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Full text of "William Shakespeare: a biography"

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WILLIAM SHAK8PEEE 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



U. CI.AY, Si.X, AND TAYLOK, 1'RINTERS, 
l;i;r..\I> STKEKT HIM.. 



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I- iKTi: \IT.- of -II SKSI'KHK. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE: 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



BY CHAELES KNIGHT. 



THE THIRD EDITION, 
REVISED AND AUGMENTED. 



" All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspere is that he was born at Stratford- 
npon-Avon married and had children there went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems 
and plays returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried." STEEVENS. 

" Along with that tomb-stone information, perhaps even without much of it, we could have liked to gain 
some answer, in one way or other, to this wide question : What and how was ENGLISH LIFE in Shakspere's 
time ; wherein has ours grown to differ therefrom ? in other words : What things have we to forget, what to 
fancy and remember, before we, from such distance, can put ourselves in Sliakspere's place ; and so, in the full 
sense of the term, understand him, his sayings, and his doings?" CAULYLE. 



LONDON: 
GEOEGE EOUTLEDGE AND SONS, 

BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL. 
129, GRAND STREET, NEW YORK. 

1865. 



LONDON : 

R. CLAY, SON, AND TAYLOR, PRINTERS, 
BREAD STREET HILL. 



PR 
a.9 

KS 



9QQt7 



PREFACE. 



THIS is a new edition, with large alterations and additional matter, grounded 
upon more recent information, of a volume published in 1843. That book 
has been long out of print ; and it is a gratification to me to re-produce it 
thoroughly revised. 

The two mottoes in the title-page express the principle upon which this 
'Biography' has been written. That from Steevens shows, with a self-evident 
exaggeration of its author, how scanty are the materials for a Life of Shakspere, 
properly so called. Indeed, every Life of him must, to a certain extent, be 
conjectural; and all the Lives that have been written are in great part con 
jectural. My ' Biography ' is only so far more conjectural than any other, as 
regards the form which it assumes ; by which it has been endeavoured to 
associate Shakspere with the circumstances around him, in a manner which 
may fix them in the mind of the reader by exciting his interest. 

I fully agree with Mr. Hunter, with regard to the want of information on 
the life of Shakspere, that he is, in this respect, in the state in which most 
of his contemporary poets are Spenser for instance but with this difference 1 , 
that we do know more concerning Shakspere than we know of most of his 
contemporaries of the same class. Admitting this sound reasoning, I still 
believe that the attempt which I ventured to make, for the first time in 
English Literature, to write a Biography which, in the absence of Diaries and 
Letters, should surround the known facts with the local and temporary circum 
stances, and with the social relations amidst which one of so defined a position 
must have moved, was not a freak of fancy, but an approximation to the 
truth, which could not have been reached by a mere documentary narrative. 

a 2 



PREFACE. 

What I proposed thus to do is shown in the second motto, from Mr. 
Carlyle's admirable article on Dr. Johnson, I having ventured to substitute 
the name of "Shakspere" for that of "Johnson.". I might have accomplished 
the same end by writing a short notice of Shakspere, accompanied by a 
History of Manners and Customs, a History of the Stage, &c. &c. The form 
I have adopted may appear fanciful, but the narrative essentially rests upon 
facts. I venture, therefore, to think that I have made the course of Shakspere 
clear and consistent, without any extravagant theories, and with some successful 
resistance to long received prejudices. 

Since the publication of the original edition of this volume in 1843, there 
have been considerable accessions to the documentary materials for the Life 
of Shakspere. Many of these are curious and valuable; others are memorials 
of that diligent antiquarianism, whose results are not always proportionate 
to its labour. I have availed myself of any real information which has been 
brought to light during the last two-and-tvventy years, and I have in every 
case ascribed the merit of any discovery to its proper author. 

CHAELES KNIGHT. 

1865 



CONTENTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS 

TO 

THE BIOaEAPHY. 

From Original Drawings by W. HARVEY; the Fac-similes and Autographs by F. W. FAIBHOLT. 



BOOK I. 

Page 
Half-title to Book I. Shakspere's Youthful Visions 1 



CHAPTER L ANCESTRY. 
Page 



Ornamental Head-piece 3 

Arms of John Shakspere 6 



Village of Wilmecote 9 

Church of Aston Cantlow 12 



CHAPTER II. STRATFORD. 
Clopton's Bridge 13 | Fac-simile of autographs to Corporation Deed 16 



CHAPTER III. THE REGISTER. 



Ancient Font, formerly in Stratford Church 23 

Fac-simile of baptismal register of W. Shakspere... 24 
The Church Avenue 27 



Stratford Church, east end, with charnel-house 28 

John Shakspere's House in Henley Street 32 



CHAPTER IV. THE SCHOOL. 



Inner Court of the Grammar School, Stratford 34 

Interior of the Grammar School 47 



Martyrdom of Thomas a Becket, from an ancient 
painting in the chapel of the Holy Cross 48 



Chapel of the Guild, and Grammar School , street front 47 

Note on John Shakspere's Confession of Faith 50 



CHAPTER V. THE SCHOOLBOY'S WORLD. 
Village of Aston Cantlow 51 | The Fair 57 



CHAPTER VI. HOLIDAYS. 



The Boundary Elm, Stratford 62 

May-day at Shottery 68 

Bidford Bridge 71 



Clopton House 75 

The Clopton Monument in Stratford Church 78 



CHAPTER VII. KENILWORTH. 



Chimney-piece in Gatehouse at Kenilworth 77 

Queen Elizabeth 79 

Gascoigne 82 

The Merry Marriage Kenilworth Gate 84 



Earl of L icester 85 

Ruins of Kenilworth in the 17th Century 89 

Entrance to the Hall 90 



"\TENTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS. 



. CHAPTER VIII. -PAGEANTS. 

Page Pae 

Coventry Crow 93 Ancient Gate of Coventry, 1842* mn 

Coventry Churches and Pageants 97 

Note on the Coventry Pageant* 1( >* 

CHAPTER IX. HOME. 

Stratford Church and Mill. From a drawing of Stratford Church West End 116 

the beginning of the lait century 105 Chimney Corner of Kitchen in Henley Street 120 

The Fire-side. Kitchen of House in Henley Street 111 

Note on the Stratford Register* 116 

Note on the alleged Poverty of John Shakspere 118 

Note on the School Life of William Shakspere 119 

CHAPTER X. THE PLAYERS AT STRATFORD. 

The Bailiffs Play 121 I Thomas Sackville 144 

Itinerant Playeri [R. W. BUM] 128 I 

Note on Sidney's Defence of Poesy 145 

CHAPTER XL LIVING IN THE PAST. 

Guy's Cliff in the Seventeenth Century 146 Ancient Statue of Guy at Guy's Cliff 155 

Chapel at Guy's Cliff 147 St. Mary's Hall, court front 157 

Tomb of King John at Worcester 151 Warwick Castle, from the Island 158 

Bridge at Evesham 153 Beauchamp Chapel, Warwick 160 

Mill at Gay's Cliff 154 

CHAPTER XII. YORK AND LANCASTER. 

St. Mary's Hall, Interior 161 St. Mary's Hall, street front 171 

Battle Field at Shrewsbury [G. f. Sargent] 165 Tewksbury 17^ 

Entrance to Warwick Castle .. 167 Leicester 176 

Warwick from Lodge Hill 168 

CHAPTER XI IL RUINS, NOT OF TIME. 

Evesham. The Bell Tower 177 Old Houses, Evesham 183 

Evesham. Ancient Gateway 179 Bengeworth Church, seen through the Arch of the 

Parish Churches, Bvesham 181 Bell Tower ... 187 

CHAPTER XIV. SOCIAL HOURS. 

Welford Church 188 Clmlcote House, from the Avon 212 

Great Hillborougb 196 House in Charlcote Village 213 

Mrl Cliff., near Bidford .< 197 Charlcote House, from the Garden 219 

Bidford 198 Fulbrooke 221 

Bidford Crab-tree 201 Hampton Lucy Church 223 

Bidford Grange 204 Daisy Hiu o., 4 

Charlcote Church 205 Ingon Hill 228 

Deer Barn. Fulbrooke 209 Snitterfield 230 

Charlcote House, from the Avenue 211 Map of the neighbourhood of Stratford 232 

Not* on the Shakuperian Localities ... 231 

CHAPTER XV. SOLITARY HOURS. 

Hampton Lucy. From Road near Alveston 233 Spenser . 246 

Meadow. ne.r Welford 237 B elow Charlcote ili... 860 

243 Near Alveston 

Old Church of Hampton Lucy 244 Near Ludington 254 

" A 245 The MU1, Welford..... 256 

' ATOn 245 The Marl Cliff. 

* on the Scenery of the A Ton 254 



CONTENTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS. 



CHAPTER XVI. A DAY AT, WORCESTER. 

Page Page 

Worcester 258 Nunnery at Salford 274 

Shottery Cottage .'. 267 Pershore 275 

Clifford Church 269 Worcester Cathedral 276 

Note on Christening Customs 277 

Note on' Shakspere's Marriage Licence .- 277 

CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST RIDE TO LONDON. 

Palace of Woodstock 279 Christchurch in the Sixteenth Century 293 

Entries in Stratford Register (fac-similes) 281 Ancient View of St. James's and Westminster 294 

Baliol College in the Sixteenth Century 291 London from Blackfriars, in the Sixteenth Cemury 295 

Divinity Schools ditto 292 

Note on Aubrey's Life of Shakspere 296 

BOOK II. 

Shakspere's Visions of Maturity 297 

CHAPTER I. A NEW PLAY. 

A Play at the ttlackfriars 299 | Thomas Greene 304 

Note on the date of Nash's Epistle prefixed to Menaphon 39? 

Note on Marlowe 328 

CHAPTER II. THE COURT AT GREENWICH. 

The Misfortunes of Arthur 330 Queen Elizabeth 333 

Sir F. Bacon 332 Sir Walter Raleigh 335 

Note on Hentzner's Account of the Court at Greenwich 337 

CHAPTER III. THE MIGHTY HEART. 

Funeral of Sidney 338 Procession to St. Paul's 344 

Earl of Leicester 340 Howard of Effingham 345 

Sir Philip Sidney 341 Sir F. Drake 346 

Camp at Tilbury 342 Spenser 352 

CHAPTER IV. HOW CHANCES IT THEY TRAVEL. 

Richmond Palace 353 Ancient View of Cambridge 359 

St. James's 355 Merry Wives of Windsor, performed before Queen 

Lord Hunsdon 356 Elizabeth at Windsor 368 

Somerset House 357 

Note on Shakspere's occupations in 1593 370 

CHAPTER V. THE GLOBE. 

The Globe Theatre 371 Seal and Autograph of Susanna Hall 378 

Entry in Parish Register of Stratford of the Burial Autograph of Judith Shakspere 378 

of Hamnet Shakspere 377 Richard Burbage 382 

CHAPTER VI. WIT-COMBATS. 

The Falcon Tavern 383 John Donne 397 

Ben Jonson 387 Michael Drayton 399 

John Taylor 389 Samuel Daniel 400 

George Chapman 393 John Lowin 407 

John Fletcher 395 

Note on Marston's ' Malecontent' ... 407 



CONTKXTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS. 



Page 

Essex House...- 40 

Robert Cecil - 4ls 



CHAPTER VII. EVIL DAYS. 

Par simile of the Register of the Burial of John 



Earl of K.scx 



416 



Shakspere 



41R 



< IIAPTER VIII. DID SHAKSPERE VISIT SCOTLAND? 

Linlithgow 456 

Stirling 457 

Falkland 

Aberdeen 40 



Kdinburgh in the Seventeenth Century 410 

Perth, and Vicinity 427 

4.10 
Duniinanc 

(ilainii CaMlr 431 



Jamei the Sixth ofScotland, and First of England 44P Berwick 4fl 

Carlisle - 45S Alnwick Castle 464 

Holy rood House 455 

Note on the Queen of Elphen... 444 

CHAPTER IX. LABOURS AND REWARDS. 

Hall of the Middle Temple 465 Tenement at Stratford 471 

Interior of the Temple Church 467 Funeral of Queen Elizabeth 472 

Autograph of William Combe 468 William Herbert. Earl of Pembroke 474 

Ditto of John Combe 468 Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery 475 

Facsimile of Conveyance 468 Wolsey's Hall, Hampton Court 476 

Harelield 470 Banqueting-House, Whitehall 477 

Note on the Patent to the Company acting at the Globe 480 

CHAPTER X. REST. 

The Garden of New Place 481 Fac-simi!e of entry in Parish Register of the Mar- 
Monument of SirThoma? Lucy 490 riage of John Hall and Susanna fhakspere 498 

The College 493 Signature of Dr. Hall 499 

Ancient Hall in the College 494 House in the High Street, Stratford 499 

New Place, from a drawing in the margin of an Bishopton Chapel 500 

ancient Survey, made by order of Sir George Foot-bridge abo\e the Mill 501 

Carew 497 Stratford Church 502 

Note on the copy of a Letter signed H. S., preserved at Bridgewater House 504 

CHAPTER XI. GLIMPSES OF LONDON. 

The Bear Garden 509 Francis Beaumont 519 

Edward Alleyn 511 Philip Massinger 520 

William Drummond 513 Nathaniel Field 521 

William Alexander, Earl of Stirling 514 Thomas Middleton 522 

Thomas Dekker fi!7 

Note on the Conveyance to Shakspere in 1613 523 

CHAPTER XII. THE LAST BIRTHDAY. 

Chancel of Stratford Church 524 Fac-imile of entry in Parish Register of the burial 

Monument of John Combe 530 of Anne Shakspere 543 

Leicester's Hospital, Warwick 532 Ditto of the burial of Susanna Hall ~. 543 

Weston Church _ 533 Ditto of the burial of Judith Quiney 544 

Facsimile of entry in Parish Register of the Mar- Autograph of Eliza Barnard 544 

ri*ge of Thomas Quiney and Judilh Shakspere... 533 Autographs of Shakspere 547 

Signature of Thomas Quiney 533 Shakspere from Roubiliac's Monument 549 

Monument at Stratford 539 shakspere's bust from the Monument at Stratford 551 

Sh*kpre's Will 539 

Note on some Points in Shakspere's Will 542 

Note on Autographs 545 

Stratford Registers ... 543 

Note on the Portrait* of Shakspere 549 

Note on the 8hak<pere House and New Place ... 552 




BOOK I. 



CHAPTER I. 

ANCESTEY. 



ON the 22nd of August, 1485, there was a battle fought for the crown of Eng- 
land, a short battle ending in a decisive victory. In that field a crowned king, 
" manfully fighting in the middle of his enemies, was slain and brought to his 
death;" and a politic adventurer put on the crown, which the immediate de 
scendants of his house wore for nearly a century and a quarter. The battle 
field was Bosworth. " When the earl had thus obtained victory and slain his 
mortal enemy, he kneeled down and rendered to Almighty God his hearty 
thanks, with devout and godly orisons. . . . Which prayer finished, he, 
replenished with incomparable gladness, ascended up to the top of a little moun 
tain, where he not only praised and lauded his valiant soldiers, but also gave 
unto them his hearty thanks, with promise of condign recompense for their fide 
lity and valiant facts."* Two months afterwards the Earl of Richmond was 

Hall's Chroniclo. 



WILLIAM 8HAKSPERE : 

more solemnly crowned and anointed at Westminster by the name of King 
Henry VII.; and "after this," continues the chronicler, "he began to remember 
his especial friends and fautors, of whom some he advanced to honour arid dig 
nity, and some he enriched with possessions and goods, every man according to 
his desert and merit."* Was there in that victorious army of the Earl of Rich- 
mond, which Richard denounced as a " company of traitors, thieves, outlaws, 
and runagates," an Englishman bearing the name of Chacksper, or Shakespeyre, 
or Schakespere, or Schakespeire, or Schakspere, or Shakespere, or Shakspere, { 
a martial name, however spelt? " Breakespear, Shakespear, and the like, have 
been surnames imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour and feats of 
arms."J Of the warlike achievements of this Shakspere there is no record : his 
name or his deeds would have no interest for us unless there had been born, 
eighty years after this battle-day, a direct descendant from him 

" Whose muse, full of high thought's invention, 
Doth like himself heroically tound ; " 

a Shakspere, of whom it was also said 

" He seems to shake a lance 
As brandish' d at the eyes of ignorance.'' II 

Certainly there was a Shakspere, the paternal ancestor of William Shakspere, 
who, if he stood not nigh the little mountain when the Earl of Richmond promised 
condign recompense to his valiant soldiers, was amongst those especial friends 
and fautors whom Henry VII. enriched with possessions and goods. A public 
document bearing the date of 1596 affirms of John Shakspere of Stratford-upon- 
Avon, the father of William Shakspere, that his " parent and late antecessors 
were, for their valiant and faithful services, advanced and rewarded of the most 
prudent prince King Henry VII. of famous memory;" and it adds, " sithence 
which time they have continued at those parts [Warwickshire] in good reputa 
tion and credit." Another document of a similar character, bearing the date of 
1599, also affirms upon "creditable report," of "John Shakspere, now of Strat 
ford -upon- Avon, in the county of Warwick, gentleman," that his " parent and 
great-grandfather, late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service to the 
late most prudent prince King Henry VII. of famous memory, was advanced 
and rewarded with lands and tenements, given to him in those parts of War 
wickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation and 
credit." Such are the recitals of two several grants of arms to John Shakspere, 
confirming a previous grant made to him in 1569; and let it not be said that 
these statements were the rhodomontades of heraldry, honours bestowed, for 
mere mercenary considerations, upon any pretenders to gentle blood. There was 
strict inquiry if they were unworthily bestowed. Two centuries and a half ago 

Hall's Chronicle. 

+ A list of the brethren and sisters of the Guild of Knowle, near Rowington, in Warwickshire, 
exhibit* a great number of the name of Shakspere in that fraternity, from about 1460 to 1527; 
and the names are spelt with the diversity here given, Shakspere being the latest. 

t Verstegan's 'Restitution,' &c. Spenser. || Ben Jonson. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

such honours were of grave importance ; and there is a solemnity in the tone of 
these very documents which, however it may provoke a smile from what we call 
philosophy, was connected with high and generous principles : " Know ye that 
in all nations and kingdoms the record and remembrance of the valiant facts and 
virtuous dispositions of worthy men have been made known and divulged by 
certain shields of arms and tokens of chivalry." In those parts of Warwickshire, 
then, lived and died, we may assume, the faithful and approved servant of the 
" unknown Welshman," as Richard called him, who won for himself the more 
equivocal name of " the most prudent prince." He was probably advanced in 
years when Henry ascended the throne ; for in the first year of Queen Elizabeth, 
1558, his great-grandson, John Shakspere, was a burgess of the corporation of 
Stratford, and was in all probability born about 1530. John Shakspere was of 
the third generation succeeding the adherent of Henry VII. The family had 
continued in those parts, " by some descents ; " but how they were occupied in 
the business of life, what was their station in society, how they branched out 
into other lines of Shaksperes, we have no distinct record. They were probably 
cultivators of the soil, unambitious small proprietors. The name may be traced 
by legal documents in many parishes of Warwickshire ; but we learn from a 
deed of trust, executed in 1550 by Robert Arden, the maternal grandfather of 
William Shakspere, that Richard Shakspere was the occupier of land in Snitter- 
field, the property of Robert Arden. At this parish of Snitterfield lived a Henry 
Shakspere, who, as we learn from a declaration in the Court of Record at 
Stratford, was the brother of John Shakspere. It is conjectured, and very reason 
ably, that Richard Shakspere, of Snitterfield, was the paternal grandfather of 
William Shakspere. Snitterfield is only three miles distant from Stratford. 

A painter of manners, who comes near to the times of John Shakspere, has de 
scribed the probable condition of his immediate ancestors: "Yeomen are those 
which by our law are called legales homines, free men born English. . . . The truth is, 
that the word is derived from the Saxon term zeoman, or geoman, which signifieth (as 
I have read) a settled or staid man. . . . This sort of people have a certain pre 
eminence and more estimation than labourers and the common sort of artificers, 
and these commonly live wealthily, keep good houses, and travel to get riches. 
They are also for the most part farmers to gentlemen, or at the leastwise arti 
ficers ; and with grazing, frequenting of markets, and keeping of servants (not 
idle servants as the gentlemen do, but such as get both their own and part of 
their masters' living), do come to great wealth, insomuch that many of them are 
able and do buy the lands of unthrifty gentlemen, and often, setting their sons to 
the schools, to the universities, and to the inns of the court, or otherwise leaving 
them sufficient lands whereupon they may live without labour, do make them by 
those means to become gentlemen : these were they that in times past made all 
France afraid." Plain-speaking Harrison, who wrote this description in the 
middle of the reign of Elizabeth, tells us how the yeoman and the descendants 
of 'the yeoman could be changed into gentlemen ; " Whosoever studieth the laws 
of the realm, whoso abideth in the university giving his mind to his book, or 
professeth physic and the liberal sciences, or beside his service in the room of a 



WILLIAM SUAKSPERE : 

captain in the wars, or good counsel given at home, whereby his commonwealth i* 
benefited, can live without manual labour, and thereto is able and will bear the 
port, charge, and countenance of a gentleman, he shall for money have a coat and 
arms bestowed upon him by heralds (who in the charter of the same do of custom 
pretend antiquity and service, and many gay things), and thereunto being made 
so good cheap, be called master, which is the title that men give to esquires and 
gentlemen, and reputed for a gentleman ever after." And so John Shakspere, 
whilst he was bailiff of Stratford in 15G8 or 1569, desired to have " a coat and 
arms ;" and for instruction to the heralds as to the "gay things" they were to 
say in their charter, of " honour and service," he told them, and he no doubt 
told them truly, that he was great-grandson to one who had been advanced and 
rewarded by Henry VII. And so for ever after he was no more goodman Shak 
spere, or John Shakspere, yeoman, but Master Shakspere ; and this short change 
in his condition was produced by virtue of a grant of arms by Robert Cook, 
Clarencieux King at Arms ; which shield or coat of arms was confirmed by 
William Dethick, Garter, principal King of Arms, in 1596, as follows : " Gould, 
on a bend sable and a speare of the first, the point steeled, proper ; and his crest, 
or cognizance, a faulcon, his wings displayed, argent, standing on a wrethe cf 
his coullors supporting a speare gould steele as aforesaid, sett uppon a helmet 
with mantells and tassells." 




I Arms of John Sh*k>pr* | 



A. BIOGRAPHY. 

But, there were other arms one day to be impaled with the " speare of the 
first, the poynt steeled, proper." In 1599 John Shakspere again goes to the 
College of Arms, and, producing his own " ancient coat of arms," says that he has 
" married the daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote :" 
and then the heralds take the " speare of the first," and say " We have likewise 
upon on other escutcheon impaled the same with the ancient arms of the said 
Arden of Wellingcote." They add that John Shakspere, and his children, issue, 
and posterity, may bear and use the same shield of arms, single or impaled. 

The family of Arden was one of the highest antiquity in Warwickshire. Dug- 
dale traces its pedigree uninterruptedly up Jo the time of Edward the Confessor. 
Under the head of Curdworth, a parish in the hundred of Hemlingford, he says 
" In this place I have made choice to speak historically of that most ancient and 
worthy family, whose surname was first assumed from their residence in this 
part of the country, then and yet called Arden, by reason of its woodiness, the 
old Britons and Gauls using the word in that sense." At the time of the Nor 
man invasion there resided at Warwick, Turchil, "a man of especial note and 
power" and of " great possessions." In the Domesday Book his father, Alwyne, 
is styled vice comes. Turchil, as well as his father, received favour at the hands 
of the Conqueror. He retained the possession of vast lands in the shire, and he 
occupied Warwick Castle as a military governor. He was thence called Turchil 
de Warwick by the Normans. But Dugdale goes on to say " He was one of the 
first here in England that, in imitation of the Normans, assumed a surname, for 
so it appears that he did, and wrote himself Turchillus de Eardene, in the days 
of King William Rufus." The history of the De Ardens, as collected with won 
derful industry by Dugdale, spreads over six centuries. Such records seldom 
present much variety of incident, however great and wealthy be the family to 
which they are linked. In this instance a shrievalty or an attainder varies the 
register of birth and marriage, but generation after generation passes away with 
out leaving any enduring traces of its sojourn on the earth. Fuller has 
not the name of a single De Arden amongst his " Worthies" men illustrious 
for something more than birth or riches, with the exception of those who 
swell the lists of sheriffs for the county. The pedigree which Dugdale 
gives of the Arden family brings us no nearer in the direct line to the mo 
ther of Shakspere than to Robert Arden, her great-grandfather : he was the 
third son of Walter Arden, who married Eleanor, the daughter of John Hamp- 
den, of Buckinghamshire ; and he was brother to Sir John Arden, squire 
for the body to Henry VII. Malone, with laudable industry, has continued 
the pedigree in the younger branch. Robert's son, also called Robert, was 
groom of the chamber to Henry VII. He appears to have been a favourite ; 
for he had a valuable lease granted him by the king of the manor of Yoxsall, in 
Staffordshire, and was also made keeper of the royal park of Aldercar. His 
uncle, Sir John Arden, probably showed him the road to these benefits. The 
squire for the body was a high officer of the ancient court ; and the groom of the 
chamber was an inferior officer, but one who had service and responsibilty. The 
correspondent offices of modern times, however encumbered with the wearisome- 
ness of etiquette, are relieved from the old duties, which are now intrusted to 

7 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

hired servants. The squire for the body had to array the king and unarray ; no 
man else was to set hand on the king. The groom of the robes was to present 
the squire for the body " all the king's stuff, as well his shoon as his other 
gear;" but the squire for the body was to draw them on. If the sun of majesty 
was to enlighten the outer world, the squire humbly followed with the cloak ; 
when royalty needed refection, the squire duly presented the potage. But at 
night it was his duty, and much watchfulness did it require, to preside over all 
those jealous safeguards that once fenced round a sleeping king from a traitorous 
subject. In a pallet bed, in the same room with the king, rested the gentleman 
or lord of the bedchamber; in the^ ante-room slept the groom or the bed 
chamber ; in the privy chamber adjoining were two gentlemen in waiting ; and, 
lastly, in the presence-chamber reposed the squire for the body under the cloth 
of estate. Locks and bolts upon every door defended each of these approaches, 
and the sturdy yeomen mounted guard without, so that the pages, who made 
their pallets at the last chamber threshold, might sleep in peace.* It is not im 
probable that the ancestor of John Shakspere might have guarded the door with 
out, whilst Sir John Arden slept upon the haul pas within. They had each 
their relative importance in their own day ; but they could little foresee that in 
the next century their blood would mingle, and that one would descend from 
them who would make the world agree not utterly to forget their own names, 
however indifferent that future world might be to the comparative importance 
of the court servitude of the Arden or the Shakspere. Robert Arden, the groom 
of the bedchamber to Henry VII., probably left the court upon the death of his 
master. He married, and he had a son, also Robert, who married Agnes Webbe. 
Their youngest daughter was Mary, the mother of William Shakspere.f 

Mary Arden ! The name breathes of poetry. It seems the personification of 
some Dryad of 

" Many a huge-grown wood, and many a shady grove," 
called by that generic name of Arden, a forest with many towns, 



This information is given in a long extract from a manuscript in the Herald's Office, quoted 
in Malone'a ' Life of Shakspeare.' 

t From the connection of these immediate ancestors of Shakspere's mother with the court of 
Henry VII., Malone has assumed that they were the " antecessors " of John Shakspere declared 
in the grants of arms to have been advanced and rewarded by the conqueror of Bosworth Field. 
Because Robert Arden had a lease of the royal manor of Yoxsall, in Staffordshire, Malone also 
contends that the reward of lands and tenements stated in the grant of arms to have been be 
stowed upon the ancestor of John Shakspere really means the beneficial lease to Robert Arden. 
He holds that popularly the grandfather of Mary Arden would have been called the grandfather 
of John Shakspere, and that John Shakspere himself would have BO called him. The answer is 
very direct. The grant of arms recites that the ^reo^-grandfather of John Shakspere had been 
advanced and rewarded by Henry VII., and then goes on to say that John Shakspere had mar 
ried the daughter of Robert Arden of Wellingcote : He has an ancient coat-of-arms of his own 
derived frm his ancestor, and the arms of his wife are to be impaled with these his own arms. 
Can the interpretation of this document then be that Mary Arden's grandfather is the person 
pointed out as John Shakspere's grreot-grandfather ; and that, having an ancient coat-of arms 
himself, his ancestry is really that of his wife, whose arms are totally different ? 
8 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" Whose footsteps yet are found, 
In her rough woodlands more than any other ground, 
That mighty Arden held even in her height of pride, 
Her one hand touching Trent, the other Severn's side." * 

That name of Mary Arden sounds as blandly as the verse of this fine old pane 
gyrist of his " native country," when he describes the songs of birds in those 
solitudes amongst which the house of Arden had for ages been seated : 

" The softer with the shrill (some hid among the leaves, 
Some in the taller trees, some in the lower greaves) 
Thus sing away the morn, until the mounting sun 
Through thick exhaled fogs his golden head hath run, 
And through the twisted tops of our close covert creeps 
To kiss the gentle shade, this while that sweetly sleeps." t 

High as was her descent, wealthy and powerful as were the numerous branches 
of her family, Mary Arden, we doubt not, led a life of usefulness as well as in 
nocence, within her native forest hamlet. She had three sisters, and they all, 
with their mother Agnes, survived their father, who died in December, 1556. 
His will is dated the 24th of November in the same year, and the testator styles 
himself " Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, in the paryche of Aston Cauntlow." 




[Village of Wilmecote.J 



The face of the country must have been greatly changed in three centuries. A 
canal, with lock rising upon lock, now crosses the hill upon which the village 



Dray ton. Polyolbion, 13th Song. 



Ibid. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE : 

stands ; but traffic has not robbed the place of its green pastures and its 
shady nooks, though nothing is left of the ancient magnificence of the great 
forest. There is very slight appearance of antiquity about the present vil 
lage, and certainly not a house in which we can conceive that Robert Arden 
resided. 

It was in the reign of Philip and Mary that Robert Arden died ; and we can 
not therefore be sure that the wording of his will is any absolute proof of his 
religious opinions : " First, I bequeath my soul to Almighty God and to our 
blessed Lady Saint Mary, and to all the holy company of heaven, and my body 
to be buried in the churchyard of Saint John the Baptist in Aston aforesaid." 
One who had conformed to the changes of religion might even have begun his 
last testament with this ancient formula ; even as the will of Henry VIII. him 
self is so worded. (See Rymer's ' Foedera.') Mary, his youngest daughter, from 
superiority of mind, or some other cause of her father's confidence, occupies the 
most prominent position in the will : " I give and bequeath to my youngest 
daughter Mary all my land in Wilmecote, called Asbies, and the crop upon the 
ground, sown and tilled as it is, and six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence 
of money to be paid over ere my goods be divided." To his daughter Alice he 
bequeaths the third part of all his goods, moveable and unmoveable, in field and 
town; to his wife Agnes, the step-mother of his children, six pounds thirteen shillings 
and fourpence, under the condition that she should allow his daughter Alice to occupy 
half of a copyhold at Wilmecote, the widow having her "jointure in Snitterfield," near 
Stratford. The remainder of his goods is divided amongst his other children. Alice 
and Mary are made the " full executors " to his will. We thus see that the youngest 
daughter has an undivided estate and a sum of money ; and, from the crop being also 
bequeathed to her, it is evident that she was considered able to continue the tillage. 
The estate thus bequeathed to her consisted of about sixty acres of arable and 
pasture, and a house. It was a small fortune for a descendant of the lord ot 
forty-seven manors in the county of Warwickshire,* but it was enough for hap 
piness. Luxury had scarcely ever come under her paternal roof. The house of 
Wilmecote would indeed be a well-timbered house, being in a woody country. 
It would not be a house of splints and clay, such as made the Spaniard in that 
very reign of Mary say, " These English have their houses made of sticks and 
dirt, but they fare commonly as well as the king." It was some twenty years 
after the death of Robert Arden that Harrison described the growth of domestic 
luxury in England, saying, "There are old men yet dwelling in the village 
where I remain, which have noted three things to be marvellously altered in 
England within their sound nemembrance." One of these enormities is the 
multitude of chimneys lately erected, wjiereas formerly each one made his fire 
against a reredosse in the hall, where he dined and dressed his meat : the second 
thing is the great' amendment of lodging the pillows, the beds, the sheets, in 
stead of the straw pallet, the rough mat. the good round log or the sack of chaff 
under the head : the third thing is the exchange of vessels, as of treen platters 

' See an account in Dugd&le of the possessions, recited in ' Domesday Book,' of Turchil d 

A : :i. 






A BIOGRAPHY. 

into pewter, and wooden spoons into silver or tin. He then describes the altered 
splendour of the substantial farmer: "A fair garnish of pewter on his cupboard, 
with so much more in odd vessels going about the house ; three or four feather- 
beds ; so many coverlids and carpets of tapestry ; a silver salt, a bowl for wine, 
and a dozen of spoons to furnish up the suit." Robert Arden had certainly not 
a mansion filled with needless articles for use or ornament. In the inventory of 
his goods taken after his death we find table-boards, forms, cushions, benches, 
and one cupboard in his hall ; there are painted cloths in the hall and in the 
chamber ; seven pair of sheets, five board-cloths, and three towels ; there is one 
feather-bed and two mattresses, with sundry coverlets, and articles called can 
vasses, three bolsters, and one pillow. The kitchen boasts four pans, four pots, 
four candlesticks, a baski, a chafing-dish, two cauldrons, a frying-pan, and a 
gridiron. And yet this is the grandson of a groom of a king's bedchamber, an 
office filled by the noble and the rich, and who, in the somewhat elevated station 
of a gentleman of worship, would probably possess as many conveniences and 
comforts as a rude state of society could command. There was plenty outdoors 
oxen, bullocks, kine, weaning calves, swine, bees, poultry, wheat in the barns, 
barley, oats, hay, peas, wood in the yard, horses, colts, carts, ploughs. Robert 
Arden had lived through unquiet times, when there was little accumulation, and 
men thought rather of safety than of indulgence : the days of security were at 
hand. Then came the luxuries that Harrison looked upon with much astonish 
ment and some little heartburning. 

And so in the winter of 1556 was Mary Arden left without the guidance of a father. 
We learn from a proceeding in Chancery some forty years later that with the land 
of Asbies there went a messuage. Mary Arden had therefore a roof-tree of her own. 
Her sister Alice was to occupy another property at Wilmecote with the widow. 
Mary Arden lived in a peaceful hamlet ; but there were some strange things around 
her, incomprehensible things to a very young woman. When she went to the 
church of Aston Cantlow, she now heard the mass sung, and saw the beads bidden ; 
whereas a few years before there was another form of worship within those walls. 
She learnt, perhaps, of mutual persecutions and intolerance, of neighbour warring 
against neighbour, of child opposed to father, of wife to husband. She might have be 
held these evils. The rich religious houses of her county and vicinity had been 
suppressed, their property scattered, their chapels and fair chambers desecrated, 
their very walls demolished. The new power was trying to restore them, but, 
even if it could have brought back the old riches, the old reverence was passed 
away. In that solitude she probably mused upon many things with an anxious 
heart. The wealthier Ardens of Kingsbury and Hampton, of Rotley and Rod- 
burne and Park Hall, were her good cousins ; but bad roads and bad times 
perhaps kept- them separate. And so she lived a somewhat lonely life, till a 
young yeoman of Stratford, whose family had been her father's tenants, 
came to sit oftener and oftener upon those wooden benches in the old hall a 
substantial yeoman, a burgess of the corporation in 1557 or 1558 ; and then in 
due season, perhaps in the very year when Romanism was lighting its last fires 
in England, and a queen was dying with " Calais " written on her heart, Mary 

11 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

Arden and John Shakspere were, in all likelihood, standing before the altar of 
the parish church of Aston Cantlow, and the house and lands of Asbies became 
administered by one who took possession " by the right of the said Mary," who 
thenceforward abided for half a century in the good town o,f Stratford. There is 
no register of the marriage discovered : but the date must have been about a year 
after the father's death ; for " Joan Shakspere, daughter to John Shakspere," was, 
according to the Stratford register, baptized on the 1 5th September, 1 558. 




[Church of Aston Cantlow.] 



A BIOGRAPHY. 




[Clopton's Bridge. j 



CHAPTER II. 



A PLEASANT place is this quiet town of Stratford a place of ancient traffic, 
"the name having been originally occasioned from the ford or passage over 
the water upon the great street or road leading from Henley in Arden towards 
London."* England was not always a country of bridges : rivers asserted 
their own natural rights, and were not bestrid by domineering man. If the 
people of Henley in Arden would travel towards. London, the Avon might 
invite or oppose their passage at his own good will ; and, indeed, the river so 
often swelled into a rapid and dangerous stream, that the honest folk of the one 
bank might be content to hold somewhat less intercourse with their neighbours 
on the other than Englishmen now hold with the antipodes. But the days 
of improvement were sure to arrive. There were charters for markets, and 
charters for fairs, obtained from King Richard and King John ; and in process 
of time Stratford rejoiced in a wooden bridge, though without a causey, and 
exposed to constant damage by flood. And then an alderman of London, in 

* Dugdale. 



