of his tragedies. "Love's Labour 's Lost," his first play, is much older in its cast of thought, and although a comedy, much graver and more sententious
in style than this tragedy. This appearance of greater youthfulness of feeling in his poetry is the result of a
greater experience of life. It is a sign that the poet had grown a few years older. There is no gravity so
grave, no sententiousness so sententious, no wisdom so didactic, as that of an intelligent young man whose
twenty-one or twenty-two years weigh heavily upon his consciousness. About ten years afterward he begins
to find out that he and life and the world are young. And so it was that at thirty-two Shakespeare gave the
world in a tragedy, the freshest, sweetest breath of life's springtime that ever was uttered by a poet's lips.
It is at least probable, however, that the play as we have it in the folio bears the marks of a revision of an
earlier composition. The numerous rhymes and the occurrence of very young and extremely fanciful poetry such, for example, as Juliet's passage containing the request that Romeo should be cut up into little
stars (Act III. Sc. 2) favor this inference.
Very many wise and subtle theories as to Shakespeare's purpose in this play have been set forth by
critics who engage in the task of approfounding him. They have discovered that he wished to show
in Romeo the ephemeral quality of one kind of love and the enduring quality of the other, and how the
latter drives out the former; that the play was intended as a companion to "Troilus and Cressida," and
that the faithful Juliet is presented as an instructive contrast to the faithless Cressida; and that the moral
which the tragedy was written to enforce is, according to one view, the deference due to the wishes of parents; according to the others, the punishment which is sure to fall upon those who cherish family hatred.
Ingenious and pretty, but vain fancies. All the incidents in the play Shakespeare found in the dreary
old ballad, the course of events in which he merely adopted without change other than their adornment
with the splendor of his thought. The Romeo of the old ballad loves and changes his love just as the Romeo of the tragedy does; Juliet is faithful there just as Cressida is faithless in Chaucer's poem, to which
Shakespeare went for his "Troilus and Cressida;" and from the old story in the ballad, and not from
Shakespeare's mind, came any lesson of the duty of filial deference; for there Juliet gives herself to the
enemy of her family just as she does in the tragedy, and comes to the same end. Shakespeare merely
dramatized the old ballad to make a play to please his audience, just as any hack playwright might today,
who was engaged by a manager to do a like task. It merely happened that he was William Shakespeare,
and had a peculiar way of doing such things. As to a moral, plainly nothing was further from Shakespeare's thought. The tragedy is hardly tragic, but rather a dramatic love-poem with a sad ending. There
are few young men, and fewer young women, with a touch of sentiment, who do not lay down the tragedy
after a first reading with the feeling that it would have been sweet to die like Romeo or like Juliet. Not
so do we, young or old, read "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Lear," "Othello."
To the second period of Shakespeare's dramatic life belong his most charming comedies, "Much Ado About
Nothing," "Twelfth Night," and "As You Like It," which, with "The Merchant of Venice," are much
better suited to representation than his later dramas which are ranged under this title. They may well be
read in this order directly after "Romeo and Juliet;" and although they are comedies and that is a tragedy,
it will be found that they are more thoughtful, more solid, and graver. Shakespeare's growing mastery of
his art may be justly estimated by the comparison of two personages in "Much Ado About Nothing," Benedick and Beatrice, with two of the same sort, having mentally and morally great likeness to them, Birone
and Rosaline, in "Love's Labour 's Lost." The plays are separated in their production by about nine years.
Benedick and Beatrice are known the whole world over as types of character, and their speeches are familiar to our ears and upon our lips. Birone and Rosaline are known only to students of Shakespeare, and
they have contributed little or nothing to the world's common stock of pregnant phrases.
The student who proposes to enter upon the well-worked field of Shakespearean criticism, or to become
his editor, might have his attention directed to certain
minute traits of Shakespeare's versification in this second period. But to one who only seeks to enjoy
Shakespeare's poetry and his dramatic creations, and to follow the development of his powers, this would be
dry, almost arithmetical, and quite unprofitable work. Nor can these traits of mere external form be relied
upon with reasonable confidence. Their value as criterions depends in a great measure upon the theory of
probabilities and of chances; and this, although it is a safe guide as to the action of mankind, cannot be
trusted as regards the action of one man. For in the latter case there enter into the problem the indeterminable quantities of will, preference, deliberate intention, passing freak, and unconscious mood. We may establish a formula by which we may determine with reasonable certainty how many letters will be
dropped into a certain post-office without addresses, or unsealed, during a year; but we cannot in the same
way determine how many in like condition any one man has dropped in, or will drop in, during the same
time; for we can never be acquainted with all the circumstances and impulses which influence his action.
Metrical tests, of whatever kind, have a value in the establishment of the order of production of a poet's
works; but they are secondary and accessory, and must be considered only in connection with all other
evidence, external and internal.
Merely adding that "King Henry V" may be read now, or, if the student pleases, immediately after the
Second Part of "King Henry IV," I shall pass to the consideration of the plays of the third period.
FOOTNOTE 1: It is almost imperatively necessary that I should mention this fact in
self-protection. The judges, as I have reason to believe, recognized it; but they felt obliged to give their decision "in favor of the best essay before them," as it was not a bald plagiarism.
How to cite this article:
White, Richard Grant. Studies in Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1887. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/secondperiod.html >.