Qualities of Shakespeare in His Genius Works

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       Shakespeare's activity as a dramatist extends over a period of twenty four years from 1588 to 1612. During that time his style steadily developed in the direction of greater freedom, so that it is possible by applying certain metrical tests to classify his plays chronologically. Shakespeare wrote about thirty-seven plays in the course of his dramatic authorship. His plays as a rule are grouped in four periods.

Shakespeare is the world's greatest dramatist. He is of all ages. His appeal is eternal. He wrote for his age; he satisfied the taste of Elizabethan audience; he was immensely popular; he made immense fortune.

      First period (1588-1595): This period is called by Prof. Dowden In the Workshop which includes Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, 1, 2, 3, Richard II, Richard II; Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Mid-Summer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet.

      Second period (1595-1601): Dowden calls this period In the World. Shakespeare wrote his famous comedies during this period: The Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing. As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night. He also wrote historical plays like King John, Henry IV, 1 and 2, Henry V. This was the period when Shakespeare's imagination glowed to white heat and he wrote copiously.

      Third period (1601-1608): This is called by Prof. Dowden "out of the depth." Shakespeare wrote his great tragedies - Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. He also wrote the problem comedies like. All's Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure. Shakespeare during this period grappled with evil and plumbed the depths of life. He also wrote Antony and Cleopatra and Cariolanus, two tragedies based on Roman history during this period.

      The fourth period includes his romances - Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest. Pericles is also attributed to Shakespeare during this period. This period is called by Prof. Dowden "On the Heights". Shakespeare attained an autumnal serenity of outlook and with The Tempest he bade farewell to the stage and returned to his village-Stratford on Avon in order to live a peaceful life of well-earned rest.

      Besides these plays, two other plays, Timon of Athens and Henry VIll are also attributed to Shakespeare. He wrote two non-dramatic poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He wrote as many as 157 sonnets which made significant contributions to the history of sonnet-writing.

      Shakespeare is the world's greatest dramatist. He is of all ages. His appeal is eternal. He wrote for his age; he satisfied the taste of Elizabethan audience; he was immensely popular; he made immense fortune. But his dramas are read and staged even today in the twentieth century. The taste of the audience has changed; the dramas of the age have changed but the appeal of Shakespeare remains undiminished. What is the reason of this universality of Shakespeare? Shakespeare's greatness lies in his power to combine the particular with the universal, the demands of the age in which he wrote with the requirements of great literature. His tragedies are full of stir and melodrama but his superb characterisation and glorious poetry make them great works of art. His comedies have farce and horse play but his sunny view of life and vivid presentation of characters make them plays of universal interest. In his plays, modern readers can discern many of the new ideas of the Twetieth century.

      Shakespeare is a poet as well as a dramatist. It is the peculiar blending of poetry and drama that gives to his plays their intense attraction. Poetry and drama make an organic whole. His conception of characters highly imaginative and poetic and his execution of these characters shows his power of imagination as well as his grasp of reality. His plays are rich in poetry. Some of his plays have lyrical passages which are unsurpassed in beauty.

      As a matter of fact, Shakespeare's uniqueness lies in comprehending human characters and depicting them in imaginative and realistic art. It has been truly observed by Sir Walter Raleigh that the greatness of Shakespeare lies in the range and depth of his sympathetic imagination, He has command over all the passions and emotions of the human heart. His insight into human nature is well illustrated in the wonderful truth and individuality of his portraits. He can bring out the contradictions and paradoxes of characters with impartial realism. It is his broad imaginative sympathy that makes his characters vivid and real. His characters with absolute detachment, he can paint a villain like lago and a hero like Hamlet with equal sympathy. His characters are individuals with their good and bad traits. He can enter into the minds of all and can 'become' them when he paints them. It is this 'protean plasticity', this power of complete extinction of his personality in the conception and execution of characters that constitute the chief quality of his genius.

      Shakespeare is a cheerful spectator of men and things. He is an artist who paints life. He sees life steadily and sees it whole. But he does not identify himself with this side or that of life. He presents every thing-good and bad. Life is a mingled yarn composed of good and bad. It is this totality of vision that makes Shakespeare great.

      Shakespeare's plays are a mixture of conventions and originality. He utilises all the conventions of the age- its supernaturalism, its melodrama, its force and its crude elements, But he transforms them into something new by the power of his imagination. His Hamlet has melodrama but is not a mere melodrama. The mysterious character of Hamlet and its glorious poetry make it a thing of beauty which is a joy for ever. As You Like lt has weak plot and crude buffoonery, but its gallery of portraits and various points of view represented there make it a great work of art,

      Shakespeare showed a variety of gifts which make for the highest excellent of his plays. His flexibility of power is marvellous. The most diverse matertaid have been used by him in his plays and there he has treated with equal ardour and joy. National history, tragedy, comedy, romantic and fairy plays, all branches of drama he has touched and he has turned them into gold. Even within one species he has rung infinite variations so that the conventional classification of plays hardly applies to his works. Besides, Shakespeare "it never found twice at the same point. No two characters are the repetitions of one another. Other dramatists of the period might have matched Shakespeare in one particular gift, but no dramatist can match him in the artistic combination of all the gift. He has pathos and sublimity, fun and humour, depth and breadth, intensity and sweep. He has shown the ugliness of life as well as its beauty, sordidness as well as its glory.

      Finally, a good deal of the beauty of Shakespeare's plays comes out of the perfection of style and versification, variety of imagery and melody of versification. His style is infinitely varied and suited to the mood of mind to which it gives expression. His words are winged and have a rich magic effect. The great speeches of his tragic heroes illustrate his quality. His images are functional-they illustrate the characters and indicate the development of situations. He has fine 'felicity of expressions' by which he can describe all the moods and moments of the characters. The blank verse of Shakespeare is an instrument of hundred stops, varied to the whisperings of the lover as well as the fierce declamations of a tragic hero. His blank verse is flexible and plastic. He can adapt it to every mood and every situation.

      All these qualities make Shakespeare unrivalled among English dramatists, indeed among all dramatists of the world. Even the modern dramatists draw inspiration and influence from him. They find all the social and human problems touched by Shakespeare. Hamlet is an illustration of the theory of existentialism as well as mother fixation; King is an elaboration of altruistic philosophy; The Merchant of Venice is a plea for racial tolerance; his socialistic ideas are scattered here and there in many of his plays. Moreover, his plays bear the impress of Renaissance and mediaeval world picture. The thoughts of the age-of Machiavelli, Montaigne and others are reflected in his plays. Social historians find much materials for their ideas in his plays. Thus Shakespeare is not of Elizabethan age-he belongs to ages and all climes.

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