WILLIAM SHAK8PERE: 

days when the very rich were not slow to do magnificent things for public 
benefit, and did less for their own vain pride and luxury, built a stone bridge 
over the Avon, which has borne the name of Clopton's Bridge, even from the 
days of Henry VII. until this day. Ecclesiastical foundations were numerous 
at Stratford ; and such were, in every case, the centres of civilization and pros 
perity. The parish church was a collegiate one, with a chantry of five priests ; 
and there was an ancient guild and chapel of the Holy Cross, partly a religious 
and partly a civil institution. A grammar-school was connected with the 
guild ; and the municipal government of the town was settled in a corpo 
ration by charter of Edward VI., and the grammar-school especially main 
tained. Here then was a liberal accumulation, such as belongs only to 
an old country, to make a succession of thriving communities at Stratford ; 
and they did thrive, according to the notion of thrift in those days. But 
we are not to infer that when John Shakspere removed the daughter and 
heiress of Arden from the old hall of Wilmecote he placed her in some substan 
tial mansion in his corporate town, ornamental as well as solid in its architec 
ture, spacious, convenient, fitted up with taste, if not with splendour. Stratford 
had, in all likelihood, no such houses to offer ; it was a town of wooden houses, 
a scattered town, no doubt with gardens separating the low and irregular 
tenements,- sleeping ditches intersecting the properties, and stagnant pools 
exhaling in the road. A zealous antiquarian has discovered that John Shakspere 
inhabited a house in Henley Street as early as 1552 ; and that he, as well as two 
other neighbours, was fined for making a dung-heap in the street.* In 1553, the 
jurors of Stratford present certain inhabitants as violators of the municipal laws : 
from which presentment we learn that ban-dogs were not to go about unmuzzled ; 
nor sheep pastured in the ban -croft for more than an hour each day ; nor swine to 
feed on the common land unringed.f It is evident that Stratford was a rural town, 
surrounded with common fields, and containing a mixed population of agriculturists 
and craftsmen. The same character was retained as late as 1618, when the privy 
council represented to the corporation of Stratford that great and lamentable loss 
had " happened to that town by casualty of fire, which, of late years, hath been 
very frequently occasioned by means of thatched cottages, stacks of straw, 
furzes, and such-like combustible stuff", which are suffered to be erected and 
made confusedly in most of the principal parts of the town without restraint." J 
If such were the case when the family of William Shakspere occupied the best 
house in Stratford, a house in which Queen Henrietta Maria resided for three 
weeks, when the royalist army held that part of the country in triumph, it 
is not unreasonable to suppose that sixty years earlier the greater number of 
houses in Stratford must have been mean timber buildings, thatched cottages 
run up of combustible stuff; and that the house in Henley Street which John 
Shakspere occupied and purchased, and which his son inherited and bequeathed 
to his sister for her life, must have been an important house, a house fit 

Hunter : 'New Illustrations,' vol. i. p. 18. 

t The proceedings of the court are given in Mr. Halliwell's ' Life of Shakspeare,' a book which 
may be fairly held to contain all the documentary evidence of this life which has been dis- 
<red. J Chalmers's ' Apology.' p. <U3 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

for a man of substance, a house of some space and comfort, compared with those 
of the majority of the surrounding population. 

That population of the corporate town of Stratford, containing within itself 
rich endowments and all the framework of civil superiority, would appear 
insignificant in a modern census. The average annual number of baptisms in 
1564 was fifty-five; of burials in the same year forty-two: these numbers, 
upon received principles of calculation, would give us a total population of 
about one thousand four hundred. In a certificate of charities, &c., in the 
thirty-seventh year of Henry VIII., the number of " houselyng people " in 
Stratford is stated to be fifteen hundred. This population was furnished with all 
the machinery by which Englishmen, even in very early times, managed their 
own local affairs, and thus obtained that aptitude for practical good govern 
ment which equally rejects the tyranny of the one or of the many. The 
corporation in the time of John Shakspere consisted of fourteen aldermen and 
fourteen burgesses, one of the aldermen being annually elected to the office ot 
bailiff. The bailiff held a court of record every fortnight, for the trial of all 
causes within the jurisdiction of the borough in which the debt and damages 
did not amount to thirty pounds. There was a court-leet also, which appointed 
its ale-tasters, who presided over the just measure and wholesome quality of 
beer, that necessary of life in ancient times ; and which court-leet chose also, 
annually, four affeerors, who had the power ii their hands of summary punish 
ment for offences for which no penalty was prescribed by statute. The con 
stable was the great police officer, and he was a man of importance, for the 
burgesses of the corporation invariably served the office. John Shakspere 
appears from the records of Stratford to have gone through the whole regular 
course of municipal duty. In 1556 he was on the jury of the court-leet; in 
1557, an ale - taster ; in '1558, a burgess; in 1559, a constable; in 1560, an 
affeeror ; in 1561, a chamberlain; in 1565, an alderman; and in 1568, high 
bailiff of the borough, the chief magistrate. 

There have been endless theories, old and new, affirmations, contradictions, 
as to the worldly calling of John Shakspere. There are ancient registers in 
Stratford, minutes of the Common Hall, proceedings of the Court-leet, pleas of 
the Court of Record, writs, which have been hunted over with unwearied 
diligence, and yet they tell us nothing, or next to nothing, of John Shakspere. 
When he was elected an alderman in 1565, we can trace out the occupations of 
his brother aldermen, and readily come to the conclusion that the municipal 
authority of Stratford was vested, as we may naturally suppose it to have 
been, in the hands of substantial tradesmen, brewers, bakers, butchers, grocers, 
victuallers, mercers, woollen-drapers.* Prying into the secrets of time, we 
are enabled to form some notion of the literary acquirements of this worshipful 
body. On rare, very rare occasions, the aldermen and burgesses constituting 
the town council affixed their signatures, for greater solemnity, to some order 
of the court ; and on the 29th of September, in the seventh of Elizabeth, 
upon an order that John Wheler should take the office of bailiff, we have nine 
teen names subscribed, aldermen and burgesses. Out of the nineteen six only 

* Soe Malone's ' Life of Shakspeare,' Boswell's Malone, vol. ii., p. 77. 

15 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 



can say, " I thank God I have been so well brought up that I can write my 
name." * The stock of literary acquirement amongst the magnates of Stratford 
was not very large. And why should that stock of literature have been larger ? 
There were some who had been at the grammar-school, and they perhaps were 




Henry VI., Part II., Act IT. 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

as learned as the town-clerk; they kept him straight. But there had been 
enough turmoil about learning in those days to make goodman Whetely, and 
goodman Cardre, and their fellows, somewhat shy of writing and Latin. They were 
not quite safe in reading. Some of the readers had openly looked upon Tyndale's 
Bible and Coverdale's Bible twelve years before, and then the Bible was to be 
hidden in dark corners. It was come out again, but who could tell what might 
again happen. It was safer not to read. It was much less troublesome not to 
write. The town-clerk was a good penman ; they could flourish. 

We were reluctant to yield our assent to Malone's assertion that Shakspere's 
father had a mark to himself. The marks are not distinctly affixed to each name 
in this document. But subsequent discoveries establish the fact that he used 
two marks one, something like an open pair of compasses the other, the 
common cross. Even half a century later, to write was not held indispensable 
by persons of some pretension. In Decker's ' Wonder of a Kingdom/ the 
following dialogue takes place between Gentili and Buzardo : 

" Gen. What qualities are you furnished with ? 
Buz. My education has been like a gentleman. 
Gen. Have you any skill in song or instrument 1 

.Buz. As a gentleman should have ; I know all but play on none : I am no barber 
Oen. Barber ! no, sir, I think it. Are you a linguist ? 

Buz. As a gentleman ought to be; one tongue* serves one head ; I am no pedlar, to 
travel countries. 

#e7i. What skill ha' you in horsemanship ? 

Buz. As other gentlemen have : I ha* rid some beasts in my time. 

Oen. Can you write and read then t 

Buz. As most of your gentlemen do ; my bond has been taken with my mark at it." 

We must not infer that one who gave his bond with his mark at it, was neces 
sarily ignorant of all literature. It was very common for an individual to adopt, 
in the language of Jack Cade, " a mark to himself," possessing distinctness of 
character, and almost heraldically alluding to his name or occupation. Many 
of these are like ancient merchants' marks ; and on some old deeds the 
mark of a landowner alienating property corresponds with the mark described in 
the conveyance as cut in the turf, or upon boundary stones, of unenclosed fields. 
Lord Campbell says, " In my own experience I have known many instances of 
documents bearing a mark as the signature of persons who could write well."* 

One of the aldermen of Stratford in 1565, John Wheler, is described in the 
town records as a yeoman. He must have been dwelling in Stratford, for we 
have seen that he was ordered to take the office of high bailiff, an office de 
manding a near and constant residence. We can imagine a moderate landed 
proprietor cultivating his own soil, renting perhaps other land, seated as con 
veniently in a house in the town of Stratford as in a solitary grange several 
miles away from it. Such a proprietor, cultivator, yeoman, we consider John 
Shakspere to have been. In 1556, the year that Robert, the father of Mary 



* 'Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements,' p. 15. 
LIFE. G 17 



\\ -II.LIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

Arden, died, John ShaKspere was admitted at the court-leet to two copyhold 
estates' in Stratford. The jurors of the leet present that George Tumor had 
alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one tenement, with a garden and 
croft, and other premises, in Grenehyll Street, held of the lord at an annual 
quit-rent; and John Shakspere, who is present in court and does fealty, is 
admitted to the same. The same jurors present that Edward West has alien 
ated to John Shakspere one tenement and a garden adjacent in Henley Street, 
who is in the same way admitted, upon fealty done to the lord. Here then is 
' John Shakspere, before his marriage, the purchaser of- two copyholds in Strat 
ford, both with gardens, and one with a croft, or small enclosed field.* In 
1570 John Shakspere is holding, as tenant under William (Jlopton, a meadow of 
fourteen acres, with its appurtenance, called Ingon, at the annual rent of eight 
pounds. This rent, equivalent to at least forty pounds of our present money, 
would indicate that the appurtenance included a house, and a very good 
house. f This meadow of Ingon forms part of a large property known by that 
name near Clopton-house.J When John Shakspere married, the estate of Asbies, 

* It is marvellous that Malone, with these documents before him, which are clearly the ad 
missions of John Shakspere to two copyhold estates, should say : " At the court-leet, held in 
October, 1556, the lease of a house in Greenhill Street was assigned to Mr. John Shakspeare, by 
George Tumor, who was one of the burgesses of Stratford, and kept a tavern or victualling- 
house there; and another, in Henley Street, was, on the same day, assigned to him, by Edward 
West, a person of some consideration, who during the reign of Edward VI. had been frequently 
one of the wardens of the bridge of Stratford." It is equally wonderful that, Malone having 
printed the documents, no one who writes about Shakspere has deduced from them that Shak- 
spere's father was necessarily a person of some substance before his marriage, a purchaser of 
property. The roll says " et ide Johes pd. in cur. fecit dno fidelitatem p r eisdera," that is, 
" and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same." Every one 
knows that this is the mode of admission to a copyhold estate in fee simple, and yet Malone 
writes as if these forms were gone through to enable John Shakspere to occupy two houses in 
two distinct streets, under lease. We subjoin the documents : 

"Stratford super Avon. Vis frS Pleg. cum cur. et Session pais tenit. ibm. secundo die Octo- 
bris annis regnorum Philippi et Marie, Dei gratia, &c. tertio et quarto (October 2, 1556). 

"It pro. quod Georgius Turnor alienavit Johe Shakespere et_hered. suis unum tent, cum 
gardin. et croft, cum pertinent in Grenehyll stret, tent, de Dfo libe p r cart. p r redd, inde dno p r 
annu vi d et sect. cur. et ide Johes pd. in cur. fecit dno fidelitatem p r eisdein. 

" It. quod Edwardus West alienavit pd. eo Johe Shakespere unU tent, cum gardin. adjacen. in 
Henley street p* redd, inde dno p r ann. vi d et sect. cur. et ide Johes pd. in cur. fecit fidelitatem." 

We give a translation of this entry upon the court-roll : 

" Stratford upon Avon. View of Frankpledge with the court and session of the peace held 
of the same on the second day of October in the year of the reign of Philip and Mary, by the 
grace of God, &c., the third and fourth. 

" Item, they present that George Turnor has alienated to John Shakspere and his heirs one 
tenement with a garden and croft, with their appurtenances, in Greenhill street, held of the lord, 
and delivered according to the roll, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per annum, 
and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty to the lord for the same. 

" Item, that Edward West has alienated to him, the aforesaid John Shakspere, one tenement, 
with a garden adjacent, in Henley Street, for the rent from thence to the lord of sixpence per 
annum, and suit of court, and the said John in the aforesaid court did fealty." 

t See the extracts from the ' Rot. Claus.,' 23 Eliz , given in Malone's ' Life,' p. 95. 

t Ingon is 'not, as Maloue states, situated at a small distance from the estate which William 
Shakspere purchased in 1602. Clopton lies between the two properties. 
'18 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

within a short ride of Stratford, came also into his possession, and so did some 
landed property at Snitterfield. With these facts before us, scanty as they are, 
can we reasonably doubt that John Shakspere was living upon his own land, 
renting the land of others, actively engaged in the business of cultivation, in an 
age when tillage was becoming rapidly profitable, so much so that men of wealth 
very often thought it better to take the profits direct than to share them with the 
tenant ? In ' A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale of this Realme of 
Englande,' published in 1581, a Dialogue once attributed to William Shak 
spere, the Knight says, speaking of his class, " Many of us are enforced either 
to keep pieces of our own lands when they fall in our own possession, or to pur 
chase some farm of other men's lands, and to store it with sheep or some other 
cattle, to help make up the decay in our revenues, and to maintain our old estate 
vvithal, and yet all is little enough." 

The belief that the father of Shakspere was a small landed proprietor and 
cultivator, employing his labour and capital in various modes which grew 
out of the occupation of land, offers a better, because a more natural, ex 
planation of the circumstances connected with the early life of the great poet 
than those stories which would make him of obscure birth and servile employ 
ments. Take old Aubrey's story, the shrewd learned gossip and antiquary, 
who survived Shakspere some eighty years : " Mr. William Shakespear was 
born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick. His father was a 
butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when 
he was a boy he exercised his father's trade ; but when he killed a calf he 
would do it in high style, and make a speech. There was at that time another 
butcher's son in this town that was held not at all inferior to him for a natural 
wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young." Oh, Stratford ! town 
prolific in heroic and poetical butchers ; was it not enough that there was one 
prodigy born in your bosom, who, " when he killed a calf, he would do it in a 
high style, and make a speech," but that there must even have been another 
butcher's son fed with thy intellectual milk, " that was held not at all inferior 
to him for a natural wit ? " Wert thou minded to rival Ipswich by a double 
rivalry? Was not one Shakspere-butcher enough to extinguish the light of 
one Wolsey, but thou must have another, " his acquaintance and coetanean ? " 
Aubrey, men must believe thee in all after-time ; for did not Farmer aver that, 
when he that killed the calf wrote 

" There 's a divinity that shapes our ends, 
Rough hew them how we will," * 

the poet-butcher was thinking of skewers? And did not Malone hold that 
he who, when a boy, exercised his father's trade, has described the process of 
calf-killing with an accuracy which nothing but profound experience could 
give ? 

" And as the butcher takes away the calf, 
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays, 
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house ; 
Even so, remorseless, have they borne him hence. 

C 2 * Hamlet, Act v., Scene it 19 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKRE: 

And aa the dam runs lowing up and down, 
Looking the way her harmless young one went, 
And can do nought but wail her darling's loss, 
Even so," &c. 

The story, however, has a variation. There was at Stratford, in the year 
1693, a clerk of the parish church, eighty years old, that is, he was three years 
old when William Shakspere died, and he, pointing to the monument of the 
poet, with the pithy remark that he was the " best of his family," proclaimed to 
a member of one of the Inns of Court that "this Shakespeare was formerly in 
this town bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he ran from his master to 
London. "f His father was a butcher, says Aubrey ; he was apprentice to a 
butcher, says the parish clerk. Aubrey was picking up his gossip for his friend 
Anthony-a-Wood in 1680, and it is not very difficult to imagine that the iden 
tical parish clerk was his authority. That honest chronicler, old as he was, had 
forty years of tradition to deal with in this matter of the butcher's son and the 
butcher's apprentice; and the result of such glimpses into the thick night of 
the past is sensibly enough stated by Aubrey himself : " What uncertainty do 
we find in printed histories ! They either treading too near on the heels of 
truth, that they dare not speak plain ; or else for want of intelligence (things 
being antiquated) become too obscure and dark!" Obscure and dark indeed is 
this story of the butcher's son. If it were luminous, circumstantially true, pal 
pable to all sense, as Aubrey writes it down, we should only have one more knot 
to cut, not to untie, in the matters which belong to William Shakspere. The 
son of the butcher of Ipswich was the boy bachelor of Oxford at fifteen years of 
age; he had an early escape from the calf-killing; there was no miracle in his 
case. If we receive Aubrey's story we must take it also with its contradictions, 
and that perhaps will get rid of the miraculous. " When he was a boy he exer 
cised his father's trade/' Good : " This William, being inclined naturally to 
poetry and acting, came to London, I guess about eighteen." Good : " He un 
derstood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster 
in the country." Killer of calves, schoolmaster, poet, actor, all these occupations 
crowded into eighteen years ! Honest Aubrey, truly thine is a rope of sand 
wherein there are no knots to cut or to untie ! 

Akin to the butcher's trade is that of the dealer in wool. It is upon the au 
thority of Betterton, the actor, who, in the beginning of the last century, made 
a journey into Warwickshire to collect anecdotes relating to Shakspere, that 
Rowe tells us that John Shakspere was a dealer in wool : " His family, as ap 
pears by the register and the public writings relating to that town, were of good 
figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. His father, who was 
a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, 
though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his 
own employment." We are now peeping " through the blanket of the dark.' 
But daylight is not as yet. Malone was a believer in Rowe's account; and he 



Henry VI., Part II., Act in., Scene u f- Traditionary Anecdotes of Shakespeare. 

20 



A BIOGfiAPHY. 

was confirmed in his belief by possessing a piece of stained glass, bearing the 
arms of the merchants of the staple, which had been removed from a window of 
John Shakspere's house in Henley Street. But, unfortunately for the credibility 
of Rowe, as then held, Malone made a discovery, as it is usual to term such 
glimpses of the past : " I began to despair of ever being able to obtain any certain 
intelligence concerning his trade ; when, at length, I met with the following 
entry, in a very ancient manuscript, containing an account of the proceedings in 
the bailiffs court, which furnished me with the long-sought-for information, and 
ascertains that the trade of our great poet's father was that of a glover ;" " Thomas 
Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. querit r versus Johm Shaky spere de Stretford, 
in com. Warwic. Glover, in plac. quod reddat ei oct. libras, &c." This Malone 
held to be decisive. 

We give this record above as Malone printed it, not very correctly ; and having 
seen the original, we maintained that the word was not Glover. Mr. Collier 
and Mr. Halliwell affirm that the word Glo, with the second syllable contracted, 
is glover ; and we accept their interpretation. But we still hold to our original 
belief that he was, in 1556, a landed proprietor and an occupier of land; one 
who, although sued as a glover on the 17th June of that year, was a suitor in the 
same court on the 19th November, in a plea against a neighbour for unjustly de 
taining eighteen quarters of barley. We still refuse to believe that John Shak- 
spere, when he is described as a yeoman in after years, " had relinquished his 
retail trade," as Mr. Halliwell judges ; or that his mark, according to the same 
authority, was emblematical of the glove-sticks used for stretching the cheveril 
for fair fingers. We have no confidence that he had stores in Henley Street of 
the treasures of Autolycus, 

" Gloves as sweet as damask roses." 

We think, that butcher, dealer in wool, glover, may all be reconciled with our 
position, that he was a landed proprietor, occupying land. Our proofs are not 
purely hypothetical. 

Harrison, who mingles laments at the increasing luxury of the farmer, with 
somewhat contradictory denouncements of the oppression of the tenant by the 
landlord, holds that the landlord is monopolizing the tenant's profits. His com 
plaints are the natural commentary upon the social condition of England, de 
scribed in 'A Briefe Conceipte touching the Commonweale :' " Most sorrowful 
of all to understand, that men of great port and countenance are so far from 
suffering their farmers to have any gain at all, that they themselves become 

GRAZIERS, BUTCHERS, TANNERS, SHEEPMASTERS, WOODMEN, and denique quid HOTl, 

thereby to enrich themselves, and bring all the wealth of the country into their 
own hands, leaving the commonalty weak, or as an idol with broken or feeble 
arms, which may in time of peace have a plausible show, but, when necessity 
shall enforce, have an heavy and bitter sequel." Has not Harrison solved the 
mystery of the butcher ; explained the tradition of the wool-merchant ; shown how 
John Shakspere, the woodman, naturally sold a piece of timber to the corporation, 
which we find recorded ; and, what is most difficult of credence, indicated how 
the glover is reconcilable with all these employments ? We open an authentic 

21 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE : 

record of this very period, and tlie solution of the difficulty is palpable : In John 
Strype's ' Memorials Ecclesiastical under Queen Mary I,' under the date of 
1558, we find this passage: " It is certain that one Edward Home suffered at 
Newent, where this Deighton had been, and spake with one or two of the same 
parish that did see him there burnt, and did testify that they knew the two 
persons that made the fire to burn him ; they were two glovers or FELLMONGERS." * 
A fellmonger and a glover appear from this passage to have been one and the 
same. The fellmonger is he who prepares skins for the use of the leather-dresser, 
by separating the wool from the hide the natural coadjutor of the sheep-master 
and the wool-man. Shakspere himself implies that the glover was a manufacturer 
of skins : Dame Quickly asks of Slender's man, " Does he not wear a great round 
beard like a glover's paring knife ? " The peltry is shaved upon a circular board, 
with a great round knife, to this day. The fellmonger's trade, as it now exists, 
and the trade in untanned leather, the glover's trade, would be so slightly different, 
that the generic term, glover, might be applied to each. There are few examples 
of the word " fellmonger " in any early writers. " Glover " is so common that 
it has become one of the universal English names derived from occupation, far 
more common than if it merely applied to him who made coverings for the hands. 
At Coventry, in the middle of the sixteenth century, (the period of which we are 
writing) the Glovers and Whittawers formed one craft. A whittawer is one who pre 
pares tawed leather untanned leather leather chiefly dressed from sheep skins and 
lamb skins by a simple process of soaking, and scraping, and liming, and softening 
by alum and salt. Of such were the large and coarse gloves in use in a rural 
district, even amongst labourers ; and such process might be readily carried on 
by one engaged in agricultural operations, especially when we bear in mind that 
the white leather was the especial leather of " husbandly furniture," as described 
by old Tusser. 

We may reasonably persist, therefore, even in accord with " flesh and fell " 
tradition, in drawing the portrait of Shakspere's father, at the time of his marriage, 
in the free air, on his horse, with his team, at market, at fair and yet a dealer 
in carcases, or wood, or wool, or skins, his own produce. He was a proprietor 
of land, and an agriculturist, living in a peculiar state of society, as we shall see 
hereafter, in which the division of employments was imperfectly established, 
and the small rural capitalists strove to turn their own products to the greatest 
advantage. 

Vol. v., p. 277 -edit. 1816. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 




[Ancient Font, formerly in Stratford Church.*] 



CHAPTER III. 



THE REGISTER. 



IN the eleventh century the Norman Conqueror commanded a Register to be 
completed of the lands of England, with the names of their possessors, and the 
number of their free tenants, their villains, and their slaves. In the sixteenth 
century Thomas Cromwell, as the vicegerent of Henry VIII. for ecclesiastical 
jurisdiction, issued Injunctions to the Clergy, ordaining, amongst other matters, 
that every officiating minister shall, for every Church, keep a Book, wherein 
he shall register every Marriage, Christening, or Burial. In the different 
character of these two Registers we read what five centuries of civilization had 
effected for England. Instead of being recorded in the gross as cotarii or servi, 

* The history of the old font represented above is somewhat curious. The parochial accounts 
of Stratford show that about the middle of the seventeenth century a new font was set up. The 
beautiful relic of an older time, from which William Shakspere had received the baptismal water, 
was, after many years, found in the old charnel-house. When that was pulled down, it was 
kicked into the churchyard ; and half a century ago was removed by the parish clerk to form the 
trough of a pump at his cottage. Of the parish clerk it was bought by the late Captain Saunders ; 
and from his possession came into that of Mr. Heritage, a builder at Stratford. 

23 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

the meanest labourer, his wife, and his children, had become children of their 
country and their country's religion, as much as the highest lord and his family. 
Their names were to be inscribed in a book and carefully preserved. But the 
people doubted the intent of this wise and liberal injunction. A friend of Crom 
well writes to him, " There is much secret and several communications between 
the King's subjects ; and [some] of them, in sundry places within the shires 
of Cornwall and Devonshire, be in great fear and mistrust, what the King's 
Highness and his Council should mean, to give in commandment to the parsons 
and vicars of every parish that they should make a book, and surely to be kept, 
wherein to be specified the names of as many as be wedded, and the names of 
them that be buried, and of all those that be christened."* They dreaded new 
" charges ; " and well they might dread. But Thomas Cromwell had not regal 
exactions in his mind. The Registers were at first imperfectly kept ; but the 
regulation of 1 538 was strictly enforced in the first year of Elizabeth ; and then 
the Register of the Parish of Stratford-upon-Avon commences, that is, in 1558. 

Venerable book ! Every such record of human life is a solemn document. 
Birth, Marriage, Death ! this is the whole history of the sojourn upon earth of 
nearly every name inscribed in these mouldy, stained, blotted pages. And after 
a few years what is the interest, even to their own descendants, of these brief 
annals ? With the most of those for whom the last entry is still to be made, the 
question is, Did they leave property ? Is some legal verification of their pos 
session of property necessary ? 

" No further seek their merits to disclose." 

But there are entries in this Register-book of Stratford that are interesting to 
us to all Englishmen to universal mankind. We have all received a pre 
cious legacy from one whose progress from the cradle to the grave is here 
recorded a bequest large enough for us all, and for all who will come after us. 
Pause we on the one entry of that book which most concerns the human race : 




Thus far the information conveyed by the register is precise, f But a natural 
question then arises. On what day was born William, the son of John Shakspere 

* Cromwell's Correspondence in the Chapter-House. Quoted in Rickman's Preface to Population 
Returns, 1831. 

The date of the year, and the word April, occur three lines above the entrythe baptism 

being the fourth registered in that month. The register of Stratford is a tall narrow book, of con- 

thickness, the leaves formed of very fine vellum. But this book is only a transcript, 

I by the vicar and four churchwardens, on every page of the registers from 1558 to 1600. 

'e u therefore not a fac-simile of the original entry. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

who was baptized on the 26th of April, 1 564 ? The want of such information is 
a defect in all parish registers. In the belief that baptism very quickly followed 
birth in those times, when infancy was surrounded with greater dangers than in 
our own days of improved medical science, we have been accustomed to receive 
the 23rd of April as the day on which William Shakspere first saw the light. 
We are very unwilling to assist in disturbing the popular belief, but it is our duty 
to state the facts opposed to it. We have before us ' An Argument on the assumed 
Birthday of Shakspere: reduced to shape A.D. 1864.' This privately-printed 
tract by Mr. Bolton Corney, is one of the many evidences of the industry and 
logical acuteness with which that gentleman has approached the solution of 
many do.ubtful literary questions. It is to do injustice to the force of his argu 
ment that we can here only present the briefest analysis of the points which he 
fully sets forth. In the original edition of this Biography, we stated that there 
was no direct evidence that Shakspere was born on the 23rd of April. We added 
that there was probably a tradition to that effect ; for some years ago the Rev. 
Joseph Greene, a master of the Grammar School at Stratford, in an extract 
which he made from the register of Shakspere's baptism, wrote in the margin 
"Born on the 23rd.". The labours of Mr. Bolton Corney furnish the means 
of testing the value of this memorandum. It was first given to the world in the 
edition of Johnson and Steevens in 1773, of which edition Steevens was the sole 
editor. After giving Greene's extract from the register, he says that he was 
favoured with it by the Hon. James West. Up to the publication of Rowe's 
edition in 1709, the writers who mention Shakspere merely say, "born at 
Stratford -upon -Avon." Rowe says "he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in 
Warwickshire, in April, 1 564 " a fact never before stated. Of the date of the 
birth Rowe says nothing. The particulars of Rowe's life of the poet, prefixed 
to the edition of 1 709, were furnished by Betterton, the actor, who, to follow up 
the information which he might have derived from the traditions of the theatre, 
made a journey to Stratford to glean new materials for his scanty stock of bio 
graphical facts. If the day of Shakspere's birth were not a tradition in Shakspere'* 
native place ninety-three years after his death, it is not very credible that a 
trustworthy tradition had survived until 1773, when Greene wrote his memo 
randum which Steevens first published. In the second edition of Johnson and 
Steevens' Shakspere, in 1778, Malone makes this note upon Rowe's statement that 
Shakspere died in the fifty-third year of his age : " He died on his birthday, 1616, 
and had exactly completed his fifty-second year." In the edition of Shakspere 
by Boswell, in 1821, Malone, whose posthumous life was here first given, doubts 
the fact that Shakspere was born three days before April the 26th. " I have said 
this on the faith of Mr. Greene, who, I find, made the extract from the register 
which Mr. West gave Mr. Steevens ; but queere how did Mr. Greene ascertain 
this fact ? " Lastly, there arises the question whether the theory that Shakspere 
died on his birthday is to be traced to the inscription on the tomb : 

OBIIT AN. DOM. 1616. .ffiTATIS 53. DIB 23. AP. 

Mr. Collier has said, in his edition of 1844 : " The inscription on his monument 
supports the opinion that he was born on the 23rd April. Without the contrac- 

25 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

tions it runs thus: 'Obiit Anno Domini 1616. ^Etatis 53, die 23 Aprilis.' 
And this, in truth, is the only piece of evidence upon the point." Mr. Bolton 
Corney thus somewhat triumphantly meets this interpretation "The inscription 
contains no evidence in favour of the assumed birthday. It refutes the assertion 
sans replique! As Shakspere died on the 23 April, in his fifty -third year, he 
must have been born before the 23 April, 1564." Oldys (who died in 1761), 
in his manuscript annotations upon Langbaine's 'Account of the English 
Dramatic Poets ' (a book now to be seen in the Library of the British Museum), 
has an interpretation upon the inscription on the monument which he finds 
in Langbaine. Mr. Bolton Corney -thus disposes of the worthy antiquary's 
theory : " Oldys, in some non-lucid moment, underscores die 23 Apr. 
subtracts 53 from 1616 and writes down 1563. He assumes that the words 
anno atatis 53 are equivalent to vixit annos 53, and that the words die 23 Aprilis 
refer to anno eetatis, instead of being the object of Obiit. Such is the process, 
never before described, by which the birthday of Shakspere was discovered !" 

We turn back to the first year of the registry. 1558, for other records of 
John Shakspere's family; and we find the baptism of Joan, daughter to John 
Shakspere, on the 15th of September. Again, in 1562, on the 2nd of December, 
Margaret, daughter to John Shakspere, is baptized. In the entry of burials in 
1563 we find, under date of April 30, that Margaret closed a short life in five 
months. The elder daughter Joan also died young. We look forward, and in 
1566 find the birth of another son registered : Gilbert, son of John Shakspere, 
was baptized on the 13th of October of that year. In 1569 there is the registry 
of the baptism of a daughter, Joan, daughter of John Shakspere, on the 15th of 
April. Thus, the registry of a second Joan leaves no reasonable doubt that the 
first died, and that a favourite name was preserved in the family. In 1571 Anne 
is baptized; she died in 1579. In 1573-4 another son was baptized Richard, 
son of Master (Magister] John Shakspere, on the llth of March. The 
last entry, which determines the extent of John Shakspere's family, is that of 
Edmund, son of Master John Shakspere, baptized on the 3rd of May, 1580. 
Here, then, we find that two sisters of William were removed by death, probably 
before his birth. In two years and a half another son, Gilbert, came to be his 
playmate ; and when he was five years old that most precious gift to a loving 
boy was granted, a sister, who grew up with him. When he was ten years old 
he had another brother to lead by the hand into the green meadows. Then 
came another sister, who faded untimely ; and when he was grown into youthful 
strength, a boy of sixteen, his youngest brother was born. William, Gilbert, 
Joan, Richard, Edmund, constituted the whole of the family amongst whom 
John Shakspere was to share his means of existence. Rowe, we have already 
seen, mentions the large family of John Shakspere, " ten children in all." Ma- 
lone has established very satisfactorily the origin of this error into which Rowe 
has fallen. In later years there was another John Shakspere in Stratford. In 
the books of the corporation the name of John Shakspere, shoemaker, can be 
traced in 1580 ; in the register in 1584 we find him married to Margery Roberts, 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

who dies in 1587 ; he is, without doubt, married a second time, for in 1589. 
1590, and 1591, Ursula, Humphrey, and Philip are born. It is unquestionable 
that these are not the children of the father of William Shakspere, for they are 
entered in the register as the daughter, or sons, of John Shakspere, without the 
style which our John Shakspere always bore after 1569 " Magister." There 
can be no doubt that the mother of all the children of Master John Shakspere 
was Mary Arden ; for in proceedings in Chancery in 1597, which we shall 
notice hereafter, it is set forth that John Shakspere and his wife Mary, in the 




[The Church Avenue.] 

20th Elizabeth, 1577, mortgaged her inheritance of Asbies. Nor can there be 
a doubt that the children born before 1 569, when he is styled John Shakspere, 
without the honourable addition of Master, were also her children ; for in 1599, 
when William Shakspere is an opulent man, application is made to the College 
of Arms, that John Shakspere, and his issue and posterity, might use a " shield 
of arms," impaled with the arms of Shakspere and Arden. This application 
(which appears also to have been made in 1596, as the grant of arms* by Dethick 
states the fact of John Shakspere's marriage) would in all probability have 
been at the instance of John Shakspere's eldest son and heir. The history of 
the family up to the period of William Shakspere's manhood is as clear as can 
reasonably be expected. 

William Shakspere has been carried to the baptismal font in that fine old church 
of -Stratford. The " thick-pleached alley " that leads through the churchyard to the 
porch is putting forth its buds and leaves.* The chestnut hangs its white blossoms 
over the grassy mounds of that resting-place. All is joyous in the spring sunshine. 

* It is supposed that such a green avenue was an old appendage to the church, the preseiit 
trees having taken the place of more ancient ones. 

27 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

Kind neighbours are smiling upon the happy father; maidens and matrons 
snatch a kiss of the sleeping boy. There is "a spirit of life in everything" on 
this 26th of April, 1564. Summer comes, but it brings not joy to Stratford. 
There is wailing in her streets and woe in her houses. The death -register tells 
a fearful history. From the 30th June to the 31st December, two hundred and 
thirty-eight inhabitants, a sixth of the population, are carried to the grave. 
The plague is in the fated town ; the doors are marked with the red cross, and 
the terrible inscription, " Lord, have mercy upon us." It is the same epidemic 
which ravaged Europe in that year; which in the previous year had desolated 
London, and still continued there ; of which sad time Stow pithily says " The 
poor citizens of London were this year plagued with a threefold plague, pesti 
lence, scarcity of money, and dearth of victuals ; the misery whereof were too 
long here to write : no doubt the poor remember it ; the rich by flight into 
the countries made shift for themselves." Scarcity of money and dearth of 
victuals are the harbingers and the ministers of pestilence. Despair gathers up 
itself to die. Labour goes not forth to its accustomed duties. Shops are closed. 
The market-cross hears no hum of trade. The harvest lies almost ungathered 
in the fields. At last the destroying angel has gone on his way. The labourers 
are thinned ; there is more demand for labour; " victuals" are not more abun 
dant, but there are fewer left to share the earth's bounty. Then the adult rush 
into marriage. A year of pestilence is followed by a year of weddings ; * and 
such a " strange eventful history " does the Stratford register tell. The 
Charnel-house a melancholy-looking appendage to the chancel of Stratford 
Church, (now removed,) had then its heaps of unhonoured bones fearfully dis 
turbed : but soon the old tower heard again the wedding peal. The red 







M 



8oo 'Malthus ou Populatiou,' bock ii., chap. 12. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

cross was probably not on the door of John Shakspere's dwelling. " Fortu 
nately for mankind," says Malone, " it did not reach the house where the infant 
Shakspere lay ; for not one of that name appears on the dead list. A poetical 
enthusiast will find no difficulty in believing that, like Horace, he reposed 
secure and fearless in the midst of contagion and death, protected by the Muses 
to whom his future life was to be devoted : 

' sacrA 

Lauroque, collaMque myrto, 
Non sine diis animosus infans.' " 

There were more real dangers around Shakspere than could be averted by the 
sacred laurel and the myrtle something more fearful than the serpent and the 
bear of the Roman poet.* He, by whom 

" Spirits are not finely touch'd 
But to fine issues," 

may be said, without offence, to have guarded this unconscious child. William 
Shakspere was to be an instrument, and a great one, in the intellectual advance 
ment of mankind. The guards that He placed around that threshold of Strat 
ford, as secondary ministers, were cleanliness, abundance, free air, parental 
watchfulness. The " non sine diis" the "protected by the Muses," rightly 
considered, must mean the same guardianship. Each is a recognition of some 
thing higher than accident and mere physical laws. 

