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MANY letters have come to me during the last few years asking what seems to me a very strange question- How to read Shakespeare. My answer would naturally be the way to read Shakespeare is to read him. The rest follows as matter of course. If, not having read before, you read anywhere, you will know a new delight; you will read more; you will go on; in your eager reading you will consume the book. Having read all, you will read again, and now will begin to ponder, and compare, and analyze, and seek to fathom; and having got thus far, you will have found an occupation which lights with pleasure the whole of your leisure life. This seems to me to be the natural way of reading Shakespeare. This is the way in which I have found that most of the truest lovers of Shakespeare came to know him, to delight in him, and finally to wait upon him with a kind of intellectual worship. It is hard for these men to apprehend that there are others not without intelligence and education, and who read, who have not read Shakespeare, or who having read a little of him do not read more. But there are such men ; and there are still many more such women. On the whole I am inclined to think that
Shakespeare is not a woman's poet.
He deals too largely with life; he handles the very elements of human nature; he has a great fancy, but is not fanciful; his imagination moulds the essential and the central rather than the external; he is rarely sentimental, never except in his youngest work. Women, with the exception of a few who are not always the most lovable or the happiest of the sex, like something upon a lower plane, something that appeals more directly to them, because it was written to appeal directly to some one else (for in literature that which is directed to one point always keeps its aim); they like the personal, the external; that which seems to be showing them either themselves or some other real person. Shakespeare's humor, which is equalled by no other, but most nearly approached by Sir Walter Scott's when he is in his happiest moods, is appreciated by still fewer women than the number who find pleasure in his poetry. They receive it in rather a dazed fashion, and don't know exactly what it means. All this, just as they would rather look at a woman of the first fashion in a dress of their time than at the grand simplicity of ideal woman in the Venus (so-called) of Melos.
Then there are people who read Shakespeare as an elder acquaintance of my boyish years read him. He asked me if I would lend him my Shakespeare. Stripling as I was, I thought it a strange thing for a fellow who lived in a big, handsome house to borrow; but I lent him my treasure. He brought it back the day but one afterward, with the remark that he "liked it very much," which I heard with mingled amusement and amazement. Yet he was a not unintelligent youth, did well in life, and becoming a man of wealth,