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."