The parish of Stratford, then, was unquestionably the birth-place of William 
Shakspere. But in what part of Stratford dwelt his parents in the year 1 564 ? 
It was ten years after this that his father became the purchaser of two freehold 
houses in Henley Street houses which still exist houses which the people of 
England have agreed to preserve as a precious relic of their greatest brother. Nine 
years before William Shakspere was born, his father had also purchased two copyhold 
tenements in Stratford^-one in Greenfield Street, one in Henley Street. The copy 
hold house in Henley Street, purchased in 1555, was unquestionably not one of the . 
freehold houses in the same street, purchased in 1574 : yet, from Malone's loose 
way of stating that in 1555 the lease of a House in Henley Street was assigned 
to John Shakspere, it has been conjectured that he purchased in 1574 the 
house he had occupied for many years. As he purchased two houses in 1555 
in different parts of the town, it is not likely that he occupied both ; he might 
not have occupied either. Before he purchased the two houses in Henley 
Street, in 1574, he occupied fourteen acres of meadow-land, with appurte 
nances, at a very high rent ; the property is called Ingon meadow in " the 
Close Rolls." Dugdale calls the place where it was situated " Inge ;" saying 
that it was a member of the manor of Old Stratford, and " signify eth in our 
old English a meadow or low ground, the name well agreeing with its situation." 
It is about a mile and a quarter from the town of Stratford, on the road to War 
wick. William Shakspere, then, might have been born at either of his father's 
copyhold houses, in Greenhill Street, or in Henley Street ; he might have been 
born at Ingon ; or his father might have occupied one of the two freehold 

* Ilor. lib. iii., car. iv. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE: 

houses in Henley Street at the time of the birth of his eldest son. Tradition 
says that William Shakspere was born in one of these houses ; tradition points 
out the very room in which he was born. 

Whether Shakspere were born here, or not, there can be little doubt that this 
property was the home of his boyhood. It was purchased by John Shakspere, 
from Edmund Hall and Emma his wife, for forty pounds. In a copy of the 
chirograph of the fine levied on this occasion (which came into the possession ot 
Mr. Wheler, of Stratford), the property is described as two messuages, two 
gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances. This document does not 
define the situation of the property, beyond its being in Stratford-upon-Avon ; 
but in the deed of sale of another property in 1591, that property is described as 
situate between the houses of Robert Johnson and John Shakspere ; and in 1597 
John Shakspere himself sells a " toft, or parcel of land," in Henley Street, to the 
purchaser of the property in 1591. The properties can be traced, and leave no 
doubt of this house in Henley Street being the residence of John Shakspere. He 
retained the property during his life ; and it descended, as his heir-at-law, to his 
son William. In the last testament of the poet is this bequest to his " sister 
Joan :" " I do will and devise unto her the house, with the appurtenances, in 
Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of 
twelve-pence." His sister Joan, whose name by marriage was Hart, was residing 
there in 1639, and she probably continued to reside there till her death in 1646. 
The one house in which Mrs. Hart resided was doubtless the half of the building 
that formed, twenty years ago, the butcher's shop and the tenement adjoining ; 
for the other house was known as the Maidenhead Inn in 1642. In another 
part of Shakspere's will he bequeaths, amongst the bulk of his property, to his 
eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, with remainder to her male issue, " two messuages 
or tenements, with the appurtenances, situate, lying, and being in Henley Street, 
within the borough of Stratford." There were existing settlements of this very 
property in the family of Shakspere's eldest daughter and grand-daughter ; and 
this grand-daughter, Elizabeth Nash, who was married a second time to Sir John 
Barnard, left both houses, namely, " the inn, called the Maidenhead, and the 
adjoining house and barn," to her kinsmen Thomas and George Hart, the 
grandsons of her grandfather's " sister Joan." These persons left descendants, 
with whom this property remained until the beginning of the present century. 
But it was gradually diminished. The orchards and gardens were originally 
extensive : a century ago tenements had been built upon them, and they were 
alienated by the Hart then in possession. The Maidenhead Inn became the 
Swan Inn, and afterwards the Swan and Maidenhead. The White Lion, on the 
other side of the property, was extended, so as to include the remaining orchards 
and gardens. The house in which Mrs. Hart had lived so long became divided 
into two tenements ; and at the end of the last century the lower part of one was 
a butcher's shop. According to the Aubrey tradition, some persons believed 
this to have been the original shop where John Shakspere pursued his calf-killing 
vocation with the aid of his illustrious son. Mr. Wheler, in a very interesting 
account of these premises, and their mutations, published in 1824, tells us that 
ao 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

the butcher-occupant, some thirty years ago, having an eye to every gainful 
attraction, wrote up, 

" WILLIAM SHAKSPEARK WAS BORN IN THIS HOUSE. 
N.B. A HORSE AND TAXED CART TO LET." 

It ceased to be used as a butcher's shop, but there were the arrangements for 
a butcher's trade in the lower room the cross beams with hooks, and the 
window-board for joints. 

In 1823, when we made our first pilgrimage to Stratford, the house had gone 
out of the family of the Harts, and the last alleged descendant was recently 
ejected. It had been a gainful trade to her for some years to show the old 
kitchen behind the shop, and the honoured bed-room. When the poor old 
woman, the last of the Harts, had to quit her vocation (she claimed to have in 
herited some of the genius, if she had lost the possessions, of her great ancestor, 
for she had produced a marvellous poem on the Battle of Waterloo), she set up 
a rival show-shop on the other side of the street, filled with all sorts of trumpery 
relics pretended to have belonged to Shakspere. But she was in ill odour. In a fit 
of resentment, the day before she quitted the ancient house, she whitewashed the 
walls of the bed-room, so as to obliterate the pencil inscriptions with which they 
were covered. It was the work of her successor to remove the plaster; and 
manifold names, obscure or renowned, again saw the light. The house had a 
few ancient articles of furniture about it ; but there was nothing which could be 
considered as originally belonging to it as the home of William Shakspere. 

The engravings exhibit John Shakspere's houses in Henley Street under two 
aspects. The upper one is from an original drawing made by Colonel Delamotte 
in 1788. The houses, it will be observed, then presented one uniform front; 
and there were dormer windows connected with rooms in the roof. We have a 
plan before us, accompanying Mr. Wheler's account of these premises, which shows 
that they occupied a frontage of thirty-one feet. The lower is from an original 
drawing made by Mr. Pyne, after a sketch by Mr. Edridge in 1807. We now see 
that the dormer windows are removed, as also the gable at the east end of the 
front. The house has been shorn of much of its external importance. There is 
a lithograph engraving in Mr. Wheler's account, published in 1824. The pre 
mises, as there shown, have been pretty equally divided. The Swan and Maiden 
head half has had its windows modernized, and the continuation of the tiraber- 
frame has been obliterated by a brick casing. In 1807, we observe that the 
western half had been divided into two tenements ; the fourth of the whole 
premises, that is the butcher's shop, the kitchen behind, and the two rooms over, 
being the portion commonly shown as Shakspere's House. Some years ago, 
upon a frontage in continuation of the tenement at the west, three small cottages 
were built. The whole of this portion of the property has been purchased for the 
nation, as well as the two tenements. 

Was William Shakspere, then, born in the house in Henley Street which has 
been purchased by the nation ? For ourselves, we frankly confess that the want 
of absolute certainty that Shakspere was there born, produces a state of mind 
that is something higher and pleasanter than the conviction that depends upon 
positive evidence. We are content to follow the popular faith undoubtingly. 

SI 



WILLIAM SHAK SI-KIM- 





[John Shakspere'a House in Henley Street] 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

The traditionary belief is sanctioned by long usage and universal acceptation 
The merely curious look in reverent silence upon that mean room, with its 
massive joists and plastered walls, firm with ribs of oak, where they are told the 
poet of the human race was born. Eyes now closed on the world but who have 
left that behind which the world " will not willingly let die, "have glistened undei 
this humble roof, and there have been thoughts unutterable solemn, confiding, 
grateful, humble clustering round their hearts in that hour. The autographs of 
Byron and Scott are amongst hundreds of perishable inscriptions. Disturb not 
the belief that William Shakspere first saw the light in this venerated room. * 

" The victor Time has stood on Avon's side 
To doom the fall of many a home of pride ; 
Rapine o'er Evesham's gilded fane has strode, 
And gorgeous Kenilworth has paved the road : 
But Time has gently laid his withering hands 
On one frail House the House of Shakspere stands ; 
Centuries are gone fallen ' the cloud-capp'd tow'rs;' 
But Shakspere's home, his boyhood's home, is ours ! " 

Prologue for the Shakspere Night, Dec. 7, -1847, by 0. Knight. 

* We shall postpone, until nearly the close of this volume, a description, not only of the most 
recent condition of the premises in Henley Street, but of the garden of New Place, which has also 
been acquired by public subscription. (See Book II. chapter 10.) 



Lu?B. 






WILLIAM SHAKSPERE 




[Inner Court of the Grammar School.] 

CHAPTER IV. 

THE SCHOOL. 



THE poet in his well-known ' Seven Ages ' has necessarily presented to us only 
the great boundary-marks of a human life : the progress from one stage to 
another he has left to be imagined : 

" At first the infant 
Muling and puking in the nurse's arms." 

Perhaps the most influential, though the least observed, part of man's existence, 
that in which he learns most of good or of evil, lies in the progress between this 
first act and the second : 

" And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel, 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school." 

Between the " nurse's arms" and the " school " there is an important interval, 
34 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

filled up by a mother's education. Let us see what the home instruction of the 
young Shakspere would probably have been. 

There is a passage in one of Shakspere's Sonnets, the 89th, which has induced 
a belief that he had the misfortune of a physical defect, which would render him 
peculiarly the object of maternal solicitude : 

" Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault, 
And I will comment upon that offence : 
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt ; 
Against thy reasons making no defence." 

Again in the 37th Sonnet : 

" As a decrepit father takes delight 
To see his active child do deeds of youth, 
So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite, 
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth." 

These lines have been interpreted to mean that William Shakspere was literally 
lame,* and that his lameness was such as to limit him, when he became an actor, 
to the representation of the parts of old men. We should, on the contrary, have 
no doubt whatever that the verses we have quoted may be most fitly received 
in a metaphorical sense, were there not some subsequent lines in the 37th Son 
net which really appear to have a literal meaning ; and thus to render the 
previous lame and lameness expressive of something more than the general self- 
abasement which they would otherwise appear to imply. In the following lines 
lame means something distinct from poor and despised: 

" For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit, 
Or any of these all, of all, or more, 
Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit, 
I make my love engrafted to this store : 
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despis'd, 
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give." 

Of one thing, however, we may be quite sure that, if Shakspere were lame, his 
infirmity was not such as to disqualify him for active bodily exertion. The same 
series of verses that have suggested this belief that he was lame also show that 
he was a horseman. f His entire works exhibit that familiarity with external 
nature, with rural occupations, with athletic sports, which is incompatible with 
an inactive boyhood. It is not impossible that some natural defect, or some 
accidental injury, may have modified the energy of such a child ; and have che- 

* " Malone has most inefficiently attempted to explain away the palpable meaning of the 
above lines ; and adds, ' If Shakspeare was in truth lame, he had it not in his power to halt occa 
sionally for this or any other purpose. The defect must have been fixed and permanent.' Not so. 
Surely many an infirmity of the kind may be skilfully concealed ; or only become visible in the 
moments of hurried movement. Either Sir Walter Scott or Lord Byron might, without any im 
propriety, have written the verses in question. They would have been applicable to either of 
them. Indeed the lameness of Lord Byron was exactly such as Shakspeare's might have been ; 
and I remember, as a boy, that he selected those speeches for declamation which would not con 
strain him to the use of such exertions as might obtrude the defect of his person into notice." 
Life of William Shakspeare, by the Rev. William Harness, M.A. 

t See Sonnets 50 and 51. 

D 2 3:> 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

rished in him that love of books, and traditionary lore, and silent contemplation, 
without which his intellect could not have been nourished into its wondrous 
strength. But we cannot imagine William Shakspere a petted child, chained 
to home, not breathing the free air upon his native hills, denied the boy's pri 
vilege to explore every nook of his own river. We would imagine him com 
muning from the first with Nature, as Gray has painted him 

" The dauntlets child 
Stretch'd forth his little arms and smil'd." f 

The only qualifications necessary for the admission of a boy into the Free 
Grammar School of Stratford were, that he should be a resident in the town, of 
seven years of age, and able to read. The Grammar School, as we shall pre 
sently have to show in detail, was essentially connected with the Corporation of 
Stratford ; and it is impossible to imagine that, when the son of John Shakspere 
became qualified by age for admission to a school where the best education of 
the time was given, literally for nothing, his father, in that year, being chief 
alderman, should not have sent him to the school. We assume, without any 
hesitation, that William Shakspere did receive in every just sense of the word 
the education of a scholar; and as such education was to be had at his own 
door, we also assume that he was brought up at the Free Grammar School of 
his own town. His earlier instruction would therefore be a preparation for 
this school, and the probability is that such instruction was given him at home. 
The letters have been taught, syllables have grown into words, and words into 
short sentences. There is something to be committed to memory : 

" That is question now ; 
And then comes answer like an Absey-book." * 

In the first year of Edward VI. was published by authority ' The ABC, with 
the Pater-rioster, Ave, Crede, and Ten Commandementtes in Englysshe, newly 
translated and set forth at the kynges most gracious commandement.' But the 
ABC soon became more immediately connected with systematic instruction in 
religious belief. The alphabet and a few short lessons were followed by the 
catechism, so that the book containing the catechism came to be called an A B C 
book, or Absey-book. Towards the end of Edward's reign was put forth by au 
thority 'A Short Catechisme or playne instruction, conteynynge the surne of 
Christian learninge,' which all schoolmasters were called upon to teach after 
the " little catechism" previously set forth. Such books were undoubtedly sup 
pressed in the reign of Mary, but upon the accession of Elizabeth they were again 
circulated. A question then arises, Did William Shakspere receive his ele 
mentary instruction in Christianity from the books sanctioned by the Reformed 
Church? It has been maintained that his father belonged to the Roman Ca 
tholic persuasion. This belief rests upon the following foundation. In the 
year 1770, Thomas Hart, who then inhabited one of the tenements in Henley 
Street which had been bequeathed to his family by William Shakspere's grand 
daughter, employed a bricklayer to new tile the house ; and this bricklayer, by 

* Kiug John, A.ct i., Scene i. 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

name Mosely, found hidden between the rafters and the tiling a manuscript 
consisting of six leaves stitched together, which he gave to Mr. Peyton, an alder 
man of Stratford, who sent it to Mr. Malone, through the Rev. Mr. Devon- 
port, vicar of Stratford. This paper, which was first published by Malone in 
1790, is printed also in Reed's Shakspeare and in Drake's ' Shakspeare and his 
Times.' It consists of fourteen articles, purporting to be a confession of faith of 
" John Shakspear, an unworthy member of the holy Catholic religion." We 
have no hesitation whatever in believing this document to be altogether a fa 
brication. Chalmers says, " It was the performance of a clerk, the undoubted 
work of the family priest."* Malone, when he first published the paper in his 
adition of Shakspeare, said " I have taken some pains to ascertain the authen 
ticity of this manuscript, and, after a very careful inquiry, am perfectly satis 
fied that it is genuine." In 1796, however, in his work on the Ireland forge 
ries, he asserts " I have since obtained documents that clearly prove it could 
not have been the composition of any of our poet's family." We not only 
do not believe that it was " the composition of any one of our poet's family," 
nor " the undoubted work of the family priest/' but we do not believe that it is 
the work of a Roman Catholic at all. It professes to be the writer's " last spi 
ritual will, testament, confession, protestation, and confession of faith." Now, 
if the writer had been a Roman Catholic, or if it had been drawn up for his ap 
proval and signature by his priest, it would necessarily, professing such fulness 
and completeness, have contained something of belief touching the then mate 
rial points of spiritual difference between the Roman and the Reformed Church. 
Nothing, however, can be more vague than all this tedious protestation and con 
fession, with the exception that phrases, and indeed long passages, are intro 
duced for the purpose of marking the supposed writer's opinions in the way that 
should be most offensive to those of a contrary opinion, as if by way of bravado 
or seeking of persecution. Thus : " Item, I, John Shakspear, do protest that I 
will also pass out of this life armed with the last sacrament of extreme unction." 
Again : " Item, I, John Shakspear, do protest that I am willing, yea, I do infi 
nitely desire and humbly crave, that of this my last will and testament the glo 
rious and ever Virgin Mary, mother of God, refuge and advocate of sinners, 
(whom I honour specially above all saints,) may be the chief executress toge 
ther with these other saints, my patrons, (Saint Winefride,) all whom I invoke 
and beseech to be present at the hour of my death, that she and they comfort 
me with their desired presence." Again : " Item, I, John Shakspear, do in like 
manner pray and beseech my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks, by the bowels 
of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that, since it is uncertain what lot will befall me, 
for fear notwithstanding lest by reason of my sins I be to pass and stay a long 
while in purgatory, they will vouchsafe to assist and succour me with their holy 
prayers and satisfactory works, especially with the holy sacrifice of the mass, as 
being the most effectual means to deliver souls from their torments and pains ; 
from the which if I shall, by God's gracious goodness, and by their virtuous 
works, be delivered, I do promise that I will not be ungrateful unto them for so 

* Apology for the Believers, page 199. 

37 



WILLIAM 6HAKSPERE : 

great a benefit." This last item, which is the twelfth of the paper, is demon- 
strative to us of its spuriousness. That John Shakspere was what we popularly 
call a Protestant in the year 1568, when his son William was four years old, may 
be shown by the clearest of proofs. He was in that year the chief magistrate of 
Stratford ; he could not have become so without taking the Oath of Supremacy, 
according to the statute of the 1st of Elizabeth, 1558-9.* To refuse this oath was 
made punishable with forfeiture and imprisonment, with the pains of praemunire 
and high treason. "The conjecture," says Chalmers (speaking in support of 
the authenticity of this confession of faith), " that Shakspeare's family were 
Roman Catholics, is strengthened by the fact that his father declined to attend the 
corporation meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body." He 
was removed from the corporate body in 1585, with a distinct statement of the 
reason for this removal his non-attendance when summoned to the halls. Ac 
cording to this reasoning of Chalmers, John Shakspere did not hesitate to take 
the Oath of Supremacy when he was chief magistrate in 1564, but retired from 
the corporation in 1585, where he might have remained without offence to his 
own conscience or to others, being, in the language of that day, a popish recusant, 
to be stigmatized as such, persecuted, and subject to the most odious restrictions. 
If he left or was expelled the corporation for his religious opinions, he would, of 
course, not attend the service of the church, for which offence he would be liable, 
in 1585, to a fine of 20/. per month; and then, to crown the whole, in this his 
last confession, spiritual will, and testament, he calls upon all his kinsfolks to 
assist and succour him after his death " with the holy sacrifice of the mass," with 
a promise that he " will not be ungrateful unto them for so great a benefit," well 
knowing that by the Act of 1581 the saying of mass was punishable by a year's 
imprisonment and a fine of 200 marks, and the hearing of it by a similar 
imprisonment and a fine of 100 marks. The fabrication appears to us as gross 
as can well be imagined. f That John Shakspere was what we popularly call 
a Protestant in the year 1568, when his son William was four years old, may be 
shown by the clearest of proofs. He was in that year the chief magistrate of 
Stratford ; he could not have become so without taking the Oath of Supremacy, 
according to the statute of the 1st of Elizabeth, 1558-9. To refuse this oath was 
made punishable with forfeiture and imprisonment, with the pains of prsemunire 
and high treason. " The conjecture," says Chalmers (speaking in support of the 
authenticity of this confession of faith), " that Shakspeare's family were Roman 
Catholics, is strengthened by the fact that his father declined to attend the corpo 
ration meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body." He was 
removed from the corporate body in 1586, with a distinct statement of the reason 
for this removal his non-attendance when summoned to the halls. But a subse- 
sequent discovery of a document in the State Paper Office, communicated by 

"And all and every temporal judge, mayor, and other lay or temporal officer and minister, 
and every other person having your Highness's fee or wages within this realm, or any your 
Highneas's dominions, shall make, take, and receive a corporal oath upon the Evangelist, before 
uch person or persona as shall please your Highness, your heirs or successors, under the great 
eal of England, to assign "and name to aocept and take the same, according to the tenor and 
fleet hereafter following, that is to say," &c. 
t See Note at the end <;f this Chapter. 
38 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Mr. Lemon to Mr. Collier, shows that in 1592, Mr. John Shakspere, with 
fourteen of his neighbours, were returned by certain Commissioners as "such 
recusants as have been heretofore presented for not coming monthly to the church 
according to her Majesty's laws, and yet are thought to forbear the church for 
debt and for fear of process, or for some other worse faults, or for age, sickness, 
or impotency of body." John Shakspere is classed amongst nine who " came not 
to church for fear of process for debt." We shall have to notice this assigned 
reason for the recusancy in a future Chapter. But the religious part of the question 
is capable of another solution, than that the father of Shakspere had become 
reconciled to the Romish religion. At that period the puritan section of the 
English church were acquiring great strength in Stratford and the neighbourhood; 
arid in 1596, Richard Bifield, one of the most zealous of the puritan ministers, 
became its Vicar.* John Shakspere and his neighbours might not have been Popish 
recusants, and yet have avoided the church. It must be borne in mind that the 
parents of William Shakspere passed through the great changes of religious opinion, 
as the greater portion of the people passed, without any violent corresponding change 
in their habits derived from their forefathers. In the time of Henry VIII. the 
great contest of opinion was confined to the supremacy of the Pope ; the great 
practical state measure was the suppression of the religious houses. Under 
Edward VI. there was a very careful compromise of all those opinions and prac 
tices in which the laity were participant. In the short reign of Mary the per 
secution of the Reformers must have been offensive even to those who clung 
fastest to the ancient institutions and modes of belief; and even when the Re 
formation was fully established under Elizabeth, the habits of the people were 
still very slightly interfered with. The astounding majority of the conforming 
clergy is a convincing proof how little the opinions of the laity must have been 
disturbed. They would naturally go along with their old teachers. We have 
to imagine, then, that the father of William Shakspere, and his mother, were, at 
the time of his birth, of the religion established by law. His father, by holding 
a high municipal office after the accession of Elizabeth, had solemnly declared 
his adherence to the great principle of Protestantism the acknowledgment of 
the civil sovereign as head of the church. The speculative opinions in which 
the child was brought up would naturally shape themselves to the creed which 
his father must have professed in his capacity of magistrate ; but, according to 
some opinions, this profession was a disguise on the part of his father. The 
young Shakspere was brought up in the Roman persuasion, according to these 
notions, because he intimates an acquaintance with the practices of the Roman 
church, and mentions purgatory, shrift, confession, in his dramas, f Surely the 
poet might exhibit this familiarity with the ancient language of all Christendom, 
without thus speaking "from the overflow of Roman Catholic zeal."]; Was 
it " Roman Catholic zeal " which induced him to write those strong lines in 
King John against the " Italian Priest," and against those who 



Hunter : ' Nw Illustrations,' vol. i. p. 106. t See Chalmers's ' Apology,' p. 200. 

Chalmers. See also Drake, who adopts, in great measure, Chalmers's argument. 

39 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 
" Purchase corrupted pardon of a man " f 

Was it " Roman Catholic zeal " which made him introduce these words into the 
famous prophecy of the glory and happiness of the reign of Elizabeth 
" God shall be truly known " f 

He was brought up, without doubt, in the opinions which his father publicly 
professed, in holding office subject to his most solemn affirmation of those opi 
nions. The distinctions between the Protestant and the Popish recusant were 
then not so numerous or speculative as they afterwards became. But, such as 
they were, we may be sure that William Shakspere learnt his catechism from 
his mother in all sincerity ; that he frequented the church in which he and his 
brothers and sisters were baptized; that he was prepared for the discipline of 
the school in which religious instruction by a minister of the church was regu 
larly afforded as the end of the other knowledge there taught. He became 
tolerant, according to the manifestation of his after-writings, ihrough nature 
and the habits and friendships of his early life. But that tolerance does not 
presume insincerity in himself or his family. The ' Confession of Faith ' found 
in the roof of his father's house two hundred years after he was born would 
argue the extreme of religious zeal, even to the defiance of all law and au 
thority, on the part of a man who had by the acceptance of office professed his 
adherence to the established national faith. If that paper were to be believed, 
we must be driven to the conclusion that John Shakspere was an unconscien- 
tious hypocrite for one part of his life, and a furious bigot for the other part. 
It is much easier to believe that the Reformation fell lightly upon John Shak 
spere, as it did upon the bulk of the laity ; and he and his wife, without any 
offence to their consciences, saw the Common Prayer take the place of the 
Mass-book, and acknowledged the temporal sovereign to be head of the church ; 
that in the education of their children they dispensed with auricular confession 
and penance ; but that they, in common with their neighbours, tolerated, and 
perhaps delighted in, many of the festivals and imaginative forms of the old 
religion, and even looked up for heavenly aid through intercession, without 
fancying that they were yielding to an idolatrous superstition, such as Puri 
tanism came subsequently to denounce. The transition from the old worship 
to the new was not an ungentle one for the laity. The early reformers were 
too wise to attempt to root up habits those deep-sunk foundations of the past 
which break the ploughshares of legislation when it strives to work an inch 
below the earth's surface. 

Pass we on to matters more congenial to the universality of William Shak- 
spere's mind than the controversies of doctrine, or the mutual persecutions of 
rival sects. He escaped their pernicious influences. He speaks always with 
reverence of the teachers of the highest wisdom, by whatever name denomi 
nated. He has learnt, then, at his mother's knee the cardinal doctrines of 
Christianity ; he can read. His was an age of few books. Yet, believing, as we 
do, that his father and mother were well-educated persons, there would be 
volumes in their house capable of exciting the interest of an inquiring boy 
volumes now rarely s?en and very precious. Some of the first books of the 
40 






A BIOGRAPHY. 

English press might be there ; but the changes of language in the ninety years 
that had passed since the introduction of printing into England would almost 
seal them against a boy's perusal. Caxton's books were essentially of a popular 
character ; but, as he himself complained, the language of his time was greatly 
unsettled, showing that " we Englishmen ben born under the domination of 
the moon, which is never steadfast."* Caxton's Catalogue was rich in ro 
mantic and poetical lore the ' Confessio Amantis,' the ' Canterbury Tales,' 
' Troilus and Creseide,' the ' Book of Troy,' the ' Dictes of the Philosophers,' the 
' Mirror of the World,' the ' Siege of Jerusalem,' the ' Book of Chivalry/ the 
' Life of King Arthur.' Here were legends of faith and love, of knightly deeds 
and painful perils glimpses of history through the wildest romance enough 
to fill the mind of a boy-poet with visions of unutterable loveliness and splen 
dour. The famous successors of the first printer followed in the same career- 
they adapted their works to the great body of purchasers ; they left the learned 
to their manuscripts. What a present must " Dame Julyana Bernes " have be 
stowed upon her countrymen in her book of Hunting, printed by Wynkyn 
de Worde, with other books of sports ! Master Skelton, laureate, would rejoice 
the hearts of the most orthodox, by his sly hits at the luxury and domination 
of the priesthood : Robert Copland, who translated " Kynge Appolyne of 
Thyre,' sent perhaps the story of that prince's " malfortunes and perilous ad 
ventures " into a soil in which they were to grow into a ' Pericles : ' and 
Stephen Hawes, in his 'Pass Tyme of Pleasure,' he being " one of the grooms 
of the most honourable chamber of our sovereign lord King Henry the 
Seventh," would deserve the especial favour of the descendant of Robert 
Arden. Subsequently oame the English ' Froissart' of Lord Berners, and other 
great books hereafter to be mentioned. But if these, and such as these, were 
not to be read by the child undisciplined by school, there were pictures in some 
of those old books which of themselves would open a world to him. That 
wondrous book of ' Bartholomaeus de Proprietatibus Rerum,' describing, and 
exhibiting in appropriate wood-cuts, every animate and inanimate thing, and 
even the most complex operations of social life, whether of cooking, ablution, 
or the ancient and appropriate use of the comb for the destruction of beasts of 
prey the child Shakspere would have turned over its leaves with delight. 
'The Chronicle of England, with the Fruit of Times,' the edition of 1527, 
with cuts innumerable, how must it have taken that boy into the days of 
" fierce wars," and have shown him the mailed knights, the archers, and the 
billmen that fought at Poitiers for a vain empery, and afterwards turned their 
swords and their arrows against each other at Barnet and Tewkesbury ? What 
dim thoughts of earthly mutations, unknown to the quiet town of Stratford, 
must the young Shakspere have received, as he looked upon the pictures of 
" the boke of John Bochas, describing the fall of princes, princesses, and other 
nobles," and especially as he beheld the portrait of John Lydgate, the trans 
lator, kneeling in a long black cloak, admiring the vicissitude of the wheel of 
fortune, the divinity being represented by a male figure, in a robe, with ex 
panded wings ! Rude and incongruous works of art, ye were yet an intelligible 

* Boke of Eueydos. 

41 



WILLIAM >ll \K-I'KKE : 

language to the young and the uninstructed ; and the things ye taught through 
the visual sense were not readily to be forgotten ! 

But there were books in those days, simple and touching in their diction, 
and sounding alike the depths of the hearts of childhood and of age, -which 
were the printed embodiments of that traditionary lore that the shepherd re 
peated in his loneliness when pasturing his flocks in the uplands, and the 
maiden recited to her companions at the wheel. Were there not in every 
house ' Christmas Carols,' perhaps not the edition of Wynkyn de Worde in 
1521, but reprints out of number? Did not the same great printer scatter 
about merry England and especially dear were such legends to the people of 
the midland and northern counties "A lytell Geste of Robyn Hode ?" Whose 
ear amongst the yeomen of Warwickshire did not listen when some genial 
spirit would recite out that of " lytell Geste ?" 

" Lythe and lysten, gentylinen, 
That be of fre bore blode, 
I shall you tell of a good yeman, 
His name was Robyn Hode ; 
Robyn was a proud outlawe 
Whylea he walked on ground, 
So curteyse an outlawe as he was one 
Was never none y founde." 

The good old printer, Wynkyn, knew that there were real, because spiritual, 
truths in these ancient songs and gestes ; and his press poured them out in 
company with many " A full devoute and gosteley Treatise." That charming, 
and yet withal irreverend, " mery geste of the frere and the boy," what genial 
mirth was there in seeing the child, ill-used by his step-mother, making a 
whole village dance to his magic pipe, even to the reverendicity of the frere 
leaping in profane guise as the little boy commanded, so that when he ceased 
piping he could make the frere and the hard step-mother obedient to his inno 
cent will ! There was beautiful wisdom in these old tales something that 
seemed to grow instinctively out of the bosom of nature, as the wild blossoms 
and the fruit of a rich intellectual soil, uncultivated, but not sterile. Of the 
romances of chivalry might be read, in the fair types of Richard Pynson, ' Sir 
Bevis of Southampton ; ' and in those of Robert Copland, ' Arthur of lytell 
Brytayne ; ' and Sir Degore, a Romance,' printed by William Copland ; also 
' Sir Isenbrace,' and ' The Knighte of the Swanne,' a " miraculous history," 
from the same press. Nor was the dramatic form of poetry altogether wanting 
in those days of William Shakspere's childhood verse, not essentially dramatic 
in the choice of subject, but dialogue, which may sometimes pass for dramatic 
even now.^ There was A new Interlude and a mery of the nature of the i i i i 
elements; 'and Magnyfycence ; a goodly interlude and mery; 'and an inter 
lude " wherein is shewd and described as well the bewte of good propertes of 
women as theyr vyces and euyll condicions ; " and 'An interlude entitled 
Jack Juggeler and mistress Boundgrace;' and, most attractive of all, ' A newe 
playe for to be played in Maye games, very plesaunte and full of pastyme,' on 
the subject of Robin Hood and the Friar. The merry interludes of the inde- 

mm 



fatigable John Heywood were preserved in print, in the middle of the sixteenth 
century, whilst many a noble play that was produced fifty years afterwards 
has perished with its actors. To repeat passages out of these homely dialogues, 
in which, however homely they were, much solid knowledge was in some sort 
conveyed, would be a sport for childhood. Out of books, too, and single printed 
sheets, might the songs that gladdened the hearts of the English yeoman, and 
solaced the dreary winter hours of the esquire in his hall, be readily learnt. 
What countryman, at fair, or market, could resist the attractive titles of the 
" balletts " printed by the good widow Toy, of London a munificent widow, 
who presented the Stationers' Company, in 1560, with a new table-cloth and a 
dozen of napkins titles that have melody even to us who have lost the pleasant 
words they ushered in ? There are, 

" Who lyve so mery and make suche sporte 

As they that be of the poorer sorte ?" 
and, 

" God send me a wyfe that will do as I say ;'" 

and, very charming in the rhythm of its one known line, 

" The rose is from my garden gone." 

Songs of sailors were there also in those days England's proper songs such as 
' Hold the anchor fast.' There were collections of songs, too, as those, of " Tho 
mas Whithorne, gentleman, for three, four, or five voices," which found their 
way into every yeoman's house when we were a musical people, and could sing 
in parts. It was the wise policy of the early Reformers, when chantries had 
for the most part been suppressed, to direct the musical taste of the laity to the 
performance of the church service ; * and many were the books adapted to this 
end, such as ' Bassus,' consisting of portions of the service to be chanted, and 
* The whole Psalms, in four parts, which may be sung to all musical instru 
ments ' (1563). The metrical version of the Psalms, by Sternhold and Hop 
kins, first printed in 1562, was essentially for the people ; and, accustomed as we 
have been to smile at the occasional want of refinement in this translation, its 
manly vigour, ay, and its bold harmony, may put to shame many of the feebler 
productions of later times. Sure we are that the child William Shakspere had 
his memory stored with its vigorous and idiomatic English. 

But there was one book which it was the especial happiness of that contem 
plative boy to be familiar with. When in the year 1537 the Bible in English 
was first printed by authority, Richard Grafton, the printer, sent six copies to 
Cranmer, beseeching the archbishop to accept them as his simple gift, adding, 
" For your lordship, moving our most gracious prince to the allowance and 
licensing of such a work, hath wrought such an act worthy of praise as never 

* One of the pleasantest characteristics of the present day is the revival of a love for and a 
knowledge of music amongst the people. Twenty years ago the birthplace of Shakspere presented 
a worthy example to England. The beautiful church in which our great poet is buried had been 
recently repaired and newly fitted up with rare propriety ; and, most appropriately in this fine old 
collegiate church and chantry, the choir of young persons of both sexes, voluntarily formed from 
amongst the respectable inhabitants, was equal to the performance in the most careful style of the 
choral parts of the service, and of those anthems whose highest excellence ia their solemn harmony 
rather than the display of individual voices. 

43 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKIM.: 

was mentioned in any chronicle in this realm." From that time, with the 
exception of the short interval of the reign of Mary, the presses of London 
were for the most part employed in printing Bibles. That book, to whose 
wonderful heart-stirring narratives the child listens with awe and love, was 
now and ever after to be the solace of the English home. With " the Great 
Bible " open before her, the mother would read aloud to her little ones that 
beautiful story of Joseph sold into slavery, and then advanced to honour and 
how his brethren knew him not when, suppressing his tears, he said. " Is your 
father well, the old man of whom ye spake ? " or, how, when the child Samuel 
was laid down to sleep, the Lord called to him three times, and he grew, and 
God was with him ; or, how the three holy men who would not worship the 
golden image walked about in the midst of the burning fiery furnace ; or, how 
the prophet that was unjustly cast into the den of lions was found unhurt, 
because the true God had sent his angels and shut the lions' mouths. These 
were the solemn and affecting narratives, wonderfully preserved for our in 
struction from a long antiquity, that in the middle of the sixteenth century 
became unclosed to the people of England. But more especially was that other 
Testament opened which most imported them to know ; and thus, when the child 
repeated in lisping accents the Christian's prayer to his Father in heaven, the 
mother could expound to him that, when the Divine Author of that prayer first 
gave it to us, He taught us that the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the 
pure in heart, the peacemakers, were the happy and the beloved of God ; and 
laid down that comprehensive law of justice, " All things whatsoever ye would 
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We believe that the home 
education of William Shakspere was grounded upon this Book ; and that, if this 
Book had been sealed to his childhood, he might have been the poet of nature, 
of passion, his humour might have been as rich as we find it, and his wit as 
pointed, but that he would not have been the poet of the most profound as 
well as the most tolerant philosophy ; his insight into the nature of man, his 
meanness and his grandeur, his weakness and his strength, would not have 
been what it is. 

