James Shirley Poems

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James Shirley
James Shirley (or Sherley) (September 1596 – October 1666), was an English dramatist. He belonged to the great period of English dramatic literature, but, in Lamb's words, he "claims a place among the worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common. " His career of play writing extended from 1625 to the suppression of stage plays by Parliament in 1642. Shirley was born in London. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, London, St John's College, Oxford, and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. degree in or before 1618. His first poem, Echo, or the Unfortunate Lovers (of which no copy is known, but which is probably the same as Narcissus of 1646), was published in 1618. After earning his M.A., he was, Wood says, "a minister of God's word in or near St Albans. " Apparently in consequence of his conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, he left his living, and was master of St Albans School from 1623–25. His first play, Love Tricks, seems to have been written while he was teaching at St Albans. He removed in 1625 to London, where he lived in Gray's Inn, and for eighteen years from that time he was a prolific writer for the stage, producing more than thirty regular plays, tragedies, comedies, and tragicomedies, and showing no sign of exhaustion when a stop was put to his occupation by the Puritan edict of 1642. Most of his plays were performed by Queen Henrietta's Men, the playing company for which Shirley served as house dramatist, much as Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Massinger had done for the King's Men. Shirley's sympathies were with the King in his disputes with Parliament and he received marks of special favor from the Queen. He made a bitter attack on William Prynne, who had attacked the stage in Histriomastix, and, when in 1634 a special masque was presented at Whitehall by the gentlemen of the Inns of Court as a practical reply to Prynne, Shirley supplied the text—The Triumph of Peace. Between 1636 and 1640 Shirley went to Ireland, under the patronage apparently of the Earl of Kildare. Three or four of his plays were produced by his friend John Ogilby in Dublin in the theatre in Werburgh Street, the first ever built in Ireland and at the time of Shirley's visit only one year old. During his Dublin stay, Shirley wrote The Doubtful Heir, The Royal Master, The Constant Maid, and St. Patrick for Ireland. In his absence from London, Queen Henrietta's Men sold off a dozen of his plays to the stationers, who published them in the late 1630s. Shirley, when he returned to London in 1640, would no longer work for the Queen Henrietta's company as a result; his final plays of his London career were acted by the King's Men. On the outbreak of the English Civil War he seems to have served with the Earl of Newcastle, but when the King's fortunes began to decline he returned to London. He owed something to the kindness of Thomas Stanley, but supported himself chiefly by teaching, publishing some educational works under the Commonwealth. Besides these he published during the period of dramatic eclipse four small volumes of poems and plays, in 1646, 1653, 1655, and 1659. He "was a drudge" for John Ogilby in his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and survived into the reign of Charles II, but, though some of his comedies were revived, he did not again attempt to write for the stage. Wood says that he and his second wife died of fright and exposure after the Great Fire of London, and were buried at St Giles in the Fields on October 29, 1666. Shirley was born to great dramatic wealth, and he handled it freely. He constructed his own plots out of the abundance of materials that had been accumulated during thirty years of unexampled dramatic activity. He did not strain after novelty of situation or character, but worked with confident ease and buoyant copiousness on the familiar lines, contriving situations and exhibiting characters after types whose effectiveness on the stage had been proved by ample experience. He spoke the same language with the great dramatists, it is true, but this grand style is sometimes employed for the artificial elevation of commonplace thought. "Clear as day" becomes in this manner "day is not more conspicuous than this cunning"; while the proverb "Still waters run deep" is ennobled into—"The shallow rivers glide away with noise—The deep are silent. The violence and exaggeration of many of his contemporaries left him untouched. His scenes are ingeniously conceived, his characters boldly and clearly drawn; and he never falls beneath a high level of stage effect.

death the leveller
The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armo... [read poem]
cease, warring thoughts
Cease, warring thoughts, and let his brain
No more discord entertain,
But be smooth and ca... [read poem]
leave me, o love, which reachest but to dust
Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xxxi
With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!... [read poem]
an absolutely ordinary rainbow
The word goes round Repins, the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
At Tattersalls, men look up from ... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xli
Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance
Guided so well that I obtain'd the prize,
Both... [read poem]
song from arcadia
My true-love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I hol... [read poem]
astrophel and stella iii
Let dainty wits cry on the sisters nine,
That, bravely mask'd, their fancies may be told;
... [read poem]
astrophel and stella lxxxiv
Highway, since you my chief Parnassus be,
And that my Muse, to some ears not unsweet,
Temp... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xxiii
The curious wits, seeing dull pensiveness
Bewray itself in my long-settl'd eyes,
Whence th... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xxxix
Come Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,... [read poem]
ring out your bells
Ring out your bells, let mourning shows be spread;
For Love is dead--
All love is dead... [read poem]
you gote-heard gods

You Gote-heard Gods, that loue the grassie mountaines,
You Nimphes th... [read poem]
astrophel and stella vii
When Nature made her chief work, Stella's eyes,
In colour black why wrapt she beams so bright?... [read poem]
astrophel and stella lxiv
No more, my dear, no more these counsels try;
Oh, give my passions leave to run their race;... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xcii
Be your words made, good sir, of Indian ware,
That you allow me them by so small rate?
Or ... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xv
You that do search for every purling spring
Which from the ribs of old Parnassus flows,
An... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xxxiii
I might!--unhappy word--O me, I might,
And then would not, or could not, see my bliss;
Til... [read poem]
astrophel and stella xx
Fly, fly, my friends, I have my death wound, fly!
See there that boy, that murd'ring boy, I say... [read poem]
astrophel and stella lxxi
Who will in fairest book of nature know
How virtue may best lodg'd in beauty be,
Let him b... [read poem]
eleventh song
"Who is it that this dark night
Underneath my window plaineth?"
It is one who from thy sig... [read poem]
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