As the boy advanced towards the age of seven a little preparation for the 
grammar-school would be desirable. There would be choice of elementary 
books. The ' Alphabetum Latino Anglicum/ issued under the special autho 
rity of Henry VIII., might attract by its most royal and considerate assurance 
that " we forget not the tender babes and the youth of our realm." Learning, 
however, was not slow then to put on its solemn aspects to the " tender babes ; " 
and so we have some grammars with a wooden cut of an awful man sitting on a 
high chair, pointing to a book with his right hand, but with a mighty rod in his 
left. On the other hand, the excellent Grammar of William Lilly would open a 
pleasant prospect of delight and recreation, in its well-known picture of a huge 
fruit-bearing tree, with little boys mounted amongst its branches and gathering 
in the bounteous crop a vision not however to be interpreted too literally. 
Lilly's Grammar, we are assured by certain grave reasoners, was the Grammar 
used by Shakspere, because he quotes a line from that Grammar which is a modi- 

44 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

fication of a line in Terence. Be it so, as far as the Grammar goes. The memory 
of his school-lessons might have been stronger than that of his later acquire 
ments. He might have quoted Lilly, and yet have read Terence. This, how 
ever, is not the place for the opening of the quastio vexata of Shakspere's learn 
ing. To the grammar-school, then, with some preparation, we hold that Wil 
liam Shakspere goes, in the year 1571. His father is at this time, as we 
have said, chief alderman of his town ; he is a gentleman, now, of repute and 
authority ; he is Master John Shakspere ; and assuredly the worthy curate of 
the neighbouring village of Luddington, Thomas Hunt, who was also the school 
master, would have received his new scholar with some kindness. As his 
" shining morning face " first passed out of the main street into that old court 
through which the upper room of learning was to be reached, a new life would 
be opening upon him. The humble minister of religion who was his first in 
structor has left no memorials of his talents or his acquirements ; and in a few 
years another master came after him, Thomas Jenkins, also unknown to fame. 
All praise and honour be to them ; for it is impossible to imagine that the 
teachers of William Shakspere were evil instructors giving the boy husks in 
stead of wholesome aliment. They could not have been harsh and perverse in 
structors, for such spoil the gentlest natures, and his was always gentle : " My 
gentle Shakspere " is he called by a rough but noble spirit one in whom was 
all honesty and genial friendship under a rude exterior. His wondrous abili 
ties could not be spoiled even by ignorant instructors. 

In the seventh year of the reign of Edward VI. a royal charter was granted 
to Stratford for the incorporation of the inhabitants. That charter recites 
" That the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon was an ancient borough, in which a 
certain guild was theretofore founded, and endowed with divers lands, tene 
ments, and possessions, out of the rents, revenues, and profits whereof a certain 
free grammar-school for the education of boys there was made and supported."* 
The charter further recites the other public objects to which the property of the 
guild had been applied ; that it was dissolved ; and that its possessions had 
come into the hands of the king. The charter of incorporation then grants to 
the bailiff and burgesses certain properties which were parcel of the possessions 
of the guild, for the general charges of the borough, for the maintenance of an 
ancient almshouse, " and that the free grammar-school for the instruction and 
education of boys and youth there should be thereafter kept up and maintained 
as theretofore it used to be." It may be doubted whether Stratford was bene 
fited by the dissolution of its guild. We see that its grammar-school was an 
ancient establishment : it was not a creation of the charter of Edward VI., 
although it is popularly called one of the grammar-schools of that king, and was 
the last school established by him.f The people of Stratford had possessed the 
advantage of a school for instruction in Greek and Latin, which is the distinct 
object of a grammar-school, from the time of Edward IV., when Thomas Jolyffe, 
in 1482, "granted to the guild of the Holy Cross of Stratford-upon-Avon 

* Report of the Commissioners for inquiring concerning Charities, f See Strype'a ' Memorials.' 

45 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE: 

all his lands and tenements in Stratford and Dodwell, in the county of War- 
wick, upon condition that the master, aldermen, and proctors of the said guild 
should tind a priest, fit and able in knowledge, to teach grammar freely to all 
scholars coming to the school in the said town to him, taking nothing of the 
scholars for their teaching."* Dugdale describes the origin of guilds, speaking of 
this of Stratford : " Such meetings were at first used by a mutual agreement 
of friends and neighbours, and particular licenses granted to them for conferring 
lands or rents to defray their public charges in respect that, by the statute of 
mortmain, such gifts would otherwise have been forfeited." 

In the surveys of Henry VIII.. previous to the dissolution of religious houses, 
there were four salaried priests belonging to the guild of Stratford, with a clerk, 
who was also schoolmaster, at a salary of ten pounds per annum. f They were 
a hospitable body these guild-folk, for there was an annual feast, to which ail 
the fraternity resorted, with their tenants and farmers ; and an inventory of 
their goods in the 15th of Edward IV. shows that they were rich in plate for 
the service of the table, as well as of the ch.,pel. That chapel was partly rebuilt 
by the great benefactor of Stratford, Sir Hugh Clopton ; and after the dissolu 
tion of the guild, and the establishment of the grammar-school by the charter 
of Edward VI., the school was in all probability kept within it. There is an 
entry in the Corporation books, of February 18, 1594-5 "At this hall it was 
agreed by the bailiff and the greater number of the company now present that 
there shall be no school kept in the chapel from this time following." In 
associating, therefore, the schoolboy days of William Shakspere with the Free 




_ 

[Interior of the Grammar School.] 



Rport of Commissioners, Ac. 



t Dugdale. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Grammar- School of Stratford, we cannot with any certainty imagine him en 
gaged in his daily tasks in the ancient room which is now the school-room. 
And yet the use of the chapel as a school, discontinued in 1595, might only have 
been a temporary use. A little space may be occupied in a notice of each 
building. 

The grammar-school is now an ancient room over the old town-hall of Strat 
ford ; both, no doubt, offices of the ancient guild. We enter from the street 
into a court, of which one side is formed by the chapel of the Holy Cross. 
Opposite the chapel is a staircase, ascending which we are in a plain room, with 
a ceiling. But it is evident that this work of plaster is modern, and that above 
it we have the oak roof of the sixteenth century. In this room are a few forms 
and a rude antique desk. 

The Chapel of the Guild is in groat part a very perfect specimen of the plainer 
ecclesiastical architecture of the reign of Henry VII. : a building of just pro 
portions and some ornament, but not running into elaborate decoration. The 
engraving below exhibits its street-front, showing the grammar school beyond. 




[Chapel of the Guild, anil Grammar School ; Street Front ] 

The interior now presents nothing very remarkable. But upon a general repair 
of the Chapel in 1804, beneath the whitewash of successive geneiations was 
discovered a series of most remarkable paintings, some in that portion of the 
building erected by Sir Hugh Clopton, and others in the far more ancient 
Chancel. A very elaborate series of coloured engravings has been published 
from these paintings, from drawings made at the time of their discovery by 

47 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'KKE : 

Mr. Thomas Fisher. There can be little doubt, from the defacement of some of 
the paintings, that they were partially destroyed by violence, and all attempted 
to be obliterated in the progress of the Reformation. But that outbreak of zeal 
did not belong to the first periods of religious change ; and it is most probable 
that these paintings were existing in the early years of Elizabeth's reign. When 
the five priests of the guild were driven from their home and their means of 
maintenance, the chapel no doubt ceased to be a place of worship ; and it pro 
bably became the school -room, after the foundation of the grammar-school, dis 
tinct from the guild, under the charter of Edward VI. If it was the school 
room of William Shakspere, those rude paintings must have produced a powerful 
effect upon his imagination. Many of them in the ancient Chancel constituted a 
pictorial romance the history of the Holy Cross, from its origin as a tree at 
the Creation of the World to its rescue from the Pagan Cosdroy, King of Persia, 
by the Christian King, Heraclius ; and its final Exaltation at Jerusalem, the 
anniversary of which event was celebrated at Stratford at its annual fair, held on 
the 14th of September. There were other pictures of Saints, and Martyrdoms; 
and one, especially, of the murder of Thomas a Becket, which exhibits great 
force, without that grotesqueness which generally belongs to our early paintings. 




IThe Martyrdom of Thorow & Deckel: from an ancient Painting in the 
Chapel of the Holy Crow.] 



A 13IOGKAPHY. 

There were fearful pictures, too, of the last Judgment ; .with the Seven Deadly 
Sins visibly portrayed, the punishments of the evil, the rewards of the just. 
Surrounded as he was with the memorials of the old religion with great 
changes on every side,. but still very recent changes how impossible was it that 
Shakspere should not have been thoroughly imbued with a knowledge of all that 
pertained to the faith of his ancestors ! One of the most philosophical writers 
of our day has said that Catholicism gave us Shakspere.* Not so, entirely. 
Shakspere belonged to the transition period, or he could not have been quite 
what he was. His intellect was not the dwarfish and precocious growth of the 
hot-bed of change, and still less of convulsion. His whole soul was permeated 
with the ancient vitalities the things which the changes of institutions could 
not touch ; but it could bourgeon under the new influences, and blend the past 
and the present, as the " giant oak " of five hundred winters is covered with 
the foliage of one spring, f 

* Carlyle ' French Revolution.' 

+ The foundation scholars of this grammar-school at present receive a complete classical edu 
cation, so as to fit them for the university. (Report of Commissioners.) 



LIFI. K 49 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 



NOTE ON JOHN SHAKSPERE'S CONFESSION OF FAITH. 



THE thirteenth item of this strange production appears to us, in common with many other pas 
sages, to be conceived in that spirit of exaggeration which would mark the work of an imitator 
of the language of the sixteenth century, rather than the production of one habitually employing 
it : " Item, I, John Shakspear, do by this my last will and testament bequeath my soul, as soon 
as it shall be delivered and loosened from the prison of this my body, to be entombed in the tweet 
and amorout coffin of the side of Jesus Christ; and that in this life-giving sepulchre it may 
rest and live, perpetually enclosed in that eternal habitation of repose, there to bless for ever and 
ever that direful iron of the lance, which, like a charge in a censer, forms so sweet and pleasant a 
monument within the sacred breast of my Lord and Saviour." Surely this is not the language 
of a plain man in earnest. Who then, can it be imagined, would fabricate this production in 
1770? Mosely the bricklayer finds it in the roof of the house in which Shakspere was held to 
be born ; and to whom, according to the story, does he give it ? Not to the descendant of 
John Shakspere, the then owner of the house, but to Alderman Peyton, who transmits it to 
Malone through the Vicar of Stratford. Garrick's Jubilee took place in 1769; but the farces 
enacted on that occasion were not likely to set people searching after antiquities or fabricating 
them. But previous to the publication of his edition of Shakspere, in 1790, Malone visited 
Stratford to examine the Registers and other documents. He appears to have done exactly 
what he pleased on this occasion. He carried off the Registers and the Corporation Records with 
him to London ; and he whitewashed the bust of Shakspere, so as utterly to destroy its value 
as a memorial of costume. There was then a cunning fellow in the town by name Jordan, 
who thought the commentator a fair mark for his ingenuity. He produced to him a drawing 
of Shakspere's house, New Place, copied, as he said, from an ancient document, which Malone 
engraved as " From a Drawing in the Margin of an Ancient Survey, made by order of Sir George 
Carew, and found at Clopton, near Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1786." When the elder Ireland 
visited Stratford in 1795 the original drawing was "lost or destroyed." The same edition of 
Shakspere in which this drawing " found at Clopton " is first presented to the world also first 
gives the Confession of Faith of John Shakspere, found in the roof of his house in Henley 
Street. We doubt exceedingly whether Jordan fabricated the one or the other : but there was 
a man who was quite capable of prompting both impositions, and of carrying them through ; 
one upon whom the suspicion of fabricating Shaksperian documents strongly rested in his life 
time ; one who would have rejoiced with the most malignant satisfaction in hoaxing a rival 
editor. We need not name him. It is evident to us that Malone subsequently discovered that 
he had been imposed upon : for in his posthumous ' Life of Shakspeare ' he has not one word of 
allusion to this Confession of Faith ; he not only omits to print it, but he suppresses all notice 
of it. He would sink it for ever in the sea of oblivion. In 1790 he produced it triumphantly 
with the conviction that it was genuine; in 1796 he had obtained documents to prove it could 
not have been the composition of any one of the poet's family ; but in the posthumous edition 
of 1821 the documents of explanation, as well as the Confession of Faith itself, are treated as if 
they never had been. 




[Village of Aston Cantiow.j 



CHAPTER V. 

THE SCHOOLBOY'S WORLD. 



LET us pass over for a time the young Shakspere at his school-desk, inquiring 
not when he went from ' The Short Dictionary ' forward to the use of ' Cooper's 
Lexicon/ or whether he was most drilled in the ' Eclogues ' of Virgil, or those of 
the " good old Mantuan." Of one thing we may be well assured, that the instruc 
tion of the grammar-school was the right instruction for the most vivacious mind, 
as for him of slower capacity. To spend a considerable portion of the years of 
boyhood in the acquirement of Latin and Greek was not to waste them, as 
modern illumination would instruct us. Something was to be acquired, accu 
rately and completely, that was of universal application, and within the boy's 
power of acquirement. The particular knowledge that would fit him for a 
chosen course of life would be an after acquirement ; and, having attained the 
habit of patient study, and established in his own mind a standard to apply to 
all branches of knowledge by knowing one branch well, he would enter upon 
the race of life without being over-weighted with the elements of many arts and 
sciences, which it belongs only to the mature intellect to bear easily and grace - 

61 



WILLIAM SHAKSI'KKr. : 

fully, and to employ to lasting profit. Our grammar-schools were \yise institu 
tions. They opened the road to usefulness and honour to the humblest in the 
land ; they bestowed upon the son of the peasant the same advantages of educa 
tion as the son of the noble could receive from the most accomplished teacher in 
his father's halls. Long may they be preserved amongst us in their integrity ; 
not converted by the meddlings of innovation into lecture-rooms for cramming 
children with the nomenclature of every science ; presenting little idea even 
of the physical world beyond that of its being a vast aggregation of objects that 
may be classified and catalogued ; and leaving the spiritual world utterly un- 
cared for, as a region whose products cannot be readily estimated by a money 
value ! 

Every schoolboy's dwelling-place is a microcosm ; but the little world lying 
around William Shakspere was something larger than that in which boys of our 
own time for the most part live. The division of employments had not so com 
pletely separated a town life from a country life as with us ; and even the town 
occupations, the town amusements, and the town wonders, had more variety in 
them than our own days of systematic arrangement can present. Much of the 
education of William Shakspere was unquestionably in the fields. A thousand 
incidental allusions manifest his familiarity with all the external aspects of 
nature. He is very rarely a descriptive poet, distinctively so called ; but images 
of mead and grove, of dale and upland, of forest depths, of quiet walks by gentle 
rivers, reflections of his own native scenery, spread themselves without an 
effort over all his writings. All the occupations of a rural life are glanced at 
or embodied in his characters. The sports, the festivals, of the lone farm or the 
secluded hamlet are presented by him with all the charms of an Arcadian age, 
but with a truthfulness that is not found in Arcadia. The nicest peculiarities 
in the habits of the lower creation are given at a touch ; we see the rook wing 
his evening flight to the wood ; we hear the drowsy hum of the sharded beetle. 
He wreathes all the flowers of the field in his delicate chaplets ; and even the 
nicest mysteries of the gardener's art can be expounded by him. All this he 
appears to do as if from an instinctive power. His poetry in this, as in all other 
great essentials, is like the operations of nature itself; we- see not its workings. 
But we may be assured, from the very circumstance of its appearing so acci 
dental, so spontaneous in its relations to all external nature and to the country 
life, that it had its foundation in very early and very accurate observation. 
Stratford was especially fitted to have been the " green lap " in which the boy- 
poet was " laid." The whole face of creation here wore an aspect of quiet love 
liness. Looking on its placid stream, its gently swelling hills, its rich pastures, 
its sleeping woodlands, the external world would to him be full of images of 
repose : it was in the heart of man that he was to seek for the sublime. Nature 
has thus ever with him something genial and exhilarating. There are storms 
in his great dramas, but they are the accompaniments of the more terrible storms 
( I human passions : they are raised by the poet's art to make the agony of Lear 
more intense, and the murder of Duncan more awful. But his love of a smiling 
creation seems ever present. We must image Stratford as it was, to see how the 
young Shakspere walked " in glory and in joy " amongst his native fields. Upon 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



the bank of the Avon, having a very slight rise, is placed a scattered town ; a town 
whose dwellings have orchards and gardens, with lofty trees growing in its 
pathways. Its splendid, collegiate church, in the time of Henry VIII., was de 
scribed to lie half a mile from the town. Its eastern window is reflected in the 
river which flows beneath ; its grey tower is embowered amidst lofty elm-rows. 
At the opposite end of the town is a fine old bridge, with a causeway whose 
" wearisome but needful length " tells of inundations in the Jow pastures that 
lie all around it. We look upon Dugdale's Map of Barichway Hundred, in 
which Stratford is situated, published in 1656, and we see four roads issuing 
from the town. The one to Henley in Arden, which lies through the street in 
which Shakspere may be supposed to have passed his boyhood, continues over a 
valley of some breadth and extent, unenclosed fields undoubtedly in the sixteenth 
century, with the hamlets of Shottery and Bishopton amidst them. The road 
leads into the then woody district of Arden. At a short distance from it is the 
hamlet of Wilmecote, where Mary Arden dwelt ; and some two miles aside, more 
in the heart of the woodland district, and hard by the river Alne, is the village 
of Aston Cantlow. Another road indicated on this old map is that to War 
wick. The wooded hills of Welcom.be overhang it, and a little aside, some mile 
and a half from Stratford, is the meadow of Ingon which John Shakspere 
rented in 1570. Very beautiful, even now, is this part of the neighbourhood, 
with its rapid undulations, little dells which shut in the scattered sheep, and 
sudden hills opening upon a wide landscape. Ancient crab-trees and hawthorns 
tell of uncultivated clowns which have rung to the call of the falconer or the 
horn of the huntsman ; and then, having crossed the ridge, we are amongst rich 
corn-lands, with farm-houses of no modern date scattered about ; and deep in 
the hollow, so as to be hidden till we are upon it, the old village of Snitterfield, 
with its ancient church and its yew-tree as ancient. Here the poet's maternal 
grandmother had her jointure ; and here it has been conjectured his father also 
had possessions. On the opposite side of Stratford the third road runs in the 
direction of the Avon to the village of Bidford, with a nearer pathway along 
the rjver-bank. We cross the ancient bridge by the fourth road (which also 
diverges to Shipston), and we are on our way to the celebrated house and estate 
of Charlcote, the ancient seat of the Lucys, the Shaksperian locality with which 
most persons are familiar through traditions of deer-stealing, of which we have 
not yet to speak. A pleasant ramble indeed is this to Charlcote and Hamp 
ton Lucy, even with glimpses of the Avon from a turnpike-road. But let the 
road run through meadows without hedgerows, with pathways following the 
river's bank, now diverging when the mill is close upon the stream, now cross 
ing a leafy elevation, and then suddenly dropping under a precipitous wooded 
rock, and we have a walk such as poet might covet, and such as Shakspere did 
enjoy in his boy rambles. 

Through these pleasant places would the boy William Shakspere walk hand in 
hand with his father, or wander at his own free will with his school companions. 
All the simple processes of farming life would be familiar to him. The pro 
fitable mysteries of modern agriculture would not embarrass his youthful expe 
rience. He would witness none of that anxious diligence which compels the 



WILLIAM 8HAKSPEKE : 

earth to yield double crops, and places little reliance upon the unassisted opera 
tions of nature. The seed-time and the harvest in the corn-fields, the gather- 
ing-in of the thin grass on the uplands, and of the ranker.produce of the flooded 
meadows, the folding of the flocks on the hills, the sheep-shearing, would seem 
to him like the humble and patient waiting of man upon a bounteous Provi 
dence. There would be no systematic rotation of crops to make him marvel at 
the skill of the cultivator. Implements most skilfully adapted for the saving 
of animal labour would be unknown to him. The rude plough of his Saxon 
ancestors would be dragged along by a powerful team of sturdy oxen ; the 
sound of the flail alone would be heard in the barn. Around him would, how 
ever, be the glad indications of plenty. The farmer would have abundant stacks, 
and beeves, and kine, though the supply would fail in precarious seasons, when 
price did not regulate consumption ; he would brew his beer and bake his rye- 
bread ; his swine would be fattening on the beech-mast and the acorns of the 
free wood : his skeps of bees would be numerous in his garden ; the colewort 
would sprout from spring to winter for his homely meal, and in the fruitful 
season the strawberry would present its much coveted luxury. The old orchard 
would be rich with the choicest apples, grafts from the curious monastic varie 
ties ; the rarer fruits from southern climates would be almost wholly unknown. 
There would be no niggard economy defeating itself ; the stock, such as it was, 
would be of the best, although no Bakewell had arisen to preside over its im 
provement : 

" Let carren and barren be shifted away, 
For best is the best, whatsoever ye pay." 

William Shakspere would go out with his father on a Michaelmas morning, 
and the fields would be busy with the sowing of rye and white wheat and 
barley. The apples and the walnuts would be then gathered ; honey and 
wax taken from the hives ; timber would be felled, sawn, and stacked for sea 
soning. In the solitary fields, then, would stand the birdkeeper with his 
bow. As winter approached would come what Tusser calls " the slaughter- 
time," the killing of sheep and bullocks for home consumption ; the thresher 
would be busy now and then for the farmer's family, but the wheat for the baker 
would lie in sheaf. No hurrying then to market for fear of a fall in price ; 
there is abundance around, and the time of stint is far off. The simple routine 
was this : 

" In spring-time we rear, we do sow, and we plant ; 
In summer get victuals, lest after we want. 
In harvest we carry in corn, and the fruit, 
In winter to spend, as we need, of each suit."t 

The joyous hospitality of Christmas had little fears that the stock would be pre 
maturely spent ; and whilst the mighty wood-fire blazed in the hall to the mirth 
of song and carol, neighbours went from house to house to partake of the abund 
ance, and the poor were fed at the same board with the opulent. As the frost 

* Tusser, chapter xvi. f Ibid., chapter xxiv. 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

breaks, the labourer is again in the fields ; hedging and ditching are somewhat 
understood, but the whole system of drainage is very rude. Wth such a<mcul- 
ture man seems to have his winter sleep as well as the earth. But nature is 
again alive ; spring corn is to be sown ; the ewes and lambs are to be carefully 
tended ; the sheep, now again in the fields, are to be watched, for there 
are hungry " mastiffs and mongrels " about ; the crow and pie are to be destroyed 
in their nests ere they are yet feathered ; trees are to be barked before timber is 
fallen. Then comes the active business of the dairy, and, what to us would be 
a strange sight, the lambs have been taken from their mothers, and the ewes are 
milked in the folds. May demands the labour of the weed-hook ; no horse- 
hoeing in those simple days. There are the flax and nemp too to be sown to sup 
ply the ceaseless labour of the spinner's wheel ; bees are to be swarmed ; and 
herbs are to be stored for the housewife's still. June brings its sheep-washing 
and shearing ; with its haymaking, where the farmer is captain in the field, pre 
siding over the bottles and the wallets from the hour when the dew is dry to set 
of sun. Bustle is there now to get " grist to the mill," for the streams are dry 
ing, and if the meal be wanting how shall the household be fed ? The harvest- 
time comes ; the reapers cry " largess " for their gloves ; the tithe is set out for 
" Sir Parson ; " and then, after the poor have gleaned, and the cattle have been 
turned in " to mouth up " what is left, 

" In harvest-1 ime, harvest-folk, servants and all, 
Should make, all together, good cheer in the hall ; 
And fill out the black bowl of blythe to their song, 
And let them be merry all harvest-time long.' 1 * 

Such was the ancient farmer's year, which Tusser has described with wonder 
ful spirit even to the minutest detail ; and such were the operations of hus 
bandry that the boy Shakspere would have beheld with interest amidst his 
native corn-fields and pastures. When the boy became deep-thoughted he 
would perceive that many things were ill understood, and most operations in 
differently carried through. He would hear of dearth and sickness, and he 
would seek to know the causes. But that time was not as yet. 

The poet who has delineated human life and character under every variety of 
passion and humour must have had some early experience of mankind. The 
loftiest imagination must work upon the humblest materials. In his father's 
home, amongst his father's neighbours, he would observe those striking differ 
ences in the tempers and habits of mankind which are obvious even to a child. 
Cupidity would be contrasted with generosity, parsimony with extravagance. 
He would hear of injustice and of ingratitude, of uprightness and of fidelity. 
Curiosity would lead him to the bailiff's court ; and there he would learn of 
bitter quarrels and obstinate enmities, of friends parted " on a dissension of a 
doit," of foes who " interjoin their issues " to worry some wretched offender. 
Small ambition and empty pride would grow bloated upon the pettiest distinc 
tions ; and " the insolence of office " would thrust humility off the causeway. 

* Tusser, chapter xlvii. 

55 



WILUAM sn \Ksr::i:i-: : 

Tliere would be loud talk of loyalty and religion, while the peaceful and the 
pious would be suspected ; and the sycophant who wore the great man's livery 
would strive to crush the independent in spirit. Much of this the observing 
boy would see, but much also would be concealed in the general hollowness that 
belongs to a period of inquietude and change. The time would come when he 
would penetrate into the depths of these things ; but meanwhile what was upon 
the surface would be food for thought. At the weekly Market there would be 
the familiar congregation of buyers and sellers. The housewife from her little 
farm would ride in gallantly between her panniers laden with butter, eggs, 
chickens, and capons. The farmer would stand by- his pitched corn, and, as 
Harrison complains, if the poor man handled the sample with the intent to pur 
chase his humble bushel, the man of many sacks would declare that it was sold. 
The engrosser, according to the same authority, would be there with his under 
standing nod, successfully evading every statute that could be made against 
forestalling, because no statutes could prevail against the power of the best price. 
There, before shops were many and their stocks extensive, would come the 
dealers from Birmingham and Coventry, with wares for use and wares for 
show, horse-gear and women -gear, Sheffield whittles, and rings with posies. 
At the joyous Fair-season it would seem that the wealth of a world was 
emptied into Stratford ; not only the substantial things, the wine, the wax, the 
wheat, the wool, the malt, the cheese, the clothes, the napery, such as even great 
lords sent their stewards to the Fairs to buy,* but every possible variety of 
such trumpery as fill the pedler's pack, ribbons, inkles, caddises, coifs, 
stomachers, pomanders, brooches, tapes, shoe-ties. Great dealings were there 
on these occasions in beeves and horses, tedious chafferings, stout affirmations, 
saints profanely invoked to ratify a bargain. A mighty man rides into the Fair 
who scatters consternation around. It is the Queen's Purveyor. The best horses 
are taken up for her Majesty's use, at her Majesty's price ; and they probably 
find their way to the Earl of Leicester's or the Earl of Warwick's stables at a 
considerable profit to Master Purveyor. The country buyers and sellers look 
blank ; but there is no remedy. There is solace, however, if there is not redress. 
The ivy-bush is at many a door, and the sounds of merriment are within, as the 
ale and the sack are quaffed to friendly greetings. In the streets there are 
morris-dancers, the juggler with his ape, and the minstrel with his ballads. We 
can imagine the foremost in a group of boys listening to the " small popular 
musics sung by these cantabanqui upon benches and barrels' heads," or more 
earnestly to some one of the "blind harpers, or such-like tavern minstrels, that 
give a fit of mirth for a groat ; their matters being for the most part stories 
of old time, as ' The Tale of Sir Topas,' ' Bevis of Southampton,' ' Guy of War 
wick,' ' Adam Bell and Clymme of the 'Clough,' and such other old romances or 
historical rhymes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people. 'f 
A bold fellow, who is full of queer stories and cant phrases, strikes a few notes 
upon his gittern, and the lads and lasses are around him ready to dance their 






See the Northumberland Household Book, 
t Ptittenham's 'Art of Poetry,' 1589 



A BIOGTIAPHT. 

country measures. He is thus described in the year 1564, in a tract by William 
Bulleyn : " Sir, there is one lately come into this hall, in a green Kendal coat, 
with yellow hose, a beard of the same colour, only upon the upper lip ; a russet 
hat, with a great plume of strange feathers, and a brave scarf about his neck, 
in cut buskins. He is playing at the trey-trip .with our host's son : he playeth 
trick upon the gittern, and dances ' Trenchmore' and ' Heie de Gie,' and telleth 
news from Terra Florida." Upon this strange sort of indigenous troubadour 
did the schoolboy gaze, for he would seem to belong to a more knowing race 
than dwelt on Avon's side. His " news from Terra Florida" tells us of an age 
of newstongues, before newspapers were. Doubtless such as he had many a 
story of home wonders ; he had seen London perhaps ; he could tell of Queens 
and Parliaments ; might have beheld a noble beheaded, or a heretic burnt ; he 
could speak, we may fancy, of the wonders of the sea; of ships laden with rich 
merchandize, unloading in havens far from this inland region ; of other ships 
wrecked on inhospitable coasts, and poor men made rich by the ocean's spoils. 
Food for thought was there in all these things, seeds of poetry scattertd care 
lessly, but not wastefully, in the rich imaginative soil. 




[The Fair.] 



The Fair is over ; the booths are taken down ; the woollen statute-caps, which 
the commonest people refuse to wear because there is a penalty for not wearing 
them, are packed up again ; the prohibited felt hats are all sold ; the millinery 
has found a ready market amongst the sturdy yeomen, who are careful to 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

propitiate their home-staying wives after the fashion of the Wife of Bath's 
husbands : 

" I governed hem so well after my lawe, 
That eche of hem full blissful was, and fawe 
To bringen me gay thinges fro the feyrej 
They were full glade," &c. 

The juggler has packed up his cup and balls; the last cudgel-play has been 
fought out : 

" Near the dying of the day 
There will be a cudgel-play, 
Where a coxcomb will be broke, 
Ere a good word can be spoke : 
But the anger ends all here, 
Drench" d in ale, or drown' d in beer." * 

Morning comes, and Stratford hears only the quiet steps of its native popula 
tion. But upon the bench, under the walnut-tree that spreads its broad arms 
to shadow a little inn, sits an old man, pensive, solitary ; he was not noted in 
the crowd of yesterday, louder voices and bolder faces carried the rewards 
which he had once earned. The old man is poor ; yet is his gown of Kendal 
green not tattered though somewhat tarnished. The harp laid by his side 
upon the bench tells his profession. There was a time when he was welcomed 
at every hall, and he might fitly wear starched ruffs, and a chain of pewter as 
bright as silver, and have the wrest of his harp jauntily suspended by a green 
lace.f Those times are past. He scarcely now dares to enter worshipful 
men's houses ; and at the Fairs a short song of love or good fellowship, or a 
dance to the gittern, are preferred to his tedious legends. He may now say 
with that luckless minstrel Richard Sheale (who, if his own chants are deplor 
able enough, has the merit of having assisted in the preservation of ' Chevy 
Chase'), 

" My audacity is gone, and all my merry talk; 

. There is some here have seen me as merry as a hawk ; 

But now I am so troubled with phan'sies in my mind, 
That I cannot play the merry knave according to my kind." 

There are two or three boys with satchel in hand gazing on that old minstrel ; 
one of them bestows on him a penny, and goes his way. School-time is over, 
and as the boy returns the old man is still sunning himself on the ale-bench. 
He speaks cheerfully to the boy, and asks him his name. " William Shak- 
spere." The old man's eye brightens. "A right good name," he exclaims; 
"a name for a soldier:" and then, with a clear but somewhat tremulous voice, 
he sings 

" Off all that se a Skottishe knight, 

Was callyd Sir Hewe the Mongon-byrry, 
He sawe the Duglas to the death was dyght ; 
He spendyd a spear a trusti tre : 

Herrick. t See Lanehain's description of the Minstrel at Kenilworth. 

58 



A BIOGEAPHY. 

He rod uppon a corsiare 

Throughe a hondrith archery ; 
He never styntyde, nar never blane, 

Till lie came to the good lord Perse. 

He set uppone the lord Perse 

A dynte, that was full soare ; 
With a suar spear of a mighte tre 

Clean thorow the body he the Perse bore." * 

The boy's heart is moved "'more than with a trumpet/' and he is riot content 
till he has heard the whole of that " old song of Percy and Douglas." It is easy 
to imagine, further, that the poor minstrel lingered about Stratford ; that he had 
welcome at least in one house ; and that from time to time the memory of the 
grammar-school boy was not unprofitably employed in treasuring up snatches 
of old romances side by side with his syntax. Could not that old man tell all 
the veritable legend of Sir Guy, how he wed the fair Phillis, and, " all clad in 
grey in pilgrim-sort," voyaged to the Holy Land, and there slew the giant 
Amarant and the treacherous Knight of Pavye, and how he utterly did redeem 
England from Danish tribute, by slaying the giant Colbrand, and moreover 
destroyed the dragon of Northumberland, and the cow of Dunsmore Heath, 
whose bones even then might be seen at Warwick ? And had he not viewed 
the cave at Guy's Cliff made by the champion's own hands out of a craggy 
rock of stone, where he long dwelt in poverty, begging his daily bread at his 
own castle-gate ? This legend, indeed, would tell of wondrous deeds done close 
at hand ; and the boy-poet would ardently desire to see the famous castle of 
Warwick, and the hermit's cave, where the lady of Sir Guy, having received 
their wedding-ring by a trusty servant, came in haste, and finding her sick lord, 
"herself closed up his dying eyes." The minstrel would affirm the truth of 
this legend ; and his young listener would believe it all. There was not only 
boy-faith in those days, but there was faith in tradition even amongst worldly 
men. The imagination could rest confidingly upon the distant and the past. 
Even in the middle of the next century an antiqnary, unequalled for indus 
trious and minute inquiry, could surrender his belief to the general truth of 
the history of Sir Guy : "Of his particular adventures, lest what I say should 
be suspected for fabulous, I will only instance that combat betwixt him and 
the Danish champion, Colebrand, whom some (to magnify our noble Guy the 
more) report to have been a giant. The story whereof, however it may be 
thought fictitious by some, forasmuch as there be those that make a question 
whether there was ever really such a man ; or, if so, whether all be not a dream 
which is reported of him, in regard that the monks have sounded out his 
praises so hyperbolically : yet those that are more considerate will neither 
doubt the one nor the other, inasmuch as it hath been so usual with our ancient 
historians, for the encouragement of after-ages unto bold attempts, to set forth 
the exploits of worthy men with the highest encomiums imaginable: and 
therefore, should we for that cause be so conceited as to explode it, all history 

* Ancient ballad of ' Chevy Chase 'the one which Sidney describes as "eril appareled in the 

dust and cobweb of that uncivil age." 

59 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPKIIE : 

of those times might as well be villified." : \\\- arc changed. Is the change 
for the better? 

But the old minstrel has heroic songs that are not altogether of the marvel 
lous. There was a story of Richard Coeur-de-Lion 

" Against whose fury and unmatched force 
The awless lion could not wage the fijht;" f 

which told in homely verse how 

" The lyon was hon^ry and megre, 
And bette his tayle to be egrc." 

There was the simple burst of patriotic exultation for the victory at Agincourt, 
beginning 

" Owre kynge went forth to Normandy, 
With grace and myght of chivalry ; 
The God for him wrought marvelonsly, 
Wherefore Englonde may calle, and cry 

Deo griil ins : 
Deo gratias Anglia re Ide pro victoria." 

Many a long "fitte" had he, which told of doughty deeds of Arthur and his 
chivalry, Sir Bevis, Sir Gawain, Sir Launfal, and Sir Isenbras ; and, after he 
had praluded with his harp, the minstrel would begin each in stately wise with 
" Listen, lordlings, and hold you still," or " Listen to me a little stond." Pass 
we over all the merry tales of Robin Hood which fell triplingly from his tongue, 
for many of these were fresh in the memory of the people, and were sung in the 
greenwood or by the Christmas fire. But he had songs which he could scarcely 
sing without a tear in his eye, for they were remembrances of days when the 
minstrel was welcomed by the porter at the abbey -gate, and the buttery-hatch 
was unclosed to give him a generous meal. They were songs of pilgrimages 
made by true lovers to shrines of Our Lady, songs that two centuries after 
were to be adopted in a more correct school of poetry, but one scarcely more 
spirited and natural : 

" Gentle herdsman, tell to me, 

Of curtesy I thee pray, 
Unto the town of Walsingham 

Which is the right and ready way," 

has a fine racy melody about it, pleasanter we think, than the somewhat cloying 
" Turn, gentle hermit of the dale." 

The minstrel has departed ; but he has left behind him such lore as will be long 
cherished by that wondrous boy of the Free Grammar-school. There are many 
traces in the works of Shakspere of his familiarity with old romances and old 
ballads ; but, like all his other acquirements, there is no reproduction of the 
same thing under a new form. Rowe fancied that Shakspere's knowledge of 
the learned languages was but small, because "it is without controversy that in 

Dngla!c'jj 'Warwickshire, page 299 ^ King John, Act I. Scene r. 

60 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

his works we scarce find any traces of anything that looks like an imitation of 
the ancients." It is for inferior men to imitate. It was for Shakspere t6 sub 
ject his knowledge to his original power of thought, so that his knowledge and 
his invention should become one perfect and entire substance; and thus the 
minute critic, who desires to find the classical jewels set in the English gold, 
proclaims that they are not there, became they were unknown and unappre 
ciated by the uneducated poet. So of the traditionary lore with which Shak 
spere must have been familiar from his very boyhood. That lore is not in his 
writings in any very palpable shape, but its spirit is there. The simplicity, the 
vigour, the pathos, the essential dramatic power, of the ballad poetry stood out 
in Shakspere's boyhood in remarkable contrast to the drawling pedantry of the 
moral plays of the early stage. The ballads kept the love and the knowledge 
of real poetry in the hearts of the people. There was something high, and 
generous, and tolerant, in those which were most popular ; something which 
demonstratively told they belonged to a nation which admired courage, which 
loved truth, which respected misfortune. Percy, speaking of the more ancient 
ballad of ' Chevy Chase/ says " One may also observe a generous impartiality 
in the old original bard, when in the conclusion of his tale he represents both 
nations as quitting the field without any reproachful reflection on either ; though 
he gives to his own countrymen the credit of being the smaller number." The 
author of that ballad was an Englishman ; and we may believe this " impar 
tiality" to have been an ingredient of the old English patriotism. At any rate 
it entered into the patriotism of Shakspere. 



WILLIAM SIIAKSI'F.KF. : 




[The Boundary Elm, Stratford.] 



CHAPTER VI. 

HOLIDAYS. 



IT is the twenty-third of April, and the birthday of William Shakspere is a 
general holiday at Stratford. It is St. George's day. There is high feasting 
at Westminster or at Windsor. The green rushes are strewn in the outward 
courts of the Palace ; the choristers lift up the solemn chants of the Litany 
as a procession advances from the Queen's Hall to her Chapel ; the Heralds 
move on gorgeously in their coat-armour ; the Knights of the Garter and the 
Sovereign glitter in their velvet robes ; the Yeomen of the Guard close round 
in their richest liveries.* At Stratford there is humbler pageantry. Upon 
the walls of the Chapel of the Holy Cross there was a wondrous painting of a 
terrible dragon pierced through the neck with a spear ; but he has snapped the 



62 



Son Nichols's ' Progresses of Elizabeth,' vol. i., p. 88. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

weapon in two with his fearful talons, and a gallant knight in complete armour 
is uplifting his sword, whilst the bold horse which he bestrides rushes upon 
the monster with his pointed champfrein : * in the background is a crowned 
l&dy with a lamb; and on distant towers a king and queen watching the 
combat. This story of Saint George and the delivery of the Princess of 
Silene from the power of the dragon was, on the twenty-third of April, wont to 
be dramatized at Stratford. From the altar of Saint George was annually 
taken down an ancient suit of harness, which was duly scoured and repaired ; 
and from some storehouse was produced the figure of a dragon, which had also 
all needful annual reparation. Upon the back of some sturdy labourer was 
the harness fitted, and another powerful man had to bear the dragon, into 
whose body he no doubt entered. Then, all the dignitaries of the town being 
duly assembled, did Saint George and the Dragon march along, amidst the 
ringing of bells and the firing of chambers, and the shout of the patriotic 
population of " Saint George for England." f Here is the simplest of dramatic 
exhibitions, presented through a series of years to the observing eyes of a boy 
in whom the dramatic power of going out of himself to portray some incident, 
or character, or passion, with incomparable truth, was to be developed and 
matured in the growth of his poetical faculty. As he looked upon that rude 
representation of a familiar legend he may first have conceived the capability 
of exhibiting to the eye a moving picture of events, and of informing it with 
life by appropriate dialogue. But in truth the essentially dramatic spirit of 
the ancient church had infused itself thoroughly into the popular mind ; and 
thus, long after the Reformation had swept away most of the ecclesiastical 
ceremonials that were held to belong to the superstitions of Popery, the people 
retained this principle of personation in their common festivals ; and many 
were the occasions in which the boy and the man, the maiden and the matron, 
were called upon to enact some part, in which bodily activity and mental 
readiness . might be required ; in which something of grace and even of 
dignity might be called forth ; in which a free but good-tempered wit might 
command the applause of uncritical listeners ; and a sweet or mellow voice, 
pouring forth our nation's songs, would receive the exhilarating homage of a 
jocund chorus. Let us follow the boy William Shakspere, now, we will sup 
pose, some ten or eleven years old, through the annual course of the principal 
rustic holidays, in which the yeoman and the peasant, the tradesman and the 
artisan, with their wives and children, were equally ready to partake. We 
may discover in these familiar scenes not only those peculiar forms of a dra 
matic spirit in real manners which might in some degree have given a direc 
tion to his genius, but, what is perhaps of greater importance, that poetical 
aspect of common life which was to supply materials of thought and of imagery 

* The armour for the horse's head, with a long projecting spike, so as to make the horse-re- 
semble an unicorn. 

t It appears from accounts which are given in fac-simile in Fisher's Work on the Chapel of 
the Guild that this procession repeatedly took place in the reign of Henry VIII. ; and other ac 

counts show that it was continued as late as 1579. 

63 



WILLIAM 8HAKSPKKK : 

to him who was to become in the most eminent degree the poet of humanity 
in all its imaginative relations. 

The festivities of Christmas are over. The opening year calls the husband 
man again to his labours ; and Plough Monday, with its plough dragged along 
to rustic music, and its sword-dance, proclaims that wassail must give place to 
work. The rosemary and the bays, the misletoe and the holly, are removed 
from the porch and the hall, and the delicate leaves of the box are twined into 
the domestic garland.* The Vigil of Saint Agnes has rewarded or disappointed 
the fateful charm of the village maiden. The husbandman has noted whether 
Saint Paul's day " be fair and clear," to guide his presages of the year's fertility. 
' Cupid's Kalendere ' has been searched on the day of " Seynte Valentine," as 
Lydgate tells. The old English chorus, which Shakspere himself has pre 
served, has been duly sung 

" Tis merry in hall, when beards wag all, 
And welcome merry Shrove-tUo.'' 

Easter is come, after a season of solemnity. The ashes were no longer blessed at 
the beginning of Lent, nor the palms borne at the close ; yet there was strong 
devotion in the reformed church real penitence and serious contemplation. 
But the day of gladness arrives a joy which even the great eye of the natural 
world was to make manifest. Surely there was something exquisitely beautiful 
in the old custom of going forth into the fields before the sun had risen on 
Easter-day, to see him mounting over the hills with a tremulous motion, as if 
it were an animate thing bounding in sympathy with the redeemed of man 
kind. The young poet might have joined his simple neighbours on this cheerful 
morning, and yet have thought with Sir Thomas Browne, " We shall not, I 
hope, disparage the Resurrection of our Redeemer if we say that the sun doth 
not dance on Easter-day." But one of the most glorious images of one of his 
early plays has given life and movement to the sun : 

" Night's caudles are burnt out, and jocund day 
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain's tops." 

Saw he not the sun dance heard he not the expression of the undoubting 
belief that the sun danced as he went forth into Stratford meadows in the 
early twilight of Easter-day ? 

On the road to Henley-in-Arden, about two or three hundred yards from the 
hou'-e in Henley Street where John Shakspere once dwelt, there stood, when this 
Biography was first written, a very ancient boundary-tree an elm which is recorded 
in a Presentment of the Perambulation of the boundaries of the Borough of Strat 
ford, on the 7th of April, 1591, as "The Elrac at the Dovehouse- Close end."f 
The boundary from that elm in the Henley road continued in another direction to 
"the two elms in Evesham highway." Such are the boundaries of the borough at 
this day. At a period, then, when it was usual for the boys of Grammar Schools 
t-j attend the annual perambulations in Rogation-week of the clergy, the magis- 

* He:rick. f The original came into the possession of II. Wheler, Esq.. of Stratford 

61 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

trates and public officers, and the inhabitants, of parishes and towns,* would 
William Shakspere be found, in gleeful companionship, under this old boundary 
elm. There would be assembled the parish priest, and the schoolmaster, the 
bailiff and the churchwardens. Banners would wave, poles crowned with gar 
lands would be carried by old and young. Under each Gospel-tree, of which 
this Dovehouse- Close Elm would be one, a passage from Scripture would be 
read, a collect recited, a psalm sung. With more pomp at the same season 
might the Doge of Venice espouse the Sea in testimony of the perpetual 
domination of the Republic, but not with more heartfelt joy than these the 
people of Stratford traced the boundaries of their little sway. The Reforma 
tion left us these parochial processions. In the 7th year of Elizabeth (1565) 
the form of devotion for the " Rogation days of Procession " was prescribed, 
" without addition of any superstitious ceremonies heretofore used ; " and it was 
subsequently ordered that the curate on such occasions " shall admonish the 
people to give thanks to God in the beholding of God's benefits," and enforce 
the scriptural denouncements against those who removed their neighbours' 
landmarks: Beautifully has Walton described how Hooker encouraged these 
annual ceremonials : " He would by no means omit the customary time of pro 
cession, persuading all, both rich and poor, if they desired the preservation of 
love and their parish rights and liberties, to accompany him in his perambula 
tion ; and most did so : in which perambulation he would usually express more 
pleasant discourse than at other times, and would then always drop some loving 
and facetious observations, to be remembered against the next year, especially 
by the boys and young people; still inclining them, and all his present 
parishioners, to meekness and mutual kindnesses and love, because love thinks 
not evil, but covers a multitude of infirmities." And so, perhaps, listening to 
the gentle words of some venerable Hooker of his time, would the young Shak 
spere walk the bounds of his native parish. One day would not suffice to visit 
its numerous Gospel-trees. Hours would be spent in reconciling differences 
amongst the cultivators of the common fields ; in largesses to the poor ; in 
merry-making at convenient halting-plaees. A wide parish is this of Stratford, 
including eleven villages and hamlets, A district of beautiful and varied 
scenery is this parish hill and valley, wood and water. Following the Avon 
upon the north bank, against the stream, for some two miles, the processionists 
would walk through low and fertile" meadows, unenclosed pastures then in all 
likelihood. A little brook falls into the river, coming down from the marshy 
uplands of Ingon, where, in spite of modern improvement, the frequent bog 
attests the accuracy of Dugdale's description.* The brook is traced upwards 
into the hills of Welcombe ; and then for nearly three miles from Welcombe 
Greenhill the boundary lies along a wooded ridge, opening prospects of sur 
passing beauty. There may the distant spires of Coventry be seen peeping 
above the intermediate hills, and the nearer towers of Warwick lying cradled 
in their surrounding woods. In another direction a cloud-like spot in the 

See Brand's ' Popular Antiquities,' by Sir H. Ellis, edit. 1811, vol. i., p. 123. 

t See p. 29. 
LIFE. F 66 



WILLIAM SllAKtSPLKL : 

extreme distance is the far-famed Wrekm ; and turning to the north-west are 
the noble hills of Malvern, with their well-defined outlines. The Cotswolds 
lock-in the landscape on another side ; while in the middle distance the bold 
Bredon-hill looks down upon the vale of Evesham. All around is a country of 
unrivalled fertility, with now and then a plain of considerable extent ; but more 
commonly a succession of undulating hills, some wood-crowned, but ail culti 
vated. At the northern extremity of this high land, which principally belongs 
to the estate of Clopton, and which was doubtless a park in early times, we 
have a panoramic view of the valley in which Stratford lies, with its hamlets of 
Bishopton, Little Wilmecote, Shottery, and Drayton. As the marvellous boy 
of the Stratford grammar-school then looked upon that plain, how little could 
he have foreseen the course of his future life ! For twenty years of his man 
hood he was to have no constant dwelling-place in that his native town ; but it 
was to be the home of his affections. He would be gathering fame and opu 
lence in an almost untrodden path, of which his young ambition could shape no 
definite image ; but in the prime of his life he was to bring his wealth to his 
own Stratford, and become the proprietor and the contented cultivator of some 
of the loved fields that he now saw mapped out at his feet. Then, a little 
while, and an early tomb under that grey tower a tomb so to be honoured in 
all ages to come, 

" That kings for such a tomb would wish to die." 

For some six miles the boundary runs from north to south, partly through 
land which was formerly barren, and still known as Drayton Bushes and Dray- 
ton Wild Moor. Here, 

"Far from her nest the lapwing cries away." * 

The green bank of the Avon is again reached at the western extremity of the 
boundary, and the pretty hamlet of Luddington, with its cottages and old trees 
standing high above the river sedges, is included. The Avon is crossed where 
the Stour unites with it ; and the boundary extends considerably to the south 
east, returning to the town over Clopton's Bridge. Where once were quiet 
pastures there is now the Stratford Railway for the conveyance of coal and 
corn a thing undreamt of by the perambulators. But there is a greater 
marvel of modern science associated with the name of Shakspere. The cliff at 
Dover, whose base was inaccessible except to 

" The fishermen that walk upon the beach," 

is now pierced through by the tunnel of a railway. A few centuries, a thou 
sand years, and the arches of the tunnel may be fallen in, its mouth choked 
with shingle and sea-weed, and some solitary antiquarian poking with his small 
lantern amongst its rubbish. But the rock itself will be unchanged ; and so 
will be the memorable description of " its high and bending head." And he 
who wrote that description, and painted the awful turmoil of human passion 
and misery associated with that rock, is at the time of which we speak a happy 

Q * Coiuody of Errors. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Schoolboy at Stratford ; perambulating his parish with his honest father ; made 
joyful, perhaps, with a kind word or two from the great esquire ; and smiling 
to himself at the recollection of " some loving and facetious observations " of the 
good vicar. All the rest of that group, where are their honours now ? It is 
something to know that when William Shakspere was twelve years old, Henry 
Heycroft was vicar of Stratford, and William Clopton the great man of the 
parish. If they bestowed kindness upon that boy, as upon other boys ; if they 
cherished the poor ; if they reconciled differences ; if they walked humbly in 
their generation, they have their reward, though the world has forgotten 
them. 

Shottery, the prettiest of hamlets, is scarcely a mile from Stratford. Here, 
in all probability, dwelt one who in a few years was to have an important influ 
ence upon the destiny of the boy-poet. A Court Roll of the 34th Henry VIII. 
(1543) shows us that John Hathaway then resided at Shottery; and the sub 
stantial house which the Hathaways possessed, now divided into several cot 
tages, remained with their descendants till the very recent period of 1838. 
There were Hathaways, also, living in the town of Stratford, contemporaries of 
John Shakspere. We cannot say, absolutely, that Anne Hathaway, the future 
wife of William Shakspere, was of Shottery ; but the prettiest of maidens (for 
the veracious antiquarian Oldys says there is a tradition that she was eminently 
beautiful) would have fitly dwelt in the pleasantest of hamlets. Tieck has 
written an agreeable novelet, 'The Festival at Kenilworth,' on the subject of 
Shakspere introductory to another on the same subject, ' Poet-Life.' He 
makes, somewhat unnecessarily we think, John Shakspere morose and harsh to 
his boy ; and he brings in Anne Hathaway to obtain his consent that William 
shall go to Kenilworth : " Anne took the graceful youth in her arms, and said, 
laughingly, ' Father Shakspere, you know William is my sweetheart, and 
belongs as much to me as to you ; we have promised one another long ago, and 
if I go to Kenilworth he must go with me.' William withdrew himself, half- 
ashamed, from the arms of the mischievous girl, and said, with great feeling, 
'Cease, Anne ; you know I cannot bear this : I am too young for you/ " There 
is verisimilitude in this scene, if not truth ; and it is easy to comprehend how 
the playful friendship of a handsome maiden for an interesting boy, some seven 
years younger, might grow into a dangerous affection. Assuredly, with neigh 
bourly intercourse between their families, William Shakspere would be at 
Shottery, 

" To do observance to a morn of May; "* 

and indeed, to be just to the youths ana maidens of Stratford and Shottery, it 
was " impossible " 

" To make them sleep 
On May-day morning." f 

Pass the back of the cottage in which the Hathaways dwelt (of which we shall 
hereafter have to speak) and enter that beautiful meadow which rises into a 

* Midsummer-Night's Dream. t Henry VIII. 

F2 67 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

gentle eminence commanding the hamlet at several points. Throw down the 
hedges, and is there not here the fittest of localities for the May-games ? An 
impatient group is gathered under the shade of the old elms, for the morn 
ing sun casts his slanting beams dazzlingly across that green. There is the 
distant sound of tabor and bagpipe : 

" Hark, hark ! I hear the dancing, 
And a nimble morris prancing ; 
The bagpipe and the morris bells, 
That they are not far hence ua tells." 

From out of the leafy Arden are they bringing in the May-pole. The oxen 
move slowly with the ponderous wain: they are garlanded, but not for the 
sacrifice. Around the spoil of the forest are the pipers and the dancers 
maidens in blue kirtles, and foresters in green tunics. Amidst the shouts of 
young and old, childhood leaping and clapping its hands, is the May-pole 
raised. But there are great personages forthcoming not so great, however, as 
in more ancient times. There are Robin Hood and Little John, in their grass- 
green tunics; but their bows and their sheaves of arrows are more for show 
than use. Maid Marian is there ; but she is a mockery a smooth-faced youth 
in a watchet-coloured tunic, with flowers and coronets, and a mincing gait, but 
not the shepherdess who 

"With garlands gay 
Was made the lady of the May." f 

There is farce amidst the pastoral. The age of unrealities has already in part 
arrived. Even amongst country-folks there is burlesque. There is personation, 
with a laugh at the things that are represented. The Hobby-horse and the 
Dragon, however, produce their shouts of merriment. But the hearty Morris - 
dancers soon spread a spirit of genial mirth amidst all the spectators. The 
clownish Maid Marian will now 

" Caper upright like a wild Morisco ; " J 

Friar Tuck sneaks away from his ancient companions to join hands with some 
undisguised maiden ; the Hobby-horse gets rid of pasteboard and his foot- 
cloth ; and the Dragon quietly deposits his neck and tail for another season. 
Something like the genial chorus of ' Summer's Last Will and Testament ' is 
rung out : 

" Trip and go, heave and ho, 
Up and down, to and fro, 
From the town to the grove, 
Two and two, let us rove, 
A Maying, a playing; 
Love hath no gainsaying : 
So merrily trip and go." 

The early-rising moon still sees the villagers on that green of Shottery. The 
Piper leans against the May-pole; the featliest of dancers still swim to his 
music : 

Weelkes's Madrigals, 1600. 

f Nicholas Breton. * Henry VI., Part IL 

68 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" So have I seen 

Tom Piper stand upon our village green, 
Back'd with the May-pole, whilst a jocund crew 
In gentle motion circularly threw 
Themselves around him." * 

The same beautiful writer one 4 of the last of our golden age of poetry has 
described the parting gifts bestowed upon the "merry youngsters" by 

" The lady of the May 
Set in an arbour, (on a holy-day,) 
Built by the May-pole, where the jocund swains 
Dance with the maidens to the bagpipe's strains, 
When envious night commands them to be gone." f 

It is easy to believe that Anne Hathaway might have been the Lady of the 
May of Shottery ; and that the enthusiastic boy upon whom she bestowed " a 
garland interwove with roses " might have cherished that gift with a gratitude 
that was not for his peace. 

* Browne's ' Britannia's Pastorals,' Book ii., Second Song. f Book iL, Fourth Song. 




(Shottery.l 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE : 

Eight villages in the neighbourhood of Stratford have been characterized in 
well-known lines by some old resident who had the talent of rhyme. It is 
remarkable how familiar all the country-people are to this day with these 
lines, and how invariably they ascribe them to Shakspere : 

" Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston, 
Haunted Hillborough, hungry Grafton, 
Dudging * Exhali, Papist Wicksford, 
Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford." 

It is maintained that these epithets have a real historical truth about them ; 
and so we must place the scene of a Whitsun-Ale at Bidford. Aubrey has 
given a sensible account of such a festivity : " There were no rates for the 
poor in my grandfather's days ; but for Kingston St. Michael (no small parish) 
the Church-Ale of Whitsuntide did the business. In every parish is, or was, a 
church-house, to which belonged spits, crocks, &c., utensils for dressing provi 
sion. Here the housekeepers met and were merry, and gave their charity. 
The young people were there, too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, 
&c., the ancients sitting gravely by, and looking on. All things were civil, and 
without scandal."f The puritan Stubbes took a more severe view of the matter 
than Aubrey's grandfather : " In certain towns where drunken Bacchus bears 
sway, against Christmas and Easter, Whitsuntide, or some other time, the 
churchwardens of every parish, with the consent of the whole parish, provide 
half a score or twenty quarters of malt, whereof some they buy of the church- 
stock, and some is given them of the parishioners themselves, every one con 
ferring somewhat, according to his ability ; which malt, being made into very 
strong ale or beer, is set to sale, either in the church or some other place assigned 
to that purpose, Then, when this is set abroach, well is he that can get the 
soonest to it, and spend the most at it." J Carew, the historian of Cornwall 
(1602), says, " The neighbour parishes at those times lovingly visit one another, 
and this way frankly spend their money together." Thus lovingly might John 
Shakspere and his friends on a Whit-Monday morning have ridden by the 
pleasant road to Bidford now from some little eminence beholding their Avon 
flowing amidst a low meadow on one side and a wood-crowned steep on the 
other, turning a mill-wheel, rushing over a dam now carefully wending their 
way through the rough road under the hill, or galloping over the free downs, 
glad to escape from rut and quagmire. And then the Icknield Street is 
crossed, and they look down upon the little town with its gabled roofs ; and 
they pass the old church, whose tower gives forth a lusty peal ; and the hostel 
at the bridge receives them ; and there is the cordial welcome, the outstretched 
hand and the full cup. 

But nearer home Whitsuntide has its sports also ; and these will be more 
attractive for William Shakspere. Had not Stratford its " Lord of Whitsun- 



Sulky, stubborn, in dudgeon, 
t Miscellanies. J Anatomy of Abuses, 1585. 

The Koman way which runs near Bidford. 
7<J 




[Bidford Bridge.] 

tide ? " Might the boy not behold at this season innocence wearing a face ot 
freedom like his own Perdita ? 

" Come, take your flowers : 
Methinks, I play as I have seen them do 
In Whitsun pastorals." 

Would there not be in some cheerful mansion a simple attempt at dramatic 
representation, such as his Julia has described in her assumed character of a 
page ? 

" At Pentecost, 

When all our pageants of delight were play'd, 
Our youth got me to play the woman's part ; 
And I was trimm'd in madam Julia's gown ; 
Which served me as fit, in all men's judgments, 
As if the garment had been made for me : 
Therefore, I know she is about my height. 
And at that time I made her weep a-good, 
For I did play a lamentable part : 
Madam, 't was Ariadne, passioning 
For Theseus' perjury and unjust flight." t 

Certainly on that holiday some one would be ready to recite a moving tale 
from Gower or from Chaucer a fragment of the ' Confessio Amantis ' or of the 
' Troilus and Creseide : ' 

" It hath been sung at festivals, 
On ember eves, and holy-ales." J 

The elements of poetry would be around him ; the dramatic spirit of the people 

Winter's Tale, Act iv., Scene in. t Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act iv., Sc. m. 

I Pericles, Act I. 

71 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

would be struggling to give utterance to its thoughts, and even then he might 
cherish the desire to lend it a voice. 

The sheep-shearing that, too, is dramatic. Drayton, the countryman of our 
poet, has described the shepherd-king : 

" But, Muse, return to tell how there the shepherd-king, 
Whose flock hath chanc'd that year the earliest lamb to bring, 
In his gay baldric sits at his low grassy board, 
With flawns, curds, clouted cream, and country dainties stor'd : 
And, whilst the bagpipe plays, each lusty jocund swain 
Quaffs syllabubs in cans to all upon the plain ; 
And to their country gins, whose nosegays they do wear, 
Some roundelays do sing, the rest the burden bear." * 

The vale of Evesham is the scene of Drayton's sheep -shearing. But higher up 
the Avon there are rich pastures ; and shallow bays of the clear river, where 
the washing may be accomplished. Such a bay, so used, is there near the 
pretty village of Alveston, about two miles above Stratford. One of the most 
delicious scenes of the Winter's Tale is that of the sheep-shearing, in which 
we have the more poetical shepherd -queen. There is a minuteness of circum 
stance amidst the exquisite poetry of this scene which shows that it must have 
been founded upon actual observation, and in all likelihood upon the keen and 
prying observation of a boy occupied and interested with such details. Surely 
his father's pastures and his father's homestead might have supplied all these 
circumstances. His father's man -might be the messenger to the town, and 
reckon upon "counters" the cost of the sheep-shearing feast. "Three pound 
of sugar, five pound of currants, rice " and then he asks, " What will this sister 
of mine do with rice ? " In Bohemia, the clown might, with dramatic propriety, 
not know the use of rice at a sheep -shearing ; but a Warwickshire swain would 
have the flavour of cheese-cakes in his mouth at the first mention of rice and 
currants. Cheese-cakes and warden-pies were the sheep-shearing delicacies. 
How absolutely true is the following picture : 

" Fie, daughter 1 when my old wife Hv'd, upon 
This day she was both pantler, butler, cook ; 
Both dame and servant : welcom'd all, serv'd all 
Would sing her song, and dance her turn ; now here 
At upper end o' the table, now i' the middle ; 
On his shoulder, and his : her face o' fire 
With labour ; and the thing she took to quench it 
She would to each one sip." 

This is the literal painting of a Teniers ; but the same hand could unite the 
unrivalled grace of a Correggio. William Shakspere might have had some 
boyish dreams of a " mistress o' the feast," who might have suggested his Per- 
dita ; but such a creation is of higher elements than those of the earth. Such a 
bright vision is something more than " a queen of curds and cream." 
The poet who says 

" Come, ho, and wake Diaua with a hymn ; 
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear, 
And draw her home with music," f 



Polyolbion, Song XIV. j Merchant of Venice, Act V., Scene I. 

72 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

had seen the Hock-Cart of the old harvest-home. It was the same that Paul 
Hentzner saw at Windsor in 1598: "As we were returning to our inn we 
happened to meet some country-people celebrating their Harvest-home. Their 
last load of corn they crown with flowers, having besides an image richly 
dressed, by which perhaps they would signify Ceres. This they keep moving 
about, while men and women, men and maid-servants, riding through the 
streets in the cart, shout as loud as they can till they arrive at the barn." In 
the reign of James I., Moresin, another foreigner, saw a figure made of corn 
drawn home in a cart, with men and women singing to the pipe and the drum. 
And then Puritanism arose, to tell us that all such expressions of the heart 
were pagan and superstitious, relics of Popery, abominations of the Evil One. 
Robert Herrick, full of the old poetical feeling, sung the glories of the Hock- 
Cart in the time of Charles I. : but a severe religion, and therefore an unwise 
one, denounced all such festivals as the causes of debauchery; and so the 
debauchery alone remained with us. The music and the dancing were 
banished, but the strong drinks were left. Herrick tells us that the cere 
monies of the Hock- Cart were performed " with great devotion." Assuredly 
they were. Devotion is that which knocks the worldly shackles off the spirit ; 
strikes a spark out of our hard and dry natures ; enforces the money-getter 
for a moment to forego his gain, and the penniless labourer to forget his 
hunger-satisfying toil. Devotion is that which brings a tear into the eye, 
and makes the heart throb against the bosom, in silent forests where the doe 
gazes fearlessly upon the unaccustomed form of man, by rocks overhanging the 
sea, in the gorge of the mountains, in the cloister of the cathedral when the 
organ-peal comes and goes like the breath of flowers, in the crowded city when 
joyous multitudes shout by one impulse. Devotion lived amidst old cere 
monials derived from a long antiquity ; it waited upon the seasons ; it hal 
lowed the seed-time and the harvest, and made the frosts cheerful. And thus 
it grew into Religion. The feeling became a principle. But the formalists 
came, and required men to be devout without imagination; to have faith, 
rejecting tradition and authority, and all the genial impulses of love and reve 
rence associated with the visible world, the practical poetry of life, which is 
akin to faith. And so we are what we are, and not what God would have us 
to be. 

We have retained Christmas; a starveling Christmas; one day of excessive 
eating for all ages, and Twelfth-cake for the children. It is something that 
relations meet on Christmas-day; that for one day in the year the outward 
shows of rivalry and jealousy are not visible ; that the poor cousin puts on his 
best coat to taste port with his condescending host of the same name ; that the 
portionless nieces have their annual guinea from their wealthy aunt. But 
where is the real festive exhilaration of Christmas ; the meeting of all ranks 
as children of a common father ; the tenant speaking freely in his landlord's 
hall; the labourers and their families sitting at the same great oak table; the 
Yule Log brought in with shout and song ? 

"No night is now with hymn or carol blest," 

Midsummer Night's Dream. 

I o 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

There are singers of carols even now at a Stratford Christmas. Warwickshire 
has retained some of its ancient carols. But the singers are wretched chorus- 
makers, according to the most unmusical style of all the generations from the 
time of the Commonwealth. There are no "three-man song-men" amongst 
them, no "means and bases;" there is not even "a Puritan" who "sings 
psalms to hornpipes."* They have retained such of the carols as will most 
provoke mockery : 

" Rise up, rise up, brother Dives, 

And come along with me, 
For you've a place provided in hell, 
Upon a sarpant's knee." 

And then the crowd laugh, and give their halfpennies. But in an age of music 
we may believe that one young dweller in Stratford gladly woke out of his 
innocent sleep, after the evening bells had rung him to rest, when in the still 
ness of the night the psaltery was gently touched before his father's porch, 
and he heard, one voice under another, these simple and solemn strains : 

" As Jpseph was a-walking 
He heard an angel sing, 
This night shall be born 
Our heavenly king. 

He neither shall be born 

In housen nor in hall, 
Nor in the place of Paradise, 

But in an ox's stall. 

He neither shall be clothed 

In purple nor in pall, 
But all in fair linen, 

As were babies all. 

He neither shall be rock'd 

In silver nor in gold, 
But in a wooden cradle 

That rocks on the mould." 

London has perhaps this carol yet, amongst its halfpenny ballads. A man 
whose real vocation was mistaken in his busy time, for he had a mind attuned 
to the love of what was beautiful in the past, instead of being enamoured with 
the ugly disputations of the present, has preserved it ;f but it was for another 
age. It was for the age of William Shakspere. It was for the age when 
superstition, as we call it, had its poetical faith : 

" Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes 
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, 
This bird of dawning singeth all night long ; 
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad ; 
The nights are wholesome ; then no planets strike, 
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm : 
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time." J 



Winter's Tale. 

t William Hone's ' Ancient Mysteries,' p. 92. I Hamlet, Act I., Scene I. 

74 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Surely it is the poet himself, who adds, in the person of Horatio, 
" So have I heard, and do in part Relieve it." 

Such a night was a preparation for a " happy Christmas;" the prayers of an 
earnest Church, the Anthem, the Hymn, the Homily. The cross of Stratford 
was garnished with the holly, the ivy, and the bay. Hospitality was in every 
house ; but the hall of the great landlord of the parish was a scene of rare 
conviviality. The frost or the snow will not deter the principal friends and 
tenants from the welcome of Clopton. There is the old house, nestled in the 
woods, looking down upon the little town. Its chimneys are reeking ; there is 
bustle in the offices ; the sound of the trumpeters and the pipers is heard 
through the open door of the great entrance ; the steward marshals the guests ; 
the tables are fast filling. Then advance, courteously, the master and the mis 
tress of the feast. The Boar's head is brought in with due solemnity ; the wine- 
cup goes round; and perhaps the Saxon shout of Waes-hael and Drink-hael 
may still be shouted. The boy-guest who came with his father, the tenant of 
Ingon, has slid away from the rout ; for the steward, who loves the boy, has a 
sight to make him merry. The Lord of Misrule, and his jovial attendants, 
are rehearsing their speeches ; and the mummers from Stratford are at the 
porch. Very sparing are the cues required for the enactment of this short 
drama. A speech to the esquire, closed with a merry jest ; something about 
ancestry and good Sir Hugh ; the loud laugh ; the song and the chorus, and 
the Lord of Misrule is now master of the feast. The Hall is cleared " Away 




75 



f Clopton House. J 



WII.I.IAST STIAKSPERE : 

with the joint-stools, remove the court-cupboard, look to the plate." * There 
is dancing till Curfew ; and then a walk in the moonlight to Stratford, the 
pale beam shining equally upon the dark resting-place in the lonely aisle of 
the Clopton who is gone, and upon the festal hall of the Clopton who remains, 
where some loiterers of the old and the young still desire 

" To burn this night with torches." f 



Romeo and Juliet, Act i., Scene v. f Antony and Cleopatra, Act iv., Scene n. 




(The Clopton Monument in Stratloid Chmich.) 




WAS William Shakspere at Kenilworth in that summer of 1575, when the 
great Dudley entertained Elizabeth with a splendour which annalists have 
delighted to record, and upon which one of our own days has bestowed a fame 
more imperishable than that of any annals? Percy, speaking of the old 
Coventry Hock-play, says, "Whatever this old play or storial show was at 
the time it was exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, it had probably our young 
Shakspere for a spectator, who was then in his twelfth year, and doubtless 
attended with all the inhabitants of the surrounding country at these ' princely 
pleasures of Kenilworth/ whence Stratford is only a few miles distant." * The 
preparations for this celebrated entertainment were on so magnificent a scale, 
the purveyings must have been so enormous, the posts so unintermitting, that 
there had needed not the flourishings of paragraphs (for the age of paragraphs 
was not as yet) to have roused the curiosity of all mid-England. Elizabeth 
had visited Kenilworth on two previous occasions. In 1565, after she had 
created Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, she bore her sunshine to the posses 
sions she had given to her favourite ; and passing through Coventry, " she was 
honourably received by the mayor and citizens with many fair shows and 
pageants." It was on this occasion that Humphrey Brownell, the Mayor, 
must have delighted the Queen with his impromptu speech, worth a hundred 



' On the Origin of the English Stage :' Keliques, vol. L 



77 



WILLIAM SHAKSJ'KKK : 

of the magnificent orations of John Throgmorton the Recorder. Elizabeth had 
a ready hand for the rich gifts of her subjects ; and when on their knees the 
Corporation of Coventry. presented her Majesty a heavy purse, her satisfaction 
broke out into the exclamation, "A good gift, a hundred pounds in gold ! I 
have but few such gifts ! " The words were addressed to her lords ; but the 
honest Mayor boldly struck in, " If it please your grace, there is a great deal 
more in it." "What is that?" said the Queen. "The hearts of all your 
loving subjects," replied the Mayor.* Elizabeth on this occasion departed 
from Kenilworth offended with Leicester. Had he been too bold or too timid ? 
In the summer of 1572 the royal progress was again for Warwickshire. "The 
weather having been very foul long time before, and the way much stained 
with carriage," the Queen was conveyed into her good town of Warwick 
through bye-ways not quite so miry ; but the bailiff and the burgesses knelt in 
the dirt, and her Majesty's coach was brought as near to the said kneelers as it 
could be. The long oration, and the heavy purse, of course followed. During 
this visit to Kenilworth in 1572 two important state affairs were despatched. 
Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland was beheaded at York ; and the offer 
of marriage of Francis Duke of Alen9on was definitively rejected. In the 
previous June, Leicester wrote touching this proposal, " It seems her Majesty 
meaneth to give good ear to it." There was a counsellor at Kenilworth in the 
following August who would possess the Queen's " good ear " in a more eminent 
degree than Montmorenci, the French Ambassador. In 1575, when Robert 
Dudley welcomed his sovereign with a more than regal magnificence, it is easy 
to believe that his ambition looked for a higher reward than that of continuing 
a queen's most favoured servant and counsellor. It is tolerably clear that the 
exquisite speech of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream is associated with 
some of the poetical devices which the young Shakspere might have beheld 
at Kenilworth, or have heard described : 



" Obe. My gentle Puck, come hither : Thou remember'st 
Since once I sat upon a promontory, 
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back, 
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath, 
That the rude sea grew civil at her song ; 
And certain stars shot madly, from their spheres, 
To hear the sea-maid's music. 

Puck. I remember. 

Obe. That very time I saw, (but thou couldst not,) 
Flying between the cold moon and the earth, 
Cupid all arm'd ; a certain aim he took 
At a fair vestal, throned by the west ; 
And loos' d his love-shaft smartly from his bow, 
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts : 
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft 
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon ; 
And the imperial votaress passed on, 
In maiden meditation, fancy-free." 



See Nichols's ' Progresses/ vol. i., p. 192. 
78 




Elizabeth.] 

The most remarkable of the shows of Kenilworth were associated with the 
mythology and the romance of lakes and seas. " Triton, in likeness of a mer 
maid, came towards the Queen's Majesty." " Arion appeared sitting on a 
dolphin's back." So the quaint and really poetical George Gascoigne, in his 
' Brief Rehearsal, or rather a true copy of as much as was presented before 
her Majesty at Kenilworth.' But the diffuse and most entertaining coxcomb 
Laneham describes a song of Arion with an ecstacy which may justify the 
belief that the " dulcet and harmonious breath " of " the sea-maid's music " 
might be the echo of the melodies heard by the young poet as he stood beside 
the lake at Kenilworth : " Now, Sir, the ditty in metre so aptly endited to 
the matter, and after by voice deliciously delivered ; the song, by a skilful 
artist into his parts so sweetly sorted ; each part in his instrument so clean 
and sharply touched ; every instrument again in his kind so excellently tunable ; 
and this in the evening of the day, resounding from the calm waters, where the 
presence of her Majesty, and longing to listen, had utterly damped all noise 
and din, the whole harmony conveyed in time, tune, and temper, thus incom 
parably melodious; with what pleasure (Master Martin), with what sharpness 
of conceit, with what lively delight, this might pierce into the hearers' hearts, 
I pray ye imagine yourself, as ye may." If Elizabeth be the " fair vestal 
throned by the west," of which there can be no reasonable doubt, the most 
appropriate scene of the mermaid's song would be Kenilworth, and " that very 
time" the summer of 1575. Of the hidden meaning of that song we shall have 
presently to speak. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERF. : 

Percy, believing that the boy Shakspere was at Kenilworth. has remarked, 
with his usual taste and judgment, that " the dramatic cast of many parts of 
that superb entertainment must have had a very great effect upon a young 
imagination, whose dramatic powers were hereafter to astonish the world." 
Without assuming with Percy that "our young bard gained admittance into 
the castle " on the evening when " after supper there was a play of a very good 
theme presented ; but so set forth, by the actors' well handling, that pleasure 
and mirth made it seem very short, though it lasted two good hours and 
more;"* yielding not our consent to Tieck's fiction, that the boy performed 
the part of ' Echo ' in Gascoigne's address to the Queen, and was allowed to 
see the whole of the performances by the especial favour of her Majesty, we 
shall run over the curious narratives of Laneham and of Gascoigne, to show 
that, without being a favoured spectator, William Shakspere with his friends 
might have beheld many things on this occasion which " must have had a very 
great effect upon a young imagination," and have assisted still further in giving 
it that dramatic tendency which, as we have endeavoured already to point out, 
was a peculiar characteristic of the simplest and the commonest festivals of his 
age. 

It was eight o'clock in the evening of Saturday the 9th of July when, after 
" great cheer at dinner," at a place seven miles from Kenilworth, and " pleasant 
pastime in hunting by the way after," Elizabeth arrived within "a flight- 
shoot " of the first gate of the castle. The open space before that gate would 
be crowded with spectators, some, worn out with long waiting, stretched 
beneath the trees of the park, others gazing upon the leads and battlements, 
where stood, "six trumpeters hugely advanced, much exceeding the common 
stature of men in this age, who had likewise huge and monstrous trumpets 
counterfeited, wherein they seemed to sound. "f But before the real trumpeters 
hidden behind them sounded, Sibylla, " comely clad in a pall of white silk, pro 
nounced a proper poesy in English rhyme and metre. "J Sibylla would, we 
are sure, repeat to the crowd what she had addressed to the Queen ; for Master 
Hunnis, master of her Majesty's chapel, would desire all honour for his pleasant 
verses : 

" The rage of war bound fast in chains 

Shall never stir nor move ; 
But peace shall govern all your days, 

Increasing subjects' love." 

It was through the gate of the tilt-yard, on the south side of the castle, and 
not by the great gate-house on the north, that Elizabeth entered. Little would 
the crowd hear therefore of the speech of the mighty porter, " tall of person, 
big of limb, and stern of countenance," who met the Queen at the gate of Morti 
mer's Tower, which led into the base-court ; and, indeed, even for ourselves, 
Gascoigne and Laneham might have spared their descriptions, for a mightier 
than they has described this part of the ceremonial after his own fashion. The 

Lanehara. f Gascoigne. 

J Lanehara. As we shall quote fragments from each writer, it will be scarcely necessary to 
Itfer to them on every occasion. 
80 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

gate croses upon the train, when the Lady of the Lake, " from the midst of the 
pool, where, upon a moveablc island, bright blazing with torches, she floated to 
land, met her Majesty with a well-penned metre." The wearied Queen had 
yet more to endure ; there were Latin verses to be pronounced before she could 
be conveyed up to her chamber ; and then " after did follow so great a peal of 
guns, and such lightning by firework," that " the noise and flame were heard and 
seen twenty miles off." 

Sunday was a day of rest; but Monday brought another of the store of 
dramatic devices open-air recitations, which Elizabeth would be best pleased 
to hear with the people crowding around her. In the evening of a hot day the 
Queen rode into the chase "to hunt the hart of force;" and upon her return 
by torchlight there came forth out of the woods a savage man, " with an oaken 
plant, plucked up by the roots, in his hand, himself foregrown all in moss and 
ivy, who, for personage, gesture, and utterance beside, countenanced the mat 
ter to very good liking." The savage man, and his attendant ' Echo/ may 
appear to us a rude device, and there would be little dramatic propriety in the 
man " all in ivy" pouring forth such verses as, - 

" The winds resound your worth, 
The rocks record your name, 

These hills, these dales, these woods, these waves, 
These fields, pronounce your fame." 

The days of the gorgeous and refined masque were not yet come ; the drama had 
almost wholly to be created. But the writer of these lines, a man of consider 
able talent, was evidently proud of his invention of the savage man and his 
echo, for he says, with a laughable humility, " These verses were devised, 
penned, and pronounced, by Master Gascoigne; and that (as I have heard 
credibly reported) upon a very great sudden." To William Shakspere such 
representations, rude as they were, must have been exceedingly impressive. 
The scene was altogether one of romance. That magnificent castle, its stately 
woods, its pleasant lake, its legends of King Arthur, its histories of the Mont- 
forts and the Mortimers, its famous revivals of the Round Table, the presence 
of a real Queen, the peaceable successor of the fiery Yorkists and Lancastrians 
who had once inhabited it, would stir his imagination even though he saw not 
the devices and heard not the poetry. The enthusiasm of Master Gascoigne, 
when he pronounced the wild man's address, bordered a little upon the extrava 
gant, according to Laneham : " As this savage, for the more submission, broke 
his tree asunder, and cast the top from him, it had almost light upon her High- 
ness's horse's head; whereat he startled, and the gentleman much dismayed." 
Ihe recollection of the savage man's ecstacy might have slept in the mind of the 
young poet till it shaped itself into the passion of Biron : 

" Who sees the heavenly Eosaline, 
That, like a rude and savage man of Inde, 

At the first opening of the gorgeous east, 
Bowa not his vassal head ; and, struckeu blind, 

Kisses the base ground with ot^dient breast ? " * 



* Love's Labour's Lost, Act iv., Seen* I. 
LIFE. G 




[Gaseoigne.] 

Thursday, the fourteenth of July, saw a change in the Queen's diversions. 
There were thirteen bears in the inner court of Kenilworth, and " a great sort 
of ban-dogs " in the outer. They were brought together, and set face to face. 
" It was a sport," says the coxcomb-historian, " very pleasant of these beasts : 
to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemies' approach, the 
nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage, and the force and ex 
perience of the bear again to avoid the assault : If he was bitten in one place 
how he would pinch in another to get free ; that if he was taken once then 
what shift, with biting, with clawing, with roaring, tossing, and tumbling, he 
would work to wind himself from them ; and when he was loose, to shake his 
ars twice or thrice, with the blood and the slaver about his visnomy, was a 
matter of a goodly relief." Oh, Master Laneham, is it you, " always among the 
gentlewomen by my good will," is it you, with your dancing, your gittern, your 
cittern, your virginals, your high reaches, your fine feigning, your deep diapa 
son, your wanton warblings, when the ladies flock about you like bees to honey, 
that can write thus of these cruelties ? And truly in this matter of the bears 
we believe you speak more according to the fashion of the polite than " Cousin 
Abraham Slender," when he said " Women, indeed, cannot abide 'em." They 
came into the inner court for the diversion of the Queen and her ladies ; they 
were brought especially from London ; the masters of her Majesty's games had 
the Chamberlain's warrant to travel peaceably with the bears, and to press all 
ban-dogs that should be needful ; they were the lawful tenants of Paris Garden, 
before the glories of the Globe Theatre, and they divided the town with 
Hamlet even in that theatre's most palmy days. When the young Shakspere 
heard the roaring and the barking he knew not that his most obstinate rivals 
were at their vocation ; rivals that even his friend Alleyn would build his 
best profits upon in future days, and found a college out of their blood and 
82 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



slaver. But let us not forget that they were the especial amusements of the 
town ; and that forty years after, the sovereign of a debauched and idle court, 
although he could enjoy the comedies of Shakspere and the masques of Jonson', 
is petitioned by Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn for some gratuity, seeing 
the great diminution of profits they sustain by the restraint against baiting " on 
the Sundays in the afternoon, after divine service," more particularly on account 
of " the loss of divers of these beasts, as before the King of Denmark, which 
lost a goodly bear called George Stone ; and at our last being before your 
Majesty were killed four of our best bears, which in your kingdom are not the 
like to be had." * Laneham tells us not that the country-folks were recreated 
with the bears : " As this sport was held at day-time in the castle, so was there 
abroad at night very strange and sundry kinds of fireworks." 

The bear-tragedy of Thursday was succeeded by the enactment of a most 
extraordinary farce on Sunday. "After divine service in the parish-church for 
the Sabbath-day, and a fruitful sermon there in the forenoon," Elizabeth was 
recreated with a mockery of the simple ceremonials of her people, on one of the 
most joyful and yet serious occasions of human life. A village -bridal was to be 
burlesqued a " merry-marriage," as Gascoigne calls it. A procession was set in 
order in the tilt-yard to make its show in the Castle before the Great Court. 
" Sixteen wights, riding-men, and well beseen," and then " the bridegroom fore 
most in his father's tawny worsted jacket (for his friends were fain that he 
should be a bridegroom before the Queen), a fair straw hat with a capital 
crown, steeple-wise on his head ; a pair of harvest- gloves on his hands, as a sign 
of good husbandry ; a pen and inkhorn at his back, for he would be known to 
be bookish ; lame of a leg that in his youth was broken at foot-ball ; well-beloved 
of his mother, who lent him a new muffler for a napkin, that was tied to his 
girdle for losing it. It was no small sport to mark this minion in his full 
appointment ; that, through good tuition, became as formal in his action as had 
he been a bridegroom indeed." Then came the morris-dancers, Maid Marian, 
and the Fool ; bride- maids, " as bright as a breast of bacon, of thirty years old 
apiece;" a freckled-faced, red-headed lubber with the bride-cup; the "wor 
shipful bride, thirty-five years old, of colour brown-bay, not very beautiful 
indeed, 6ut ugly, foul, and ill-favoured ; " and, lastly, a dozen other damsels 
" for bride-maids, that for favour, attire, for fashion and cleanliness, were as 
meet for such a bride as a tureen-ladle for a porridge-pot." We must do Eliza 
beth the justice to believe that such a mummery was scarcely agreeable to 
her ; it could not have been agreeable to her people. In that Court, as in 
.other Courts, must there have dwelt that heartless exclusiveness which finds 
subjects for ridicule in what delights the earnest multitudes. Many a bridal 
procession had gone forth from the happy cottages of Kenilworth to the porch 
of that old parish-church, amidst song and music, with garlands of rosemary 
and wheat-ears, parents blessing, sisters smiling in tears; and then the great 
lord the heartless lord, as the peasants might whisper, whose innocent wife 



* Collier's ' Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,' p. 75. 

83 




perished untimely is to make sport oi then 

homely joys before their Queen. There was, 

perhaps, one in the crowd on that Sunday afternoon who was to see the 

very heaven of poetry in such simple rites who was to picture the shepherd 

thus addressing his mistress in the solemnity of the troth-plight : 

" I take thy hand ; this hand 
Aa soft as dove's down, and as white as it ; 
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow 
That 's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er." 

lie would agree not with Master Laneham " By my troth 't was a lively pas 
time : I believe it would have moved a man to a right merry m6od, though it 
had been told him that his wife lay dying." Leicester, as we have seen, had 
procured abundance of the occasional rhymes of flattery to propitiate Elizabeth. 
This was enough. Poor 1 Gascoigne had prepared an elaborate masque, in two 
acts, of Diana and her Nymphs, which for the time is a remarkable production. 
" This show," says the poet, " was devised and penned by Master Gascoigne, 
and being prepared and ready (every actor in his garment) two or three days 
together, yet never came to execution. The cause whereof I cannot attribute 
to any other thing than to lack of opportunity and seasonable weather." It is 
easy to understand that there was some other cause of Gascoigne's disappoint 
ment. Leicester, perhaps, scarcely dared to set the puppets moving who were 
to conclude the masque with these lines : 



* Winter's Talo, Act iv., Scene HI. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" A world of wealth at will 

You henceforth shall enjoy 
In wedded state, and there withal 

Hold up from great annoy 
The. staff of your estate : 

queen, worthy queen, 
Yet never wight felt perfect bliss 

But such as wedded been." 

But when the Queen laughed at the word marriage, the wily courtier had his 
impromptu device of the mock bridal. The marriages of the poor were the 
marriages to be made fun of. But there was a device of marriage at which 
Diana would weep, and all the other Gods rejoice, when her Majesty should 
give the word, Alas, for that crowning show there was " lack of opportunity 
and seasonable weather." 

It is difficult to imagine anything more tedious than the fulsome praise, the 
mythological pedantries, the obscure allusions to Constancy and Deep-Desire, 
which were poured into the ears of Elizabeth during the nineteen days of 
Kenil worth. There was not, according to the historians of this visit, one frag 
ment of our real old poetry produced to gratify the Queen of a nation that had 
the songs and ballads of the chivalrous times still fresh upon its lips. There 
were no Minstrels at Kenilworth ; the Harper was unbidden to its halls. The 




lLe;eestcr.] 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

old English spirit of poetry was dead in a scheming court. We have many 
evidences besides the complaint of poor Richard Sheale,* that the courtly and 
the rich had begun to hold the travelling depositaries of the old traditionary 
lore of England in unwise contempt. A few years after, and they were pro 
scribed by statute : 

" Beggars they are with one consent., 
And rogues by act of parliament." ] 

Laneham gives an account of " a ridiculous device of an ancient minstrel and 
his song, prepared to have been proffered, if meet time and place had been 
found for it." This is not the minstrel himself, but a travestie of him. He 
was "a Squire Minstrel of Middlesex;" and an absurd narrative is put into 
his mouth of " the worshipful village of Islington, well known to be one of the 
most ancient and best towns in England next London, at this day." Laneham 
goes on to describe how "in a worshipful company" the "fool" who was to 
play the Minstrel was put out of countenance by one cleverer than himself 
Master Laneham perhaps ; and how " he waxed very wayward, eager, and 
sour." But he was pacified with fair words, and sack and sugar; and after a 
little warbling on his harp came forth with a " solemn song, warranted for story 
out of King Arthur's acts, the 1st book and 26th chapter." Percy prints ' The 
Minstrel's Sonnet ' in his ' Reliques,' under the title of ' King Ryence's Chal 
lenge,' saying " This song is more modern than many of them which follow it, 
but is placed here for the sake of the subject. It was sung before Queen Eliza 
beth at the grand entertainment at Kenilworth Castle in 1575, and was proba 
bly composed for that occasion." Not so. Laneham says expressly, " it was 
prepared to have been proffered." It is remarkable that Percy does not state 
what is so evident that this ballad was intended to be a burlesque upon the 
Romances of Chivalry. If all Laneham's conceited description of the Minstrel 
did not show this, the following stanza is decisive enough ; being the answer to 
the messenger of King Ryence, who came to demand, in the language of the 
' Morte Arthur,' the beard of the British king, "for king Ryence had purfeled 
a mantell with kings' beards, and there lacked for one a place in the mantell : " 

"_But say to sir Ryence, thou dwarf, quoth the king, 

That for hia bold message I do him defye ; 
And shortlye with basins and pans will him ring 

Out of North-Gales : where he and I 

With swords and not razors quickly shall trye 
Whether he or king Arthur will prove the best barbor ; 
And therewith he shook his good sword Excalabor." 

It was something higher that in a few years called up Spenser and Shakspere. 
Yet there was one sport, emanating from the people, which had heart and 
reality in it. Laneham describes this as a " good sport presented in an historical 
cue by certain good-hearted men of Coventry, my lord's neighbours there." 
They " made petition that they might renew now their old storial show : 
of argument how the Danes, whilom here in a troublous season, were for 

* See Chapter V. 
66 



A BIOGKAPHi'. 

quietness borne withal and suffered in peace ; that anon, by outrage and unsup- 
portable insolency, abusing both Ethelred the King, then, and all estates every 
where beside, at the grievous complaint and counsel of Huna, the King's chief 
tain in wars, on Saint Brice's night, Anno Dom. 1012 (as the book says, that 
falleth yearly on the thirteenth of November), were all despatched, and the 
realm rid. And for because that the matter mentioneth how valiantly our 
Englishwomen, for love of their country, behaved themselves, expressed in 
action and rhymes after their manner, they thought it might move some mirth 
to her Majesty the rather. The thing, said they, is grounded in story, and for. 
pastime wont to be played in our city yearly, without ill example of manners, 
papistry, or any superstition ; and else did so occupy the heads of a number, 
that likely enough would have had worse meditations ; had an ancient beginning 
and a long continuance, till now of late laid down, they knew no cause why, 
unless it was by the zeal of certain of their preachers, men very commendable 
for their behaviour and learning, and sweet in their sermons, but somewhat too 
sour in preaching away their pastime." The description by Laneham is the 
only precise account which remains to us of the "old storial show," the " sport 
presented in an historical cue." It was a show not to be despised, for it told the 
people how their Saxon ancestors had arisen to free themselves from " outrage 
and unsupportable insolency," and " how valiantly our Englishwomen, for love 
of their country, behaved themselves." Laneham, in his accustomed style, is 
more intent upon describing " Captain Cox," an odd man of Coventry, " mason, 
ale-conner, who hath great oversight in matters of story," than upon giving us 
a rational account of this spectacle. We find, however, that there were the 
Danish lance-knights on horseback, and then the English ; that they had furious 
encounters with spear and shield, with sword and target ; that there were foot 
men, who fought in rank and squadron ; and that " twice the Danes had the 
better, but at the last conflict beaten down, overcome, and many led captive for 
triumph by our Englishwomen." The court historian adds, -" This was the 
effect of this show, that as it was handled made much matter of good pastime, 
brought all indeed into the great court, even under her Highness's window, to 
have seen." But her Highness, having pleasanter occupation within, " saw but 
little of the Coventry play, and commanded it therefore on the Tuesday follow 
ing to have it full out, as accordingly it was presented." This repetition of the 
Hock-play in its completeness, full out, necessarily leads to the conclusion that 
the action was somewhat more complicated than the mere repetition of a mock- 
combat. Laneham, in his general description of the play, says, " expressed in 
action and rhymes." That he has preserved none of the rhymes, and has given 
us a very insufficient account of the action, is characteristic of the man, and of 
the tone of the courtiers. The Coventry clowns came there, not to call up any 
patriotic feeling by their old traditionary rhymes and dumb-show, but to be 
laughed at for their awkward movement and their earnest declamation. It 
appears to us that the conclusion is somewhat hasty which says of this play of 
Hock Tuesday, " It seems to have been merely a dumb-show." " Percy, rest- 

Collier, 'Annals of the Stege,' vol. i., p. 234. 

87 



WILLIAM SITAKRPERE : 

ing upon the authority of Laneham, says that the performance " seems on Hint 
occasion to have been without recitation or rhymes, and reduced to mere dumb- 
show." Kvc-n this \\<.- doubt. But certainly it is difficult to airive at any other 
conclusion than that of Percy, that the play, as originally performed by the 
men of Coventry, " expressed in action and rhymes after their manner," re 
presenting a complicated historical event, the insolence of tyranny, the indig 
nation of the oppressed, the grievous complaint of one injured chieftain, the 
secret counsels, the plots, the conflicts, the triumph, must have offered us " a 
regular model of a complete drama." If the young Shakspere were a witness 
to the performance of this drama, his imagination would have been more highly 
and more worthily excited than if he had been the favoured spectator of all the 
shows of Tritons, and Dianas, and Ladies of the Lake, that proceeded from " the 
conceit so deep in casting the plot " of his lordship of Leicester. It would be 
not too much to believe that this storial show might first suggest to him how 
English history might be dramatized ; how a series of events, terminating in 
some remarkable catastrophe, might be presented to the eye ; how fighting- 
men might be marshalled on a mimic field ; how individual heroism might 
stand out from amongst the mass, having its own fit expression of thought and 
passion ; how the wife or the mother, the sister or the mistress, might be there 
to uphold the hero, even as the Englishwomen assisted their warriors ; and how 
all this might be made to move the hearts of the people, as the old ballads had 
once moved them. Such a result would have repaid a visit to Kenilworth by 
William Shakspere. Without this, he, his father, and their friends, might have 
retired from the scene of Dudley's magnificence, as most thinking persons in all 
probability retired, with little satisfaction. There was lavish expense ; but 
according to the most credible accounts, the possessor of Kenilworth was the 
oppressor of his district. We see him not delighting to show his Queen a 
happy tenantry, such as the less haughty and ambitious nobles and esquires 
were anxious to cultivate. The people come under the windows of Elizabeth 
as objects of ridicule. Slavish homage would be there to Leicester from the 
gentlemen of the county. They would replenish his butteries with their gifts . 
they would ride upon his errands ; they would wear his livery. There was one 
gentleman in Warwickshire who would not thus do Leicester homage Edward 
Arden, the head of the great house of Arden, the cousin of William Shakspere's 
mother. But the mighty favourite was too powerful for him : " Which Edward 
though a gentleman not inferior to the rest of his ancestors in those virtues 
wherewith they were adorned, had the hard hap to come to an untimely death 
in 27 Eliz., the charge laid against him being no less than high treason against 
the Queen, as privy to some foul intentions that Master Somerville, his son-in- 
law (a Roman Catholic), had towards her person : For which he was prosecuted 
with so great rigour and violence, by the Earl of Leicester's means, whom he 
had irritated in some particulars (as I have credibly heard), partly in disdain- 
ing to wear his livery, which many in this country, of his rank, thought, in those 
days, no small lionour to them ; but chiefly for galling him by certain harsh 
expressions, touching his private accesses to the Countess of Essex before she 

88 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

was his wife ; that through the testimony of one Hall, a priest, he was found 
guilty of the fact, and lost his life in Smithfield."* The Rev. N. J. Halpin, who 
has contributed a most interesting tract to the publications of ' The Shakespeare 
Society ' on the subject of ' Oberon's Vision in the Midsummer Night's Dream,' 
has explained the allusions in that exquisite passage with far more success, than 
the belief of Warburton that the Queen of Scots was pointed at. or of Mr. Boaden 
that Amy Robsart was the "little western flower." He considers that Edward 
Arden, a spectator of those very entertainments at Kenilworth, discovered 
Leicester's guilty " accesses to the Countess of Essex ;" that the expression of 
Oberon, " That very time, I saw, but thou couldst not," referred to this discovery; 
that when " the Imperial Votaress passed on," he " marked where the bolt of 
Cupid fell ;" that " the little western flower," pure, " milk-white " before that 
time, became spotted, " purple with love's wound." We may add that there is 
bitter satire in what follows "that flower," retaining the original influence, 
"will make or man or woman madly dote," as Lettice, Countess of Essex, was 
infatuated by Leicester. The discovery of Edward Arden, and his "harsh expres 
sions " concerning it, might be traditions in Shakspere's family, and be safely 
allegorized by the poet in 1594 when Leicester was gone to his account. f 

Laneham asks a question which in his giddy style he does not wait to 
answer, or even to complete : " And first, who that considers unto the stately 
seat of Kenilworth Castle, the rare beauty of building that his Honour hath 
advanced, all of the hard quarry-stone ; every room so spacious, so well be- 

* Dugdale's Warwickshire,' p. 681. 

"t* Professor Craik, in his most interesting work, ' The Romance of the Peerage/ is of opinion 
that no reader who shall come to the perusal of Mr. Halpin's Essay, with a mind free from prepos 
sessions and a sufficient knowledge of the time, " will retain any doubt that the secret meaning of 
these lines has now been discovered that Cupid is Leicester, that the Moon and the Vestal typify 
Elizabeth, that the Earth is the Lady Sheffield, and the little western flower the Countess of 
Essex." (Vol. i. p. 75.) 




[Ruins of Kcuilworth, in the inh centur;;.] 



WII.UAM SIIAKSl'KRE: 

lighted, and so high roofed within ; so seemly to sight by due proportion with 
out ; in day-time on every side so glittering by glass ; at nights, by continual 
brightness of candle, fire, and torch-light, transparent through the lightsome 
windows, as it were the Egyptian Pharos relucent unto all the Alexandrian 
coast," who that considers (we finish the sentence) what Kenilworth thus 
was in the year 1575 will not contrast it with its present state of complete ruin? 
Never did a fabric of such unequalled strength and splendour perish so inglo- 
riously. Leicester bequeathed the possession to his brother the Earl of 
Warwick for life, and the inheritance to his only son, Sir Robert Dudley, 
whose legitimacy was to be left doubtful. The rapacious James contrived, 
through the agency of the widow of the Earl of Leicester, to cheat the son out 
of the father's great possessions. The more generous Prince Henry, upon 
whom Kenilworth was bestowed, negotiated for its purchase with Sir Robert 
Dudley, who had gone abroad. A fifth only of the purchase-money was ever 
paid ; yet upon the death of his brother, Charles took possession of the castle 
as his heir. A stronger than Charles divided the castle and lands, thus un 
justly procured by the Crown, amongst his captains and counsellors ; and from 
the time of Cromwell the history of Kenilworth is that of its gradual decay 




[Entrance to the Hall.) 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

and final ruin. No cannon has battered its strong walls, " in many places of 
fifteen and ten foot thickness ; " no turbulent soldiery has torn down the hang 
ings and destroyed the architraves and carved ceilings of " the room.) of great 
state within the same;" no mines have exploded in its "stately cellars, all 
carried upon pillars and architecture of freestone carved and wrought." The 
buildings were whole, and are described, as we have just quoted, in a survey 
when James laid his hand upon them. Of many of the outer walls the 
masonry is still as fresh and as perfect as if the stone had only been quarried 
half a century ago. Silent decay has done all this work. The proud Leicester, 
who would have been king in England, could not secure his rightful inherit 
ance to his son, undoubtedly legitimate, whom he had the baseness to disown 
whilst he was living. No just possessor came after him. One rapacity suc 
ceeded another, so that even a century ago Kenilworth was a monument of the 
worthlessness of a grovelling ambition. 

The historian of Warwickshire has given us " the ground-plot of Kenil 
worth Castle," as it was in 1640. By this we may trace the pool and 
the pleasance ; the inner court, the base court, and the tilt-yard ; Caesar's 
Tower and Mortimer's Tower ; King Henry's Lodgings and Leicester's 
Buildings ; the Hall, the Presence Chamber, and the Privy Chamber. There 
was an old fresco painting, too, upon a wall at Newnham Padox, which 
was copied in 1716, and is held to represent the castle in the time of James I. 
Without these aids Kenilworth would only appear to us a mysterious mass of 
ruined gigantic walls ; deep cavities whose uses are unknown ; arched door 
ways, separated from the chambers to which they led ; narrow staircases, 
suddenly opening into magnificent recesses, with their oriels looking over 
corn-field and pasture ; a hall with its lofty windows and its massive chimney- 
pieces still entire, but without roof or flooring ; mounds of earth in the midst 
of walled chambers, and the hawthorn growing where the dais stood. The 
desolation would probably have gone on for another century ; the stones of 
Kenilworth would still have mended roads, and been built into the cowshed 
and the cottage, till the ploughshare had been carried over the grassy courts ; 
had not, some twenty-five years ago, a man of middle age, with a lofty forehead 
and a keen grey eye, slightly lame but withal active, entered its gatehouse, 
and, having looked upon the only bit of carving left to tell something of interior 
magnificence, passed into those ruins, and stood there silent for some two hours.* 
Then was the ruined place henceforward to be sanctified. The progress of 
desolation was to be arrested. The torch of genius again lighted up " every 
room so spacious," and they were for ever after to be associated with the recol 
lections of their ancient splendour. There were to be visions of sorrow and 
suffering there too ; woman's weakness, man's treachery. And now Kenilworth 
is worthily a place which is visited from all lands. The solitary artist sits on 

* Some five and twenty years ago there was a venerable and intelligent farmer, Mr. Bodington, 
living in the Gatehouse at Keuilworth. He remembered Scott's visit, although he knew not at the 
time of the visit who he was ; and the frank manners and keen inquiries of the great novelist left au 
impression upon him which he described to us. The old man is dead. 

91 



WILLIAM RIIAKSPKKF : 

the stone seat of the great bay-window, and sketches the hall where he fancies 
Elizabeth banqueting. A knot of young antiquarians, ascending a narrow 
staircase, would identify the turret as that in which Amy Robsart took refuge. 
Happy children nm up and down the grassy slopes, and wonder who made so 
pretty a ruin. The contemplative man rejoices that the ever-vivifying power 
of nature throws its green mantle over what would be ugly in decay ; and that, 
in the same way, the poetical power invests the desolate places with life and 
beauty, and, when the material creations of ambition lie perishing, builds them 
up again, not to be agai-n destroyed. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

PAGEANTS. 







thereof goes through the country, and Coventry i 
crowds on the day of Corpus Christi. 

* See ' A Briefe Conceipte of English Pollkye,' 1581. 



IT is " the middle summer's spring." On 
the day before the feast of Corpus Christi 
all the roads leading to Coventry have far 
more than their accustomed share of pedes 
trians and horsemen. The pageants are to 
be acted to-morrow, and perhaps for the last 
time. The preachers in their sermons have 
denounced them again and again ; but since 
the Queen's Majesty was graciously pleased 
with the Hock-play at Kenilworth, that 
ancient sport, so dear to the men of Coven 
try, has been revived, and the Guilds have 
struggled against the preachers to prevent 
their old pageants from being suppressed. 
And why, say they, should they be sup 
pressed ? Have not they, the men of the 
Guilds, been accustomed to act their own 
pageants long after the Grey Friars had 
gone into obscurity ? Has not the good city 
all that is needful for their proper per 
formance ? Do not they all know their 
parts, as arranged by the town-clerk ? Are 
not their robes in goodly order, some new, 
and all untattered ? Moreover, is not the 
trade of the city greatly declined its blue 
thread thrust out by thread brought from 
beyond sea its caps and girdles superseded 
by gear from London;* and was not in the 
old time " the confluence of people from far 
and near to see this show extraordinary 
great, and yielded no small advantage to 
this city ? " t The pageants shall be played 
in spite of the preachers ; and so the bruit 
' itill to see its accustomed 



t Dugdale. 
93 



WILLIAM SH. \KSPERE: 

It requires not the imagination of the romance-wriu-r to assume that before 
William Shakspere was sixteen, that is, before the year 1580, when the pageants 
at Coventry, with one or two rare exceptions, were finally suppressed, he would 
be a spectator of one of these remarkable performances, which were in a few 
years wholly to perish ; becoming, however, the foundations of a drama more 
suited to the altered spirit of the people, more universal in its range, the 
drama of the laity, and not of the church. What a glorious city must Coventry 
have been in the days when that youth first looked upon it the " Prince's 
Chamber," as it was called, the " third city of the realm," a " shire-town," * full 
of stately buildings of great antiquity, unequalled once in the splendour of its 
monastic institutions, full of associations of regal state, and chivalry, and high 
events ! As he finally emerges from the rich woodlands and the elm -groves 
which reach from Kenilworth, there would that splendid city lie before him, 
surrounded by its high wall and its numerous gates, its three wondrous spires, 
which he had often gazed upon from the hill of Welcombe, rising up in match 
less height and symmetry, its famous cross towering above the gabled roofs. 
At the other extremity of the wall, gates more massive and defying a place of 
strength, even though no conqueror of Cressy now dwelt therein a place of 
magnificence, though the hand of spoliation had been there most busy. William 
Shakspere and his company ride through the gate of the Grey Friars, and they 
are presently in the heart of that city. Eager crowding is there already in 
these streets on that eve of Corpus Christi, for the waits are playing, and ban 
ners are hung out at the walls of the different Guilds. The citizens gathered 
round the Cross are eagerly discussing the particulars of to-morrow's show. 
Here and there one with a beetling brow indignantly denounces the superstitious 
and papistical observance ; whilst the laughing smith or shearman, who is to 
play one of the magi on the morrow, describes the bravery of his new robe and 
the lustre of his pasteboard crown that has been fresh gilded. The inns are 
full, " great and sumptuous inns," as Harrison describes those of this very day, 
" able to lodge two hundred or three hundred persons, and their horses, at ease, 
and thereto, with a very short warning, make such provision for their diet as 
to him that is unacquainted withal may seem to be incredible : And it is a 
world to see how each owner of them contendeth with other for goodness of 
entertainment of their guests, as about fineness and change of linen, furniture 
of bedding, beauty of rooms, service at the table, costliness of plate, strength of 
drink, variety of wines, or well using of horses." So there would be no lack of 
cheer ; and the hundreds that have come into Coventry will be fed and lodged 
better even than in London, whose inns, as the same authority tells us, are the 
worst in the kingdom. Piping and dancing is there in the chambers, madrigals 
worth the listening. But silence and sleep at last fitly prepare for a busy day. 
Perhaps, however, a stray minstrel might find his way to this solemnity, and 
forget the hour in the exercise of his vocation, like the very ancient anony 
mous poet of the Alliterative Metre, whose manuscript, probably of the date of 
Henry V., has contrived to escape destruction : 

Coventry has altogether separate jurisdiction. It is " the County of the City of Coventry." 
It U called "a shire-towu" by Dugdale, to mark this distinction. 
94 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" Ones y me ordayned, as y have ofte doon, 
With frendcs, and felawes, frendemen, and other ; 
And caught me in a company on Corpus Christ! even, 
Six, other seven myle, oute of Suthampton, 
To take melodye, and mirthes, among my makes ; 
With redyng of romaunces, and revelyng among, 
The dym of the darknesse drowe into the west, 
And began for to spryng in the grey day."* 

Perhaps the inquiring youth from Stratford would meet with some old Coventry 
man, who would describe the pageants as they were acted by the Grey Friars 
before the dissolution of their religious house. The old man would tell him 
how these pageants, " acted with mighty state and reverence by the friars of 
this house, had theatres for the several scenes, very large and high, placed upon 
wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts of the city for the better advantage 
of spectators ; and contained the story of the New Testament composed into old 
English rhyme, as appeareth by an ancient manuscript, entitled Dudus Corporis 
Christi, or Ludus Coventrice."^- That ancient man, who might have been a 
friar himself, but felt it not safe to proclaim his vocation, might describe how 
Henry V. and his nobles took great delight in seeing the pageants ; how Queen 
Margaret in the days of her prosperity came from Kenilworth to Coventry 
privily to see the play, and saw all the pageants played save one, which could 
not be played because night drew on ; how the triumphant Richard III. came 
to see the Corpus Christi plays ; and how Henry VII. much commended them.]: 
He could recite lines from these Corpus Christi plays with a reverential solem 
nity ; lines that for the most part sounded rude in the ear of that youth, but 
which, nevertheless, had a vigorous simplicity, fit for the teaching of an unin- 
structed people. He would tell how in the play of ' The Creation ' the pride 
of Lucifer disdained the worship of the angels, and how he was cast down 

" With mirth and joy neve.' n.ore to mell." 
How in the play of ' The Fall,' Eve sang 

" In Ihis garden I will go see 
All the flowers of fair beauty, 
And tasteii the fruits of great plenty 
That be in Paradise ; " 

and how the first pair lost that garden, and went forth into the land to labour. 
He could repeat, too, a hymn of Abel, very sweet in its music : 

" Almighty God, and full of might, 

By whom all thing is made of nought, 
To thee my heart is ready dight, 
For upon thee is all my thought." 

Moreover, in the play of ' Noah/ when the dove returned to the ark with the 

* See Percy's ' Reliques : ' On the Alliterative Metre. We give the lines as corrected in Sharp's 
' Coventry Mysteries.' 

t Dugdale. . F 

I See Sharp's quotations from the manuscript Annals of Coventry, 'Dissertation, p. 4. 



WILLIAM SHAKSP1.1.I 

olive-branch, there was a joyful chorus, such as now could never be heard in the 
streets of Coventry : 

" Mare vidit et fugit, 
Jordanis conversus eat retrorsum. 
Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, 
Sed nornini tuo da gloriam." 

Much more would he have told of those ancient plays, forty-three in number, 
but time would not.* He defended the objects for which they were instituted : 
the general spread of knowledge might have brought other teaching, but they 
familiarized the people with the great scriptural truths ; they gave them amuse 
ments of a higher nature than military games, and contentions of mere brute 
force. They might be improved, and something like the drama of Greece and 
Rome might be founded upon them. But now the same class of subjects were 
to be handled by rude artificers, who would make them ridiculous. There was 
much truth in what the old man said ; and the youth of Stratford would go 
thoughtfully to rest. 

The morning of Corpus Christi comes, and soon after sunrise there is stir in 
the streets of Coventry. The old ordinances for this solemnity require that the 
Guilds should be at their posts at five o'clock. There is to be a solemn proces 
sion formerly, indeed, after the performance of the pageant and then, with 
hundreds of torches burning around the figures of our Lady and St. John, can 
dlesticks and chalices of silver, banners of velvet and canopies of silk, and the 
members of the Trinity Guild and the Corpus Christi Guild bearing their cruci 
fixes and candlesticks, with personations of the angel Gabriel lifting up the lily, 
the twelve apostles, and renowned virgins, especially St. Catherine and St. Mar 
garet. The Reformation has, of course, destroyed much of this ceremonial ; 
and, indeed, the spirit of it has in great part evaporated. But now, issuing 
from the many ways that lead to the cross, there is heard the melody of harpers 
and the voice of minstrelsy ; trumpets sound, banners wave, riding-men come 
thick from their several halls ; the mayor and aldermen in their robes, the city 
servants in proper liveries, St. George and the Dragon, and Herod on horse 
back. The bells ring, boughs are strewed in the streets, tapestry is hung out of 
the windows, officers in scarlet coats struggle in the crowd while the procession 
is marshalling. The crafts are getting into their ancient order, each craft with 
its streamer and its men in harness. There are " Fysshers and Cokes, Bax 
ters and Milners, Bochers, Whittawers and Glovers, Pynners, Tylers, and 
Wrightes, Skynners, Barkers, Corvysers, Smythes, Wevers, Wir- 
drawers. Cardemakers, Sadelers, Peyntours, and Masons, Gurdelers, Tay- 
lours, Walkers, and Sherman, Deysters, Drapers, Mercers." f At length 
the procession is arranged. It parades through the principal lines of the city, 
from Bishopgate on the north to the Grey Friars' Gate on the south, and from 
Broadgate on the west to Gosford Gate on the east. The crowd is thronging 
to the wide area on the north of Trinity Church and St. Michael's, for there is 

* See the ' Ludua Coventrise,' published by the Shakespeare Society. 

f Sharp's 'Dissertation,' page 160. 
96 







[Coventry Churches and Pageants.] 



the pageant to be first performed. There was a high house or carriage which 
stood upon six wheels ; it was divided into two rooms, one above the other. In 
the lower room were the performers ; the upper was the stage. This ponderous 
vehicle was painted and gilt, surmounted with burnished vanes and streamers, 
and decorated with imagery ; it was hung round with curtains, and a painted 
cloth presented a picture of the subject that was to be performed. This simple 
stage had its machinery, too ; it was fitted for the representation of an earth 
quake or a storm ; and the pageant in most cases was concluded in the noise 
and flame of fireworks. It is the pageant of the company of Shearmen and 
Tailors which is now to be performed, the subject of the Birth of Christ and 
Offering of the Magi, with the Flight into Egypt and Murder of the Innocents. 
The eager multitudes are permitted to crowd within a reasonable distance of 
the car. There is a moveable scaffold erected for the more distinguished spcc- 
LIFK. H P7 



WII.I.IAM siiAK>ri:i:i: : 

tators. Tlie men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. Amidst the sound* of 
harp and trumpet the curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, prophesying 
the blessing which is to come upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary the 
embassage upon which he is sent from Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary 
and Joseph, and the scene changes to the field where shepherds are abiding in 
the darkness of the night a night so dark that they know not where their sheep 
may be ; they are cold and in great heaviness. Then the star shines, and they 
hear the song of " Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of concealed music 
hushes even the whispers of the Coventry audience ; and three songs are sung, 
such as may abide in the remembrance of the people, and be repeated by them 
at their Christmas festivals. " The first the shepherds sing : " 

" As I rode out this endera * night, 
Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight, 
And all about their fold a star shone bright ; 
They sang terli terlow : 
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow." 

There is then a song " the women sing : " 

*' Lully, lulla, you little tiny child : 
By, by, lully, lullay, you little tiny child : 

By, by, lully, lulLiy. 
sisters two, how may we do 
For to preserve this day 
This poor youngling, for whom we do sing 
By, by, lully, lullay ? 

Herod the king, in his raging, 
Charged he hath this day 
His men of might, in his own sight, 
All young children to slay. 

That woe is me, poor child, for thee, 
And ever mourn and say, 
For thy parting neither say nor sing 
By, by, lully, lullay." 

The shepherds again take up the song : 

" Down from heaven, from heaven so high, 
Of angels there came a great company, 
With mirth, and joy, and great solemnity : 
They sang terly ; terlow : 
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow." 

The simple melody of these songs has come down to us ; they are part songs, 
each having the treble, the tenor, and the bass.f The star conducts the shepherds 
to the " crib of poor repast," where the child lies; and, with a simplicity which 

* Enderi night last night. 

t This very curious Pageant, essentially different from the same portion of Scripture-history 
in the ' Ltulut Coventriat' is printed entire in Mr. Sharp's Dissertation,' as well as the score of 
these songs. 

98 



A BIOGRAPHY. , 

is highly characteristic, one presents the child his pipe, the second his hat, and 
the third his mittens. Prophets now come, who declare in lengthened rhyme 
the wonder and the blessing : 

" Neither in halls nor yet in bowers 
Born would he not be, 
Neither in castles nor yet in towers 
That seemly were to see." 

The messenger of Herod succeeds ; and very curious it is, and characteristic of 
a period when the king's laws were delivered in the language of the Conqueror, 
that he speaks in French. This circumstance would carry back the date of the 
play to the reign of Edward III., though the language is occasionally modern 
ized. We have then the three kings with their gifts. They are brought before 
Herod, who treats them courteously, but is inexorable in his cruel decree. 
Herod rages in the streets ; but the flight into Egypt takes place, and then the 
massacre. The address of the women to the pitiless soldiers, imploring, defying, 
is not the least curious part of the performance ; for example 

" Sir knightes, of your courtesy, 
This day shame not your chivalry, 
But on my child have pity," 

is the mild address of one mother. Another raves 

" He that slays my child in sight, 
If that my strokes on him may light, 
Be he squire or knight, 
I hold him but lost." 

The fury of a third is more excessive : 

" Sit he never so high in saddle, 
But I shall make his brains addle, 
And here with my pot ladle 
With him will I fight." 

We have little doubt that he who described the horrors of a siege, 

" Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confus'd 
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry 
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen," * 

had heard the howlings of the women in the Coventry pageant. And so "fynes 
lude de taylars and scharmcn." 

The pageants thus performed by the Guilds of Coventry were of various sub- 
jects, but all scriptural. The Smiths' pageant was the Crucifixion ; and most 
curious are their accounts, from 1449 till the time of which we are speaking, 
for expenses of helmets for Herod and cloaks for Pilate ; of tabards for Caiaphas 

* Henry V., Act in., Scene in. 
H2 " 



WILLIAM SIIAKRPKKF. : 

and gear for Pilate's wife ; of a staff for the Demon, and a beard for Judas 
There are payments, too, to a man for hanging Judas and for cock-crowing. 
The subject of the Cappers' pageant was the Resurrection. They hare charges 
for making the play-book and pricking the songs ; for money spent at the first 
rehearsal and the second rehearsal ; for supper on the play-day, for breakfasts 
and for dinners. The subject of the Drapers' pageant was that of Doomsday ; 
and one of their articles of machinery sufficiently explains the character of their 
performance " A link to set the world on fire," following " Paid for the barrel 
for the earthquake." We may readily believe that the time was fast approach 
ing when such pageants would no longer be tolerated. It is more than probable 
that the performances of the Guilds were originally subordinate to those of the 
Grey Friars ; perhaps devised and supported by the parochial clergy.* But 
when the Church became opposed to such representations when, indeed, they 
were incompatible with the spirit of the age it is clear that the efforts of the 
laity to uphold them could not long be successful. They would be certainly 
performed without the reverence which once belonged to them. Their rude 
action and simple language would be ridiculed ; and when the feeling of ridi 
cule crept in, their nature would be altered, and they would become essentially 
profane. There is a very curious circumstance connected with the Coventry 
pageants which shows the struggle that was made to keep the dramatic spirit 
of the people in this direction. In 1584 the Smiths performed, after many pre 
parations and rehearsals, a new pageant, the Destruction of Jerusalem. The 
Smiths applied to one who had been educated in their own town, in the Free 
School of Coventry, and who in 1584 belonged to St. John's, Oxford, to write 

this new play for them. The following entry appears in the city accounts : 



" Paid to M r Smythe of Oxford the xv th daye of aprill 1584 for hys paynes for writing of the 
tragedy e xiy 1 , vj", viij d ." 

We regret that this play, so liberally paid for when compared with subse 
quent payments to the Jonsons and Dekkers of the true drama, has not been 
preserved. It would be curious to contrast it with the beautiful dramatic poem 
on the same subject, by an accomplished scholar of our own day, also a member 
of the University of Oxford. But the list of characters remains, which shows 
that the play was essentially historical, exhibiting the contests of the Jewish 
factions as described by Josephus. The accounts manifest that the play was got 
up with great magnificence in 1584 ; but it was not played again till 1591, when 
it was once more performed along with the famous Hock Tuesday. It was then 
ordered that no other plays whatever should be performed ; and the same order, 
which makes this concession " at the request of the Commons," directs " that 
all the May-poles that now are standing in this city shall be taken down before 
Whitsunday next, and none hereafter to be set up." In that year Coventry 
saw the last of its pageants. But Marlowe and Shakspere were in London, 
building up something more adapted to that age ; more universal : dramas that 

It is clear, we think, that the pageants performed by the Guilds were altogether different 
from the ' Ludus Coveutria?.' which Dugdale expressly tells us were performed by tho Grey 
Friura. 

100 



A BIOGRAPHY 



no change of manners or of politics can destroy. The Pageants of Coventry 
have perished, as her strong gates and walls have perished. They belonged 
essentially to other times. They are no longer needed. A few fragments 
remain to tell us what they were ; and upon these the learned, as they are 
called, will doubt and differ, and the general world heed them not. 

And now the men of Coventry lead the way of the strangers to another spot, 
with the cry of " The Hock-play, the Hock-play !" There was yawning and ill- 
repressed laughing during the pageant, but the whole population now seems 
animated with the spirit of joyfulness. As one of the worthy aldermen gallantly 
presses his horse through the crowd, is there not a cry, too, of " A Nycklyn, a 
Nycklyn ! " for did not the worthy mayor, Thomas Nycklyn, three years ago, 
cause " Hock Tuesday, whereby is mentioned an overthrow of the Danes by the 
inhabitants of this city, to be again set up and showed forth, to his great com- 
mendation and the city's great commodity ? "* In the wide area of the Cross- 
cheaping is the crowd now assembled. The strangers gaze upon " that stately 
Cross, being one of the chief things wherein this city most glories, which for 
workmanship and beauty is inferior to none in England."f It was not then 
venerable for antiquity, for it had been completed little more than thirty years ; 
but it was a wondrous work of gorgeous architecture, story rising above story, 
with canopies and statues, to a magnificent height, glittering with vanes upon 
its pinnacles, and now decorated with numerous streamers. J Around the square 
are houses of most picturesque form; the balconies of their principal floors 
filled with gazers, and the windows immediately beneath the high-pitched roofs 
showing as many heads as could be thrust through the open casements. The 
area is cleared, for the play requires no scaffold. The English and the Danes 
marshal on opposite sides. There are fierce words and imprecations, shouts of 
defiance, whisperings of counsel. What is imperfectly heard or ill understood 
by the strangers is explained by those who are familiar with the show. There 
is no ridicule now ; no laughing at Captain Cox, in his velvet cap, and flourish 
ing his tonsword ; all is gravity and exultation. Then come the women of 
Coventry, ardent in the cause of liberty, courageous, much enduring ; and some 
one tells in the pauses of the play, how there once rode into that square, in a 
death-like solitude and silence, a lady all naked, who, " bearing an extraordinary 
affection for this place, often and earnestly besought her husband that he would 
free it from that grievous servitude whereunto it was subject ;" and he telling 
her the hard conditions upon which her prayer would be granted 
" She rode forth, clothed on with chastity." 



* Extract from manuscript Annals of Coventry in Sharp's ' Dissertation,' p. 129. 

t Dugdale. 

J The Cross has perished, not through age, but by the hands of Cominon-councilmen and Com 
missioners of Pavement. The Turks broke up the Elgin marbles to make mortar for their Athenian 
hovels, and we call them barbarians. These things went on amongst us up to a very recent time. 
In an old Chapel of Ease iu the neighbourhood of Stratford was, a few years ago, one of the very 
fine recumbent figures of a Templar. The figure was missed by a clergyman who sometimes visited 
the place, and he asked the sexton what had become cf it ? The answer was, " What ! that cross- 
Jegged chap ? Oh ! I mendsd the road wi' he; a saved a deal o' limestone." 

Dugdale, 

101 



\M sn.\Ksri:i:i. : 

Noble-hearted women such as the Lady Godiva were those of Coventry who 
assisted their husbands to drive out the Danes ; and there they lead their captives 
in triumph ; and the Hock-play terminate* with song and chorus. 

But the solemnities of the day are not yet concluded. In the space around 
Swine Cross, and near St. John's School, is another scaffold erected ; not a lofty 
scaffold like that of the drapers and shearmen, but gay witli painted cloths and 
ribbons. The pageant of ' The Nine "Worthies ' is to be performed by the dramatic 
body of the Grammar School ; the ancient pageant, such as was presented to 
Henry VI. and his Queen in 1455, and of which the Leet-book contains the 
faithful copy.* Assuredly there was one who witnessed that performance care 
fully employed in noting down the lofty speeches which the three Hebrews, 
Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabaeus ; the three Infidels, Hector, Alexander, and 
Julius Caesar ; and the three Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of 
Boulogne, uttered on that occasion. In the Coventry pageant Hector thus 
speaks : 

" Most pleasant princes, recorded that may be, 
I, Hector of Troy, that am chief conqueror, 
Lowly will obey you, and kneel on my knee." 

And Alexander thus : 

" I, Alexander, that for chivalry beareth the ball, 
Most courageous in conquest through the world am I named, 
Welcome you, princes." 

And Julius Caesar thus : 

" I, Julius Caesar, sovereign of knighthood 
And emperor of mortal men, most high and mighty, 
Welcome you, princes most benign and good." 

Surely it was little less than plagiary, if it were not meant for. downright parody, 
when, in a pageant of ' The Nine Worthies ' presented a few years after, Hector 
comes in to say 

" The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty, 

Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion : 
A man so breath'd, that certain he would fight, yea, 

From morn till night, out of his pavilion. 
I am that flower." 

And Alexander : 

" When in the world I liv'd, I was the world's commander ; 
By east, west, north, and south, I spread my conquering might : 
My 'scutcheon plain declares that I am Alisander." 

And Pompey, usurping the just hono'urs of his triumphant rival : 

" 1 Pompey am, Pompey surnamed the great, 
That oft in field, with targe and shield, did make my foe to sweat." 

J0> , * Sharp, page 14u. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

But the laugh of the parody was a harmless one. The Nine Worthies were 
utterly dead and gone in the popular estimation. Certainly in the crowd before 
St. John's School at Coventry there would be more than one who would laugh 
at the speeches merry souls, ready to " play on the tabor to the Worthies, and 
let them dance the hay."* 

* Love's Labour's Lost, Act V. It is scarcely necessary to refer the reader to the same play 
for the speeches of Hector, Alexander, and Pompey. The coincidence between these and the 
old Coventry Pageant in remarkable. 




[Ancient Gate of Coventry, 1842.] 



WILLIAM SHAKSI'KIJK. 



NOTE ON THE COVENTRY PAGEANTS. 



THE "Chester Mysteries," which appear greatly to have resembled those of Coventry, were 
fnally suppressed in 1574. Archdeacon Rogers, who in his MSS. rejoices that "such a cloud 
of ignorance " would be no more seen, appears to have been an eye-witness of their performance, 
of which he has left the following description : (See Markland's ' Introduction to a Specimen 
of the Chester Mysteries.") 

" Now of the playes of Chester, called the Whitson playes, when the weare played, and what 
occupations bringe forthe at theire charges the playes or pagiantes. 

" lleare note that these playes of Chester, called the Whitson playes, weare the worke of one 
Kondell, a Moncke of the Abbaye of Sainte Warburghe in Chester, who redused the whole hia- 
torye of the bible into euglishe etoryes in metter in the englishe tounge ; and this Monke, in a 
good desire to doe good, published the same. Then the firs'.e maior of Chester, namely, S r John 
Arnewaye, Kuighte, he caused the same to l>e played : the mauer of which playes was thus : 
they weare divided into 24 pagiantes according to the copauyes of the Cittie ; and every com 
pany e broughte forthe theire pagiant, w th was the cariage or place w' u the played in ; and before 
these playes weare played, there was a man w ch did ride, as I take it, upon S l Georges daye 
throughe the Cittie, and there published the tyme and the matter of the plays in breelfe : the 
weare played upon Mondaye, Tuesday, and Wensedaye iu Whitsou weeke. And thei first be- 
ganne at the Abbaye gates ; and when the firste pagiante was played at the Abbaye gates, then 
it was wheled from thense to the Pentice, at the hyghe Crosse, before the maior, and before th.it 
was donne the seconde came ; and the firste went into the Watergate Streete, and from thense 
unto Bridge Streete, and so one after an other 'till all the pagiantes weare played appoyuted for 
the firste daye, and BO likewise for the seconde and the thirde daye. These pagiantes or carige 
was a hyghe place made like a howse with 2 rowmes, beinge open on the tope ; the lower rowme 
theie apparrelled and dressed themselves, and the higher rowine theie played, and theie stoode 
upon vi wheeles ; and when the had donne with one cariage in one place theie wheled the same 
from one streete to another, first from the Abbaye gate to the pentise, then to the Watergate 
streete, then to the bridge streete through the lanes, and so to the este gate streete : and thus 
tha came from one streete to another, kepinge a directe order in everye streete, for before thei 
firate carige was gone from one place the seconde came, and so before the secoude was gone the 
thirde came, and so till the laste was donne all in order withoute anye stayeiuge in auye place, 
for worde beinge broughte howe every place was neoro dooue, the came and made no place to 
tarye tell the laste was played." 



104 




[Stratford Church, and Mill. From an original drawing at tUe beginning of the last Century.] 

CHAPTER IX. 

HOME. 



WE have thus endeavoured to fill up, with some imperfect forms and feeble 
colours, the very meagre outline which exists of the schoolboy life of William 
Shakspere. He is now, we will assume, of the age of fourteen the year 1578 ; 
a year which has been held to furnish decisive evidence as to the worldly con 
dition of his father and ^his family. The first who attempted to write ' Some 
Account of the Life of William Shakspeare,' Rowe, says, " His father, who was 
a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, 
though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his 
own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, 
where, it is probable, He acquired what Latin he was master of : but the narrow 
ness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his 
father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further pro 
ficiency in that language." This statement, be it remembered, was written 
one hundred and thirty years after the event which it professes to record the 
early removal of WilHam Shakspere from the free-school to which he had been 
sent by his father. We have no hesitation in saying that the statement is 
manifestly based upon two assumptions, both of which are incorrect : The 
first, that his father had a large family of ten children, and was so narrowed in 
his circumstances that he could not spare even the time of his eldest son, he 
being taught for nothing; and, secondly, that the son, by his early removal 

from the school where he acquired " what Latin he was master of," was pre- 
105 



WII.F.I \M 

vented attaining a "proficiency in that language," his works manifesting "an 
ignorance of the ancients." It mav be convenient that we should in this place 
endeavour to dispose of both these assertions. Mr. Halliwell, commenting upon 
this statement, says, " John Shakspeare's circumstances began to fail him when 
William was about fourteen, and he then withdrew him from the grammar-school, 
for the purpose of obtaining his assistance in his agricultural pursuits." Was 
fourteen an unusually early age for a boy to be removed from a grammar-school ? 
We think not, at a period when there were boy-bachelors at the Universities. If 
he had been taken from the school three years before, when he was eleven, 
certainly an early age, we should have seen his father then recorded, in 1575, 
as the purchaser of two freehold houses in Henley Street, and the " narrowness 
of his circumstances" as the reason of Shakspere's "no better proficiency," 
would have been at once exploded. In his material allegation Rowe utterly 
fails. 

The family of John Shakspere did not consist, as we have already shown, of ten 
children. In the year 1578, when the school education of William may be 
reasonably supposed to have terminated, and before which period his " assistance 
at home " would rather have been embarrassing than useful to his father, the 
family consisted of five children : William, aged fourteen ; Gilbert, twelve ; Joan, 
nine ; Anne, seven ; and Richard four. Anne died early in the following year ; 
and, in 1580, Edmund, the youngest child, was born ; so that the family never 
exceeded five living at the same time. But still the circumstances of John 
Shakspere, even with five children, might have been straitened. The assertion of 
Rowe excited the persevering diligence of Malone ; and he has collected together 
a series of documents from which he infers, or leaves the reader to infer, that 
John Shakspere and his family gradually sunk from their station of respectability 
at Stratford into the depths of poverty and ruin. The sixth section of Malone's 
posthumous ' Life ' is devoted to a consideration of this subject. It thus com 
mences : " The manufacture of gloves, which was, at this period, a very flourishing 
one, both at Stratford and Worcester (in which latter ity it is still carried on 
with great success), however generally beneficial, should seem, from whatever 
cause, to have afforded our poet's father but a scanty maintenance." The 
assumption that John Shakspere depended for his " maintenance " upon " the 
manufacture of gloves " rests entirely and absolutely upon one solitary entry in 
the books of the bailiff's court at Stratford. In Chapter II. we have endeavoured 
to show to what extent, and in what manner, John Shakspere was a glover. 
Glover or not, he was a landed proprietor and an occupier of land in 1578. 

We proceed to the decisive statement of Malone that " when our author 
was about fourteen years old," the " distressed situation " of his father was evi 
dent : it rests " upon surer grounds than conjecture." The Corporation books 
have shown that on particular occasions, such as the visitation of the plague in 
1564, John Shakspere contributed like others to the relief of the poor ; but now, 
in January, 1577-8, he is taxed for the necessities of the borough only to pay 
half what other aldermen pay ; and in November of the Mime year, \vhil>t other 
aldermen are assessed fourpence weekly towards the relief of the poor, John 

Shakspere "shall not be taxed to pay anything." In 1579 the sum levied upon 

lo; 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

him for providing soldiers at the charge of the borough is returned, amongst 
similar sums of other persons, as " unpaid and unaccounted for." Finally, this 
unquestionable evidence of the books of the borough shows that this merciful 
forbearance of his brother townsmen was unavailing ; for, in an action 
brought against him in the bailiff's court in the year 1586, he during these 
seven years having gone on from bad to worse, the return by the Serjeants 
at mace upon a warrant of distress is, that John Shakspere has nothing upon 
which distress can be levied.* There are other corroborative proofs of John 
Shakspere's poverty at this period brought forward by Malone. In this precise 
year, 1578, he mortgages iiis wife's inheritance of Asbies to Edmund Lambert 
for forty pounds ; and, in the same year, the will of Mr. Roger Sadler, of Strat 
ford, to which is subjoined a list of debts due to him, shows that John Shak 
spere was indebted to him five pounds, for which sum Edmund Lambert was a 
security, "-By which," says Malone, "it appears that John Shakspere was 
then considered insolvent, if not as one depending rather on the credit of others 
than his own." It is of little consequence to the present age to know whether 
an alderman of Stratford, nearly three hundred years past, became unequal to 
maintain his social position ; but to enable us to form a right estimate of the 
education of William Shakspere, and of the circumstances in which he was 
placed at the most influential period of his life, it may not be unprofitable to 
consider how far these revelations of the private affairs of his father support the 
case which Malone holds he has so triumphantly proved. 

At the time in question, the best evidence is unfortunately destroyed ; for the 
registry of the Court of Record at Stratford is wanting, from 1569 to 1585. 
Nothing has been added to what Malone has collected as to this precise period. 
It amounts therefore to this, that in 1578 he mortgages an estate for forty 
pounds ; that he is indebted also five pounds to a friend for which his mortgagee 
had become security ; and that he is excused one public assessment, and has not 
contributed to another. At this time he is the possessor of two freehold houses 
in' Henley Street, bought in 1574. Malone, a lawyer by profession, supposes 
that the money for which Asbies was mortgaged went to pay the purchase of the 
Stratford freeholds ; according to which theory, these freeholds had been unpaid- 
for during four years, and the " good and lawful money " was not " in hand " 
when the vendor parted with the premises. We hold, and we think more reason 
ably, that in 1578, when he mortgaged Asbies, John Shakspere became the 
purchaser, or at any rate the occupier, of lands in the parish of Stratford, but not 
in the borough; and that, in either case, the money for which Asbies was 
mortgaged was the capital employed in this undertaking. The lands which were 
purchased by William Shakspere of the Combe family, in 1601, are described in 
the deed as " lying or being within the parish, fields, or town of Old Stretford. 
But the will of William Shakspere, he having become the heir-at-law of his father, 
devises all his lands and tenements "within the towns, hamlets, villages, fields, 
and grounds of Stratford-upon-Avon, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Wei 

* We print correct eopies of these entries at the end of the Chapter. Malone's copies exhilil 
his usual inaccuracies. 



WILLIAM BHAKBPEBK: 

Old Stratford is a local denomination, essentially different from Bishopton or 
Welcombe ; and, therefore, whilst the lands purchased by the son in 1601 might 
be those recited in the will as lying in Old Stratford, he might have derived from 
his father the lands of Bbhopton and Welcombe, of the purchase of which by 
himself we have no record. But we have a distinct record that William Shakspare 
did derive lands from his father, in the same way that he inherited the two 
freeholds in Henley Street. Mr. Halliwell prints, without any inference, a " Deed 
of Settlement of Shakespeare's Property, 1639 ;" that deed contains a remarkable 
recital, which appears conclusive as to the position of the father as a landed 
proprietor. The fine for the purpose of settlement is faken upon ; 1, a tenement 
in Blackfriars ; 2, a tenement at Acton ; 3, the capital messuage of New Place ; 
4, the tenement in Henley Street ; 5, one hundred and twenty. seven acres of 
land purchased of Combe ; and 6, " all other the messuages, lands, tenements 
and hereditaments whatsoever, situate lying and being in the towns, hamlets, 
villages, fields and grounds cf Stratford-upon-Avon, Old Stratford, Bishopton, 
and Welcombe, or any of them in the said county of Warwick, ichich heretofore 
were the INHERITANCE of William Shakspere, gent., deceased." The word 
inheritance could only be used in one legal sense ; they came to him by descent, as 
heir-at-law of his father. It would be difficult to find a more distinct confirma 
tion of the memorandum upon the grant of arms in the Heralds' College to 
John Shakspere, " he hath lands and tenements, of good wealth and substance, 
500/." The lands of Bishopton and Welcombe are in the parish of Stratford, but 
not in the borough. Bishopton was a hamlet, having an ancient chapel of ease. 
We hold, then, that in the year 1578 John Shakspere, having become more com 
pletely an agriculturist a yeoman as he is described in a deed of 1579 ceased, 
for the purposes of business, to be an occupier within the borough of Stratford. 
Other aldermen are rated to pay towards the furniture of pikemen, billmen, and 
archers, six shillings and eight-pence ; whilst John Shakspere is to pay three 
shillings and four-pence. Why less than other aldermen ? The next entry but 
one, which relates to a brother alderman, suggests an answer to the question : 
" Robert Bratt, not/liny IN THIS PLACE." Again, ten months after, " It is 
ordained that every alderman shall pay weekly, towards the relief of the poor, 
four-pence, save John Shakspere and Robert Bratt, who shall not be taxed to pay 
any thing." Here John Shakspere is associated with Robert Bratt, who, according 
to the previous entry, was to pay nothing in this place ; that is, in the borough of 
Stratford, to which the orders of the council alone apply. The return, in 1579, 
of Mr. Shakspere as leaving unpaid the sum of three shillings and three-pence, 
was the return upon a levy for the borouf/h, in which, although the possessor of 
property, he might have ceased to reside, or have only partially resided, paying his 
assessments in the parish. The Borough of Stratford, and the Parish of J5tratford, 
are essentially different things, as regards entries of the Corporation and of the 
Court of Record. The Report from Commissioners of Municipal Corporations 
says, "The limits of the borough extend over a space of about half a mile in 
breadth, and rather more in length * * *. The mayor, recorder, and senior 
aldermen of the borough have also jurisdiction, as justices of the peace, over a 
small town or suburb adjoining the Church of Stratford-upon Avon, called Old 
K8 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Stratford, and over the precincts of the church itself." We shall have occasion 
to revert to this distinction between the borough and the parish, at a more 
advanced period in' the life of Shakspere's father, when his utter ruin has been 
somewhat rashly inferred from certain obscure registers. 

Seeing, then, that at any rate, in the year 1574, when John Shakspere pur 
chased two freehold houses in Stratford, it was scarcely necessary for him to 
withdraw his son William from school, as Rowe has it, on account of the narrow 
ness of his circumstances (the education at that school costing the father nothing), 
it is not difficult to believe that the son remained there till the period when 
boys were usually withdrawn from grammar-schools. In those days the 
education of the university commenced much earlier than at present. Boys 
intended for the learned professions, and more especially for the church, 
commonly went to Oxford and Cambridge at eleven or twelve years of age. If 
they were not intended for those professions, they probably remained at the 
grammar-school till they were thirteen or fourteen ; and then they were fitted 
for being apprenticed to tradesmen, or articled to attorneys, a numerous and 
thriving body in those days of cheap litigation. Many also went early to the 
Inns of Court, which were the universities of the law, and where there was 
real study and discipline in direct connection with the several Societies. To 
assume that William Shakspere did not stay long enough at the grammar- 
school of Stratford to obtain a very fair " proficiency in Latin," with some 
knowledge of Greek, is to assume an absurdity upon the face of the circum 
stances ; and it could never have been assumed at all, had not Rowe, setting 
out upon a false theory, that, because in the works of Shakspere " we scarce find 
any traces of anything that looks like an imitation of the ancients," held that 
therefore " his not copying at least something from them may be an argument of 
his never having read them." Opposed to this is the statement of Aubrey, much 
nearer to the times of Shakspere : " he understood Latin pretty well." Rowe 
had been led into his illogical inference by the " small Latin and less Greek " 
of Jonson ; the " old mother-wit " of Denham ; the " his learning was very 
little " of Fuller ; the " native wood-notes wild " of Milton, phrases, every 
one of which is to be taken with considerable qualification, whether we regard 
the peculiar characters of the utterers, or the circumstances connected with the 
words themselves. The question rests net upon the interpretation of the dictum 
of this authority or that ; but upon the indisputable fact that the very earliest 
writings of Shakspere are imbued with a spirit of classical antiquity ; and that 
the allusive nature of the learning that manifests itself in them, whilst it offers 
the best proof of his familiarity with the ancient writers, is a circumstance 
which has misled those who never attempted to dispute the existence of the 
learning which was displayed in the direct pedantry of his contemporaries. 
" If" said Hales of Eton, "" he had not read the classics, he had likewise not 
stolen from them." Marlowe, Greene, Peele, and all the early dramatists, over 
load their plays with quotation and mythological allusion. According to Hales, 
they steal, and therefore they have read. He who uses his knowledge skilfully 
is assumed not to have read. 



WILLIAM SHAKSI'KRK : 

It is not our intention to enter upon a general examination of the various 
opinions that have been held as to the learning of Shakspere, and the tend 
ency of those opinions to show that he was without learning.* We only 
desire to point out, by a very few observations, that the learning manifested in 
his early productions does not bear out the assertion of Rowe that his profi 
ciency in the Latin language was interrupted by his early removal from the 
free -school of Stratford. His youthful poem, Venus and Adonis, the first heir 
of his invention, is upon a classical subject. The Rape of Lucrece is founded 
upon a legend of the beginnings of Roman history. Would he have ventured 
upon these subjects had he been unfamiliar with the ancient writers, from the 
attentive study of which he could alone obtain the knowledge which would 
enable him to treat them with propriety ? His was an age of sound scholarship. 
He dedicates both poems to a scholar, and a patron of scholars. Does any one 
of his contemporaries object that these classical subjects were treated by a young 
man ignorant of the classics? Will the most critical examination of these 
poems detect anything that betrays this ignorance? Is there not the most 
perfect keeping in both these poems, an original conception of the mode of 
treating these subjects, advisedly adopted with the full knowledge of what 
might be imitated, but preferring the vigorous painting of nature to any imita 
tion ? Love's Labour 's Lost, undoubtedly one of the earliest comedies, shows 
upon the principle laid down by Coleridge, that " a young author's first work 
almost always bespeaks his recent pursuits" that the habits of William Shak 
spere " had been scholastic, and those of a student." The Comedy of Errors is 
full of those imitations of the ancients in particular passages which critics have 
in all cases been too apt to take as the chief evidences of learning. The critics 
of Shakspere are puzzled by these imitations ; and when they see with what 
skill he adopts, or amends, or rejects, the incidents of the ' Menaechmi ' of 
Plautus, they have no resource but to contend that his knowledge of Plautus 
was derived from a wretched translation, published in all probability eight or. 
ten years after the Comedy of Errors was written. The three Parts of Henry 
VI. are the earliest of the historical. plays. Those who dispute the genuineness 
of the First Part affirm that it contains more allusions to mythology and classical 
authors than Shakspere ever uses ; but, with a most singular inconsistency, in 
the passages of the Second and Third Parts which they have chosen to pronounce 
as the additions of Shakspere to the original plays of another writer or writers, 
there are to be found as many allusions to mythology and classical writers as in 
the part which they deny to be his.f We have remarked upon these passages 
that they furnish the proof that, as a young writer, he possessed a competent 
knowledge of the ancient authors, and was not unwilling to display it ; " but 
that, with that wonderful judgment which was as remarkable as the pro 
digious range of his imaginative powers, he soon learnt to avoid the pedantry 
to which inferior men so pertinaciously clung in the pride of their scholarship." 



* This question is further touched upon in our ' Hi.-t'>ry of Opinion on the Writii 
Shakspere.' Section I. 

t See our Essay on Henry VI. ami Richard III. If {.storied, Vol. II. ] ;IL'I 4:>'2. 
llo 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Ranging over the whole dramatic works of Shakspere, whenever we find a clas 
sical image or allusion, such as in Hamlet, 

" A station like the herald Mercury, 
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill," 

the management of the idea is always elegant and graceful ; and the passage 
may sustain a contrast with the most refined imitations of his contemporaries, 
or of his own imitator, Milton. In his Roman plays he appears co-existent 
with his wonderful characters, and to have read all the obscure pages of Roman 
history with a clearer eye than philosopher or historian. When he employs 
Latinisms in the construction of his sentences, and even in the creation of new 
words, he does so with singular facility and unerring correctness. And then, 
we are to be told, he managed all this by studying bad translations, and by 
copying extracts from grammars and dictionaries ; as if it was reserved for such 
miracles of talent and industry as the Farmers and the Steevenses to read Ovid 
and Virgil in their original tongues, whilst the dull Shakspere, whether school 
boy or adult, was to be contented through life with the miserable translations 
of Arthur Golding and Thomas Phaer.* We believe that his familiarity at 
least with the best Roman writers was begun early, and continued late ; and 
that he, of all boys of Stratford, would be the least likely to discredit the teach 
ing of Thomas Hunt and Thomas Jenkins, the masters of the grammar-school 
from 1572 till 1580. 

The happy days of boyhood are nearly over. William Shakspere no longer 
looks for the close of the day when, in that humble chamber in Henley Street, 
his father shall hear something of his school progress, and read with him some 

* See a series of learned and spirited papers by Dr. Masjiun on Farmer's Essay, printed in 
Frazer's Magazine. 1839. 




WII.T.IAM RIIAKSPEKE : 

English book of history or travel, volumes which the active presses of London 
had sent cheaply amongst the people. The time is arrived when he has quitted 
the free-school. His choice of a worldly occupation is scarcely yet made. The 
wishes of his father, whatever they may be, are rather hinted at than carried out. 
It is that pause which so often takes place in the life of a youth, when the world 
shows afar off like a vast plain with many paths, all bright and .sunny, and losing 
themselves in the distance, where it is fancied there is something- brighter still. 
At this season we may paint the family of John Shakspere at their evening 
fireside. The mother is plying her distaff, or hearing Richard his lesson out of 
the ABC book. The father and the elder son are each intent upon a book of 
chronicles, manly reading. Gilbert is teaching his sister Joan Gamut, " the 
ground of all accord ;" whilst the little Anne, a petted child, is wilfully twang 
ing upon the lute which her sister has laid down. A neighbour comes in upon 
business with the father, who quits the room ; and then all the group crowd 
round their elder brother, who has laid aside his chronicle, to entreat him for a 
story; the mother even joins in the children's prayer to their gentle brothei. 
Has not he, himself, pictured such a home scene ? May we not read for Her- 
mione, Mary Shakspere, and for Mamillius, William ? 

" Her. What wisdom stirs amongst you ? Come, sir, now 
I am for you again : Pray, you, sit by us, 
And tell 'B a tale.' 

Mam. Merry, or sad, shall 't be 1 

Her. As merry as you will. 

Mam. A sad tale 'a best for winter : 

I have one of sprites and goblins. 

Her. Let 's have that, good sir. 

Come on, sit down : Come on, and do your best 
To fright me with your sprites : you 're powerful at it. 

Mam. There was a man, 

Jler. Nay, come, sit down ; then on. 

Mam. Dwelt by a churchyard. I will tell it softly; 
Yon crickets shall not hear it. 

Her. Come on then, 

And give 't me in mine ear." * 

And truly that boy had access to a prodigious mine of such stories, whether 
" merry or sad." He had a copy, well thumbed from his first reading days, of 
' The Palace of Pleasure, beautified, adorned, and well furnished with pleasaunt 
histories and excellent nouelles, selected out of diuers good and commendable 
authors ; by William Painter, Clarke of the Ordinaunce and Armarie.' In this 
book, according to the dedieation of the translator to Ambrose Earl of Warwick, 
was set forth " the great valiance of noble gentlemen, the terrible combats of 
courageous personages, the virtuous minds of noble dames, the chaste hearts of 
constant ladies, the wonderful patience of puissant princes, the mild sufferance 
of well-disposed gentlewomen, and, in divers, the quiet bearing of adverse 
fortune." Pleasant little apophthegms and short fables were there in that book, 
which the brothers and sisters of William Shakspere had heard him tell with 
marvellous spirit, and they abided therefore in their memories. There was 

Winter's Tale, Act n , Scene I. 
112 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

jEsop's fable of the old lark and her young ones, \vherein " he prettily and aptly 
doth premonish that hope and confidence of things attempted by man ought to 
be fixed and trusted in none other but in. himself." There was the story, most 
delightful to a child, of the bondman at Rome, who was brought into the open 
place upon which a great multitude looked, to fight with a lion of a marvellous 
bigness ; and the fierce lion when he saw him " suddenly stood still, and after 
wards by little - and little, in gentle sort, he came unto the man as though he 
had known him," and licked his hands and legs ; and the bondman told that he 
had healed in former time the wounded foot of the lion, and' the beast became 
his friend. These were for the younger children ; but William had now a new 
tale, out of the same storehouse, upon which he had often pondered ; the subject 
of which had shaped itself in his mind into dialogue that almost sounded like 
verse in his earnest and graceful recitation. It was a tale which Painter trans 
lated from the French of Pierre Boisteau a true tale, as he records it, " the 
memory whsreof to this day is so well known at Verona, as unneths* their 
blubbered eyes be yet dry that saw and beheld that lamentable sight." It was 
' The goodly history of the true and constant love between Romeo and Julietta.' 
Then the youth described how Romeo came into the hall of the Capulets, whose 
family were at variance with his own, the Montesches, and, " very shamefaced, 
withdrew himself into a corner ; but by reason of the light of the torches, 
which burned very bright, he was by and by known and looked upon by the 
whole company;" how he held the frozen hand of Juliet, the daughter of the 
Capulet, and it warmed and thrilled, so that from that moment there was love 
between them ; how the lady was told that Romeo was the " son of her father's 
capital enemy and deadly foe;" how, in the little street before her father's 
house, Juliet saw Romeo walking, "through the brightness of the moon;" how 
they were joined in holy marriage secretly by the good Friar Lawrence ; and 
then came bloodshed, and grief, and the banishment of Romeo, and the friar 
gave the lady a drug to produce a pleasant sleep, which was like unto death ; 
and she, " so humble, wise, and debonnaire," was laid " in the ordinary grave of 
the Capulets," as one dead, and Romeo, having bought poison of an apothecary, 
went to the tomb, and there lay down !ind died ; and the sleeping wife awoke, and 
with the aid of the dagger of Romeo she died beside him. There were " blub 
bered eyes " also at that fireside of the Shaksperes, for the youth told the story 
with wonderful animation. From the same collection of tales had he before 
half dramatized the story of " Giletta of Narbonne," who cured the King of 
France of a painful malady, and the King gave her in marriage to the Count 
Beltramo, with whom she had been brought up, and her husband despised and 
forsook her, but at last they were united, and lived in great honour and felicity. 
There was another collection, too, which that youth had diligently read, the 
'Gesta Romanorum/ translated by R. Robinson in 1577, old legends, come 
down to those latter days from monkish historians, who had embodied in their 
narratives all the wild traditions of the ancient and modern world. He could 
tell the story of the rich heiress who chose a husband by the machinery of a 
gold, a silver, and a leaden casket ; and another story of the merchant whose 

* Unneths, scarcely. 
LIFE. I 113 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

inexorable creditor required the fulfilment of his bond in cutting a pound of 
flesh nearest the merchant's heart, and by the skilful interpretation of the bond 
the cruel creditor was defeated. There was the story too, in these legends, of 
the Emperor Theodosius, who had three daughters ; and those two daughters 
who said they loved him more than themselves were unkind to him, but the 
youngest, who only said she loved him as much as he was worthy, succoured 
him in his need, and was his true daughter. There was in that collection also 
a feeble outline of the history of a king whose wife died upon the stormy sea, and 
her body was thrown overboard, and the child she then bore was lost, and found 
by the father after many years, and the mother was also wonderfully kept in 
life. Stories such as these, preserved amidst the wreck of time, were to that 
youth like the seeds that are found in the tombs of ruined cities, lying with the 
bones of forgotten generations, but which the genial influences of nature will 
call into life, and they shall become flowers, and trees, and food for man. 

But, beyond all these, our Mamillius had many a tale " of sprites and goblins." 
He told them, we may well believe at that period, with an assenting faith, if 
not a prostrate reason. They were not then, in his philosophy, altogether " the 
very coinage of the brain." Such appearances were above nature, but the com 
monest movements of the natural world had them in subjection : 

" I have heard, 

The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn, 
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat 
Awake the god of day, and at his warning, 
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air, 
The extravagant and erring spirit hiea 
To his confine." * 

Powerful they were, but yet powerless. They came for benevolent purposes ; 
to warn the guilty ; to discover the guilt. The belief in them was not a debasing 
thing. It was associated with the enduring confidence that rested upon a world 
beyond this material world. Love hoped for such visitations ; it had its dreams 
of such where the loved one looked smilingly, and spoke of regions where 
change and separation were not. They might be talked of, even amongst 
children then, without terror. They lived in that corner of the soul which had 
trust in angel protections ; which believed in celestial hierarchies ; which listened 
to hear the stars moving in harmonious music 

" Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins," 

but listened in vain, for, 

" Whilse thig muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." f 

William Shakspere could also tell to his greedy listeners, how 

" In olde dayia of the king Artour, 
Of which that Bretons speken gret honour, 

All was this lond full filled of faerie ; 
The elf-queene, with her jolly compagnie, 
Danced full oft in many a grene mode." J 



Hamlet. f Merchant of Venice. J Chaucer, ' Wife of Bath's Tale.' 

in 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Here was something in his favourite old poet for the youth to work out into 
beautiful visions of a pleasant race of supernatural beings ; who lived by day in 
the acorn cups of Arden, and by moonlight held their revels on the green sward 
of Avon-side, the ringlets of their dance being duly seen, 

" Whereof the ewe not bites ;" 

who tasted the honey-bag of the bee, and held counsel by the light of the glow- 
worm ; who kept the cankers from the rosebuds, and silenced the hootings of 
the owl. But he had his story, too, of a " shrewd and knavish sprite," whether 
named Robin- Goodfellow, Kit-with-the-canstick, Man-in-the-oak, Fire-drake, 
Puckle, Tom-tumbler, or Hobgoblin. Did he not grind malt and mustard! 
and sweep the house at midnight, and was not his standing fee a mess of white 
milk ? * Some day would William make a little play of Fairies, and Joan 
should be the Queen, and he would be the King ; for he had talked with the 
Fairies, and he knew their language and their manners, and they were " good 
people," and would not mind a boy's sport with them. 

But when the youth began to speak of witches there was fear and silence. 
For did not his mother recollect that in the year she was married Bishop Jewel 
had told the Queen that her subjects pined away, even unto the death, and that 
their affliction was owing to the increase of witches and sorcerers ? Was it not 
known how there were three sorts of witches, those that can hurt and not help, 
those that can help and not hurt, and those that can both help and hurt ? f It 
was unsafe even to talk of them. But the youth had met with the history of 
the murder of Duncan King of Scotland, in a chronicler older than Holinshed ; 
and he told softly, so that " yon crickets shall not hear it/' that, as Macbeth 
and Banquo journeyed from Forres, sporting by the way together, when the 
warriors came in the midst of a laund three weird sisters suddenly appeared to 
them, in strange and wild apparel, resembling creatures of an elder world, and 
prophesied that Macbeth should be King of Scotland ; and Macbeth from that 
hour desired to be King, and so killed the good King his liege lord. And then 
the story-teller and his listeners would pass on to safer matters to the calcula 
tions of learned men who could read the fates of mankind in the aspects of the 
stars ; and of those more deeply learned, clothed in garments of white linen, 
who had command over the spirits of the earth, of the water, and of the air. 
Some of the children said that a horse-shoe over the door, and vervain and dill, 
would preserve them, as they had been told, from the devices of sorcery. But 
their mother called to their mind that there was security far more to be relied 
on than charms of herb or horse-shoe that there was a Power that would pre 
serve them from all evil, seen or unseen, if such were His gracious will, and 
if they humbly sought Him, and offered up their hearts to Him, in all love and 
trust. And to that Power this household then addressed themselves ; and the 
night was without fear, and their sleep was pleasant. 

' See Scot's 'Discovery of Witchcraft/ 1584. t I bid - 



115 







.. ^ .^, 

' -~ -- - '.' f) ; 
IMratlord Church, West End.J 



NOTE ON THE STRATFORD REGISTERS. 



THE Parish Register of Stratford is a tall, narrow book, of considerable thickness, the leaves 
formed of very fine vellum. This one book contains the entries of Baptisms, Marriages, and 
Burials. The Register commences with the record of a baptism, on the 25th of March, 1558. 
But it has not been previously stated (it ought to have been stated by Malone) that the entries, 
whether of Baptisms, Marriages, or Burials, are all, without exception, in the same handwriting, 
from the first entry, to September 14 in the year 1600. But although the Register is thus only 
a transcript for forty-two years, there is no reason to doubt its authenticity and perfect correct 
ness; for each page is signed by Richard Bifield, the vicar, and four churchwardens, in attesta 
tion of its being a correct copy. Richard Bifield was vicar of Stratford from 1596 to 1610; and 
to him we are, in all probability, indebted for this transcript of the original Registers, which 
were most likely on loose leaves of paper. Subsequently, the Registers are not made at the time 
of the performance of the Church-office. They generally appear to be entered monthly ; but 
sometimes the transcript seems to have been made at longer intervals. The signature of the 
churchwardens of the year is then affixed to each page as a testimonial of its accuracy. 

The following List is transcribed verbatim from this Register Book. It includes all the entries 
which are important to the general reader. 
IH 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



BAPTISMS. 

1558 Septeberl5 Jone Shakspere daughter to John Shakspere. 

1562 December 2 Margareta filia Johannis Shakspere. 

1564 April 26 Gulielrnus filius Johannes Shakspere. 

1566 October 13 Gilbertus filius Johannis Shakspere. 

1569 April 15 lone the daughter of John Shakspere. 

1571 Septeb 28 Anna filia Magistri Shakspere. 

1573 [15734] March 11 . . . Richard sonne to Mr. John Shakspeer. 

1580 May 3 Edmund sonne to Mr. John Shakspere. 

1583 May 26 Susanna daughter to William Shakspere. 

1584 [1584-5] February 2 ... Hamnet & ludeth sonne and daughter to Willia 

Shakspere. 

,. There are then entries of Ursula, 1588; Humphrey, 1590; Philippus, 1591 ; children of 

John Shakspere (not Mr.). 

MARRIAGES. 

1607 Junii 5 John Hall genfclema & Susanna Shaxspere. 

1615 [1615-6] February 10 . . Tho : Queeny tow Judith Shakspere. 

BURIALS. 

1563 April 30 Margareta filia Johaunis Shakspere. 

1579 April 4 Aune daughter to Mr. John Shakspere. 

1596 August 11 Hamnet filius William Shakspere. 

1601 Septemb 8 Mr. Johanes Shakspeare. 

1608 Sept 9 Mayry Shaxspere, Wydowe. 

1612 [1612-13] February 4 . . Rich. Shakspeare. 

1616 April 25 Will : Shakspere, Gent. 

1623 August 8 Mrs. Shakspeare. 

1649 July 16 Mrs. Susanna Hall, Widow. 

1661 [1661-2] Feb 9 .... Judith, uxor Thomas Quiiiey. 

* # * It appears by the Register of Burials that Dr. Hall, one of the sons-in-law of Willian 
Shakspere, was buwed on the 26th November, 1635. He is described in the entry as "Medicui 
peritissimus." The Register contains no entry of the burial of Thomas Quiney. Elizabeth, 
the daughter of John and Susanna Hall, was baptized February 21, 1607 [1607-8]; and sha 
is mentioned in her illustrious grandfather's will. The children of Judith, who was only married 
two months before the death of her father, appear to have been three sons, all of whom died 
before their mother. 



117 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 



NOTE ON THE ALLEGED POVERTY OF JOHN SHAKSPERE. 



THE following are the principal documents upon which Malone's argument is established : 

Ad aulain ibm tent. xxix die Januarii. a rejmi dnro Elizabeth, &c., vicesimo. 
Stratford, j 

At this hall yt is agreed that every alderman, except such underwrytten excepted, shall 
paye towards the furniture of three pikemen, ij billmon, and one archer, via. viijc/., and 
every burgess, except such underwrytten excepted, shall pay iij*. ivd. : 
Mr. Plymley, v*. 
Mr. Shaxpeare, iij*. ivd. 
John Walker, ijs. vid. 
Robert Bratt, nothinge in this place. 
Thomas Brogden, ij*. via". 
William Brace, ij*. 
Anthony Tanner, ij*. -rid. 

Sum, vi//. xiiij'/. 

The inhabitants of every ward are taxed at this hall,* as by notes to them delivered yt 
may appear." 

2. " Ad aulam ibm tent. xix. die Novembris a regni dnae Elizabeth, &c., xxi. 

Itm. yt is ordeined that every alderman shall paye weekely towards the releif of the poore 
iiijef. saving John Shaxpeare and Robert Bratt, who shall not be taxed to pay any- 
thinge. Mr. Lewes and Mr. Plimley are taxed to pay weekely, eyther of them iijd.,t 
and every burgesses are taxed to pay weekely at \jd. apece." 

8. "Stratford ) Curia dnee Regina; ibm tent. xiii. die Januarii, anno regni, Ac., vicesimo 
Burgus. f octavo. 

Ad hunc diem Servien. ad Clavam burgi predict, retorn. pr. djj distr. eis direct, versus 
Johem Shackspere ad sect. Johis Browne, q d predict. Johes Shackspejre nihil habet 
undo distr. potest.J Ideo fiat Ca. versus Johem Shackspere ad sect Johis Browne, si 
petatur." 

4. " Debtes which are owing unto me, Roger Sadler. 

Imprimis, of Mr. John Combes, the elder, for a horse, Zl. 

Item, of the same J. C., due to me by bond at Christmas next, 202. 

Item, of Richard Hathaway, alias Gardyner, of Shottery, 61. 8*. 4eZ. 

Item, of Edmond Larnbart, and Cornishe, for the debt of Mr. John Shacksper. 51." 

* Malone has omitted, at this hall. f Malone here inserts, apeak 

+ Here Malone has inserted, levari. 



118 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON THE SCHOOL LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKSPERE. 



WE have already referred to the two novelets of Tieck, in which he sketches out the early career 
of the poet. The following extract rmy be interesting to our readers. It is scarcely necessary 
to say that we do not take the same view as the German critic that we do not think the school- 
progress of William Shakspere was slow ; that he suffered from the strict temper of his father, 
and was the witness of family misfortunes. The evidence of all the early writings of Shakspere 
goes far to prove that he had looked upon existence with an eye of untroubled cheerfulness. Never 
did any young poet possess his soul more undisturbed with fears of 

" Poverty's unconquerable bar." 

The narrative which we subjoin professes to be a relation by the poet himself to the Earl of 
Southampton. We give it from a translation which appeared some years ago in ' The Academic 
Chronicle/ a literary journal of considerable merit, but of short vitality : 

'' ' It was in a season of religious and political commotion,' resumed the poet, ' that I myself 
was born. It happened, too, that at that very period there came to Warwickshire and the neigh 
bouring counties a man of superior ability and learning, who in the course of his travels had gained 
over numerous converts to the Catholic Church, William Allen, who was afterwards made a 
cardinal. Among other places he visited Stratford, and excited much disquiet both in that little 
town and in our family. He entirely worked himself into the affections of my uncle, my father's 
brother ; and even my father himself was for some time wavering in doubt, and greatly troubled 
in mind. The latter, who was of a gloomy disposition, was always melancholy, and this agitation 
of religious opinions led him into many disputes both with his own relations and with his neigh 
bours. Besides this, it was a matter of peril to hold any intercourse with foreign priests, while, 
at the same time, those who were either evil-disposed, or were zealous Protestants, caught at every 
suspicious report. My earliest impressions were of a gloomy cast; my mother alone, who made 
much of me, was of a cheerful temper. She was of a clever turn, and her memory was stored with 
many a tale of marvel and mystery which she was wont to relate to me. On the intelligence of 
the dreadful tragedy of St. Bartholomew's eve reaching England, many proselytes at least those 
who had begun to lean towards the ancient faith again changed their sentiments. 

" ' My father, however, still continued dissatisfied with me, for my progress at school was 
exceedingly slow. Never shall I forget that free-school in the Guildhall, where I used to sit at the 
old worm-eaten oaken desk, poring over my task, till what sense and comprehension I had seemed 
ready to leave me, and I often feared that I should become quite stupid. Would not one be 
tempted to think such schools had been purposely contrived to terrify children altogether from 
study and learning, lest too much thinking should disturb society ? This eternal going over the 
same thing, this useless repetition of what has already been learned, calculated only for such as 
are slow of comprehension, while no regard is had to him who is more apt in his studies, often 
drove me to distraction. Even this very repetition of what was already familiar to me prevented 
me from retaining it in my memory, and my disgust at this mode of teaching increased to such a 
degree, that I felt a horror of mind whenever I thought of this school and my instructors there. 

" ' My poor father, whose business was altered materially for the worse, wished to have as soon 
as possible some assistance in the management of it and in keeping his accounts ; nor was I by 
any means sorry that he took me away earlier than usual from school, and gave me a private 
teacher at home, while I was employed by him in his own affairs. It was natural that I should 
form acquaintances with lads of my own age, who would frequently take me along with them in 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKKi:: 

their little excursions and rambles, or invite me to join their meetings. My father, however, who 
entertained very strict and singular notions of morality, accounted all such recreations sinful 
indulgence, nor could he easily be brought to consent that I should partake in them. In the 
family of the Hathaways I used to spend much of my time : the son was a brisk, lively fellow 
a jolly boon-companion ; and the daughter, Anne, who was my senior by some ten years,* 
treated me as if I had been her younger brother. Like many other persons in our town and its 
neighbourhood, the Hathaways showed me friendliness and kindness, but I perceived they consi 
dered me a lad fit for very little, and one who would never turn out to be anything extraordinary.' " 

* An error. Anne Hathaway (Ticck calls her Johanne) died in 1023, aged 07. She was thus about seven years (tide; 
than her husband. 




[Chimnej Corner of the Kitchen in Henley Street.] 







[The Bailiff's nay.] 



CHAPTER X. 



THE PLAYERS AT STRATFORD. 



THE ancient accounts of the Chamberlain of the borough of Stratford exhibit a 
number of payments made out of the funds of the corporation for theatrical per 
formances.* In 1569, when John Shakspere was high bailiff, there is a payment 
of nine shillings to the Queen's players, and of twelve pence to the Earl of 
Worcester's players. In 1573 the Earl of Leicester's players received five shillings 
and eightpence. In 1576 "my Lord of Warwick's players" have a gratuity of 
seventeen shillings, and the Earl of Worcester's players of five and eightpence. In 
1577 "my Lord of Leicester's players" receive fifteen shillings, and "my Lord of 
Worcester's players" three and fourpence. In 1579 and 1580 the entries are more 
circumstantial : 

* Mr. Halliwell, in his Life of Shakspere, presents us with voluminous extracts from the account 
books of the chamberlains from 1543 to 1717. 

121 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

"1579. Item paid to my Lord Strange men the xi th day of February at the comaundement of 
Mr. Buyliffe, v. 

P J at the coraandement of Mr. Balifie to the Countys of Essex pi ears, xiv*. vid. 
1580. P ' to the Earle of Darbyes players at the comaundement of Mr. Baliffe, viiu. ivtl." 

It thus appears that there had been three sets of players at Stratford withiii a 
short distance of the time when William Shakspere was sixteen years of age. 
We shall here endeavour to present a general view of the state of the stage at 
this point of its history ; with reference to the impressions which theatrical 
performances would then make upon him who would be the chief instrument in 
building up upon these rude foundations a noble and truly poetical drama 
such a view as may enable the reader to form a tolerable conception of the 
amusements which were so highly popular, and so amply encouraged, in a small 
town far distant from the capital, as to invite three distinct sets of players there 
to exhibit in the brief period which is defined in the above entries. 

It is a curious circumstance that the most precise and interesting account 
which we possess of one of the earliest of the theatrical performances is from 
the recollection of a man who was born in the same year as William Shakspere. 
In 1639 R. W. (R. Willis), stating his age to be seventy-five, published a little 
volume, called ' Mount Tabor,' which contains a passage which is essential to 
be given in any history or sketch of the early stage.* 

"UPON A STAGE- PLAT WHICH I SAW WHEN I WAS A CHILD. 

" In the city of Gloucester the manner is (as I think it is in other like corporations) that, when 
players of interludes come to town, they first attend the mayor, to inform him what nobleman's 
servants they are, and so to get licence for their public playing ; and if the mayor like the actors, 
or would show respect to their lord and master, he appoints them to play their first play before 
himself and the aldermen and common council of the city ; and that is called the mayor's play, 
where every one that will comes in without money, the mayor giving the players a reward as he 
thinks fit, to show respect unto them. At such a play my father took me with him, and made 
me stand between his legs, as he sat upon one of the benches, where we saw and heard very well. 
The play was called 'The Cradle of Security,' wherein was personated a king or some great prince 
with his courtiers of several kinds, amongst which three ladies were in special grace with him, and 
they, keeping him in delights and pleasures, drew him from his graver counsellors, hearing of ser- 
luons, and listening to good counsel and admonitions, that in the end they got him to lie down in 
a cradle upon the stage, where these three ladies, joining in a sweet song, rocked him asleep, that 
he snorted again, and in the mean time closely conveyed under the clothes wherewithal he was 
covered a vizard like a swine's snout upon his face, with three wire chains fastened thereunto, the 
other end whereof being holden severally by those three ladie?, who fall to singing again, and then 
discovered his face, that the spectators might see how they had transformed him going on with 
their singing. Whilst all this was acting, there came forth of another door at the farthest end of the 
stage, two old men, the one in blue, with a sergeant-at-arms his mace on his shoulder, the other in 
red, with a drawn sword in hia hand, and leaning with the other hand upon the other's shoulder, 
and so they two went along in a soft pace, round about by the skirt of the stage, till at last they 
came to the cradle, when all the court was in greatest jollity, and then the foremost old man with 
his mace struck a fearful blow upon the cradle, whereat all the courtiers, with the three ladies and 
the vizard, all vanished ; and the desolate prince, starting up barefaced, and finding himself thus 
sent for to judgment, made a lamentable complaint of hia miserable case, and so was carried away 
by wicked spirits. This prince did personate in the moral the wicked of the world; the three 



* This account was first extracted by Malone in his ' Rise and Progress of the English Stage." 
It has been given alao, with the correction of a few inaccuracies, by Mr. Collier. 
122 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

ladies, pride, covetousness, and luxury ; the two old men, the end of the world and the last judg 
ment. This sight took such impression in me, that when I came towards man's estate it was aa 
fresh in my memory as if I had seen it newly acted." 

We now understand why the bailiff of Stratford paid the players out of the 
public money. The first performance of each company in this town was the 
bailiff's, or chief magistrate's, play; and thus, when the father of William Shak- 
spere was bailiff, the boy might have stood " between his legs as he sat upon one 
of the benches." It would appear from Willis's description that ' The Cradle of 
Security' was for the most part dumb show. It is probable that he was present 
at its performance at Gloucester when he was six or seven years of age; it 
evidently belongs to that class of moral plays which were of the simplest con 
struction. And yet it was popular long after the English drama had reached its 
highest eminence. When the pageants and mysteries had been put down by 
the force of public opinion, when spectacles of a dramatic character had ceased 
to be employed as instruments of religious instruction, the professional players 
who had sprung up founded their popularity for a long period upon the ancient 
habits and associations of the people. Our drama was essentially formed by a 
course of steady progress, and not by rapid transition. We are accustomed to 
say that the drama was created by Shakspere, Marlowe, Greene, Kyd, and a few 
others of distinguished genius ; but they all of them worked upon a foundation 
which was ready for them. The superstructure of real tragedy and comedy had 
to be erected upon the moral plays, the romances, the histories, which were 
beginning to be popular in the very first days of Queen Elizabeth, and continued 
to be so, even in their very rude forms, beyond the close of her long reign. 

We have very distinct evidence that stories from the Sacred Scriptures, in 
character perhaps very little different from the ancient Mysteries, were per 
formed upon the London stage at a period when classical histories, romantic 
legends, and comedies of intrigue, attracted numerous audiences both in the 
capital and the provinces. At the period which we are now describing there 
was a fierce controversy going forward on the subject of theatrical exhibitions ; 
and from the very rare tracts then published we are enabled to form a tolerably 
accurate estimate of the character of the early theatre. In one of these tracts, 
which appeared in 1580, entitled ' A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from 
Plaies and Theaters,' we have the following passage : " The reverend word of 
God, and histories of the Bible, set forth on the stage by these blasphemous 
players, are so corrupted by their gestures of scurrility, and so interlaced with 
unclean and whorish speeches, that it is not possible to draw any profit out of 
the doctrine of their spiritual moralities. For that they exhibit under laugh 
ing that which ought to be taught and received reverendly. So that their 
auditory may return made merry in mind, but none comes away reformed in 
manners. And of all abuses this is most undecent and intolerable, to suffer 
holy things to be handled by men so profane, and defiled by interposition of 
dissolute words." (Page 103.) Those who have read the ancient Mysteries, 
and even the productions of Bishop Bale which appeared not thirty years 
before this was written, will agree that the players ought not wholly to have 
the blame of the "interposition of dissolute words." But unquestionably it 

123 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE : 

was a great abuse to have "histories of the Bible set forth on the stage;" for 
the use and advantage of such dramatic histories had altogether ceased. In 
deed although Scriptural subjects might have continued to h?ve been repre 
sented in 1580, we apprehend that they were principally taken from apocryphal 
stories, which were regarded with little reverence even by those who were 
most earnest in their hostility to the stage. Of such a character is the very 
curious play, printed in 1565, entitled ' A pretie new Enterlude, both pithie 
and pleasaunt, of the story of King Daryus, being taken out of the third and 
fourth chapter of the third book of Esdras.' This was an interlude that 
might acceptably have been performed, at the commandment of the bailiff of 
Stratford, by my Lord Strange's men, in February, 1580; and we request 
therefore the indulgence of our readers whilst we endeavour to describe what 
such a performance would have been. 

The hall of the Guild, which afterwards became the Town Hall, was the 
occasional theatre of Stratford. It is now a long room, and somewhat low, 
the building being divided into two floors, the upper of which is used as 
the Grammar School. The elevation for the Court at one end of the hall 
would form the stage ; and on one side is an ancient separate chamber, to which 
the performers would retire. With a due provision of benches, about three 
hundred persons could be accommodated in this room ; and no doubt Mr. 
Bailiff would be liberal in the issue of his invitations, so that Stratford might 
not grudge its expenditure of five shillings. A plain cloth curtain " the 
blanket" of the stage is drawn on one side ; and " the Prolocutor" comes 
forward with solemn stride, to explain the object of ' The worthy Entertain 
ment of King Daryus : ' 

" Good people, hark, and give car a while, 
For of this enterlude I will declare the style. 

A certain king to you we shall bring in 
Whose name was Darius, good and virtuous ; 
This king commanded a feast to be made, 
And at that banquet many people had. 

And when the king in counsel was set 

Two lords commanded he to be fet, 

As concerning matters of three young men ; 

Which briefly showed their fantasy then : 

In writings their meanings they did declare, 

And to give them to the king they did not spare. 

Now silence I desire you therefore, 
For the Vice is entering at the door." 

The stage-direction then says, " The Prologue goeth out and Iniquity comes 
in. This is "the formal Vice Iniquity" of Richard III. ; the "Vetus Ini- 
quitas" of 'The Devil is an Ass;' the Iniquity with a "wooden dagger," and 
" a juggler's jerkin with false skirts," of ' The Staple of News.' But in the in 
terlude of ' Darius' he has less complex offices than are assigned him by Gifford 
" to instigate the hero of the piece to wickedness, and, at the same time, to 
124 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

protect him from the devil, whom he was permitted to buffet and baffle with 
his wooden sword, till the process of the story required that both the protector 
and the protected should be carried off by the fiend ; or the latter driven roaring 
from the stage by some miraculous interposition in favour of the repentant 
offender." 5 The first words which Iniquity utters indicate, however, that he 
was familiar with the audience, and the audience familiar with him : 

" How now, my masters ; how goeth the world now ? 
I come gladly to talk with you." 

And in a most extraordinary manner he does talk; swaggering and bullying as 
if the whole world was at his command, till Charity comes in, and reads him a 
very severe lecture upon the impropriety of his deportment. It is of little 
avail ; for two friends of Iniquity Importunity and Partiality come to his 
assistance, and fairly drive Charity off the stage. Then Equity enters to take 
up the quarrel against Iniquity and his fellows; but Equity is no match for 
them, and they all make way for King Darius. This very long scene has 
nothing whatever to do with the main action of the piece, or rather what pro 
fesses to be its action. But the Stratford audience is a patient one ; and the 
Vice, however dull was his profligacy, contrived to make them laugh by the 
whisking of his tail and the brandishing of his sword, assisted no doubt by 
some well-known chuckle like that of the Punch of our own days. King Darius, 
however, at length comes with all his Council ; and most capital names do his 
chief councillors bear, not unworthy to be adopted even in Courts of greater 
refinement Perplexity and Curiosity. The whole business of this scene of 
King Darius is to present a feast to the admiring spectators. Up to the present 
day the English audience delights in a feast; and will endure that two men 
should sit upon the stage for a quarter of an hour, uttering the most unrepeatable 
stupidity, provided they seem to pick real chicken-bones and drink real port. 
The Darius of the interlude feasted whole nations upon the representative 
system ; and here, at Stratford, Ethiopia, Persia, Judah, and Media, ate their 
fill and were very grateful. But feasts must have their end ; and so the curtain 
closes upon the eaters, and Iniquity "cometh in singing:" 

" La, soule, soule, fa, my, re, re, 
I misa a note I dare well say : 
I should have been low when I was so hi^h : 
I shall have it right anon verily." 

Again come his bottle-holders, Importunity and Partiality; and in the course 
of their gabble Iniquity tells them that the Pope is his father. Unhappily his 
supporters go out ; and then Equity attacks him alone. Loud is their debate ; 
and faster and more furious is the talk when Constancy and Charity come in. 
The matter, however, ends seriously; and they resolving that it is useless to 
argue longer with this impenitent sinner, " somebody casts fire to Iniquity," and 
he departs in a tempest of squibs and crackers. The business of the play now 

* Ben Jonsons Works. Note on ' The Devil is an Ass.' 

125 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

at length begins. Darius tells his attendants that the three men who kept his 
chamber while he slept woke him by their disputing and murmuring, 

" Every man to say a weightier matter than the other." 

The subject of their dispute was, what is the strongest thing ; and their answers 
as we are informed by the King's attendants, had been reduced to writing : 

" The sentence of the first man is this, 
Wine a very strong thing is ; 
The second also I will declare to you, 
That the king is stronger than any other thing verily ; 
The third also I will declare 
Women, saith he, is the strongest of all, 
Though by women we had a fall." 

Of their respective texts the three young men are then called in to make expo 
sition ; and certainly, whatever defects of manners were exhibited by the 
audiences of that day, they must have possessed the virtue of patience in a 
remarkable degree to have enabled them to sit out these most prolix harangues. 
But they have an end ; and the King declares Zorobabel to be deserving of 
signal honours, in his demonstration that, of all things, woman is the strongest. 
A metrical prayer for Queen Elizabeth, uttered by Constancy, dismisses the 
audience to their homes in such a loyal temper as befits the Corporation of 
Stratford and their friends on all public occasions to cherish. We doubt if 
WiUiam Shakspere considers " the pretty new interlude both pithy and plea 
sant of the story of King Darius" to be the perfect model of a populai 
drama.* 

The sojourn of my Lord Strange's men at Stratford has been short; but now 
the Countess of Essex's players have arrived. We have seen that in previous 
years the players of Lord Warwick, of Lord Leicester, of Lord Worcester, have 
been at Stratford, and on each occasion they have been patronised by the Corpora 
tion. In a later period of the stage, when the actors chiefly depended upon the 
large support of the public, instead of receiving the wages of noblemen, how 
ever wealthy and powerful, the connection of a company of players with the 
great personage whose " servants " they were called was scarcely more than a 
licence to act without the interference of the magistrate. But in the period of 
the stage which we are now describing, it would appear that the players were 
literally the retainers of powerful lords, who employed them for their own 
recreation, and allowed them to derive a profit from occasional public exhibi 
tions. In 'The Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres' we have the 
following passage, which appears decisive upon this point : " What credit can 
return to the nobleman to countenance his men to exercise that quality which is 
not sufferable in any commonweal ? Whereas, it was an ancient custom that no 
man of honour should retain any man but such as was as excellent in some one 

There is a copy of this very curious production in the Garrick Collection of plays in the British 
Museum; and a transcript of Garrick' a copy is in the Bodleian Library. Its date, as before mentioned, 
in 1565. 

126 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

good quality or another, whereby, if occasion so served, he might get his own 
living. Then was every nobleman's house a commonweal in itself. But since 
the retaining of these caterpillars the credit of noblemen hath decayed, and they 
are thought to be covetous by permitting their servants, which cannot live by 
themselves, and whom for nearness they will not maintain, to live on the devo 
tion or alms of other men, passing from country to country, from one gentleman's 
house to another, offering their service, which is a kind of beggary. Who, 
indeed, to speak more truly, are become beggars for their servants. For com 
monly the good will men bear to -their lords makes them draw the strings of 
their purses to extend their liberality to them, where otherwise they would not." 
Speaking of the writers of plays, the same author adds, " But some perhaps 
will say the nobleman delighteth in such things, whose humours must be con 
tented, partly for fear and partly for commodity; and if they write matters 
pleasant they are best preferred in Court among the cunning heads." (Page 
108.) In the old play of 'The Taming of a Shrew' the players in the 'In 
duction' are presented to us in very homely guise. The messenger tells the 
lord 

" Your players be come, 
And do attend your honour's pleasure here." 

The stage-direction then says, " Enter two of the players with packs at their backs, 
and a boy. To the questions of the lord, 

" Now, sirs, what store of plays have you?" 

the Clown answers, " Marry, my lord, you may have a tragical or a commodity, 
or what you will ; " for which ignorance the other player rebukes the Clown, 
saying, " A comedy, thou shouldst say : zounds ! thou 'It shame us all." Whether 
this picture belongs to an earlier period of the stage than the similar scene in 
Shakspere's ' Induction,' or whether Shakspere was familiar with a better order 
of players, it is clear that in his scene the players appear as persons of somewhat 
more importance .and are treated with more respect : 

" Lord. Sirrah, go see what trumpet 't is that sounds : 
Belike, some noble gentleman, that means, 
Travelling some journey, to repose him here. 

Re-enter a Servant, 

How now ? who is it ? 

Serv. An it please your honour, 

Players, that offer service to your lordship. 

Lord. Bid them come near. 

Enter Players. 

Now, fellows, you are welcome. 
Players. We thank your honour. 
Lord. Do you intend to stay with me to-night ? 
2 Play. So please your lordship to accept our duty. 
Lord. With all mv heart." 

The lord, however, even in this scene, gives his order, "Take them to the 
buttery," a proof that the itinerant companies were classed little above menials. 

127 




[Itinerant Players.] 



The welcome of a corporate town was perhaps as acceptable to the players of 
the Countess of Essex as the abundance of the esquire's kitchen ; and so the 
people of Stratford are to be treated with the last novelty. 

The play which is now to be performed is something very different from 
' King Darius.' It is 'A Pleasant Comedie called Common Conditions.' This 
is neither a Mystery nor a Moral Play. It dispenses with impersonations of 
Good and Evil ; Iniquity holds no controversy with Charity, and the Devil is 
not brought in to buffet or to be buffeted. The play is written in rhymed 
verse, and very ambitiously written. The matter is " set out with sweetness 
of words, fitness of epithets, with metaphors, allegories, hyperboles, amphibolo 
gies, similitude."* It is a dramatized romance, of which the title expresses 
that it represents a possible aspect of human life ; and the name of the chief 
character, Common Conditions, from which the play derives its title, would 
import that he does not belong to the supernatural or allegorical class of per 
sonages, f The audience of Stratford have anticipated something at which they 

* Gosson. ' Plays Confuted,' second action. 

t Mr. Collier, iu his 'History of Dramatic Poetry,' expresses an opinion that the character of 
128 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

are to laugh; and their mirth is much provoked when three tinkers appear 
upon the stage singing, 

" Hey tisty toisty, tinkers good fellows they be ; 
In stopping of one hole, they use to make three." 

These worthies are called Drift, Unthrift, and Shift; and, trade being bad with 
them, they agree to better it by a little robbing. Unthrift tells his companions, 

" But, masters, wot ye what ? I have heard news about the court this day, 
That there is a gentleman with a lady gone away ; 
And have with them a little parasite full of money and coin." 

These travellers the tinkers agree to rob ; and we have here an example of the 
readiness of the stage to indulge in satire. The purveyors who, a few years 
later, were denounced in parliament, are, we suppose, here pointed at. Shift 
says, 

" We will take away their purses, and say we do it by commissi.on ; " 
to which Drift replies, 

" Who made a commissioner of you? 
If thou make no better answer at the bar, thou wilt hang, I tell thee true." 

The gentleman and lady from the court, Sedmond and Clarisia, then come out 
of the wood, accompanied by their servant, Conditions. It appears that their 
father has long been absent, and they are travelling to seek him. Clarisia is 
heavy-hearted ; and her brother thus consoles her, after the fashion of " epi 
thets, metaphors, and hyperboles : " 

" You see the chirping birds begin you melody to make, 
But you, ungrateful unto them, their pleasant voice forsake : 
You see the nightingale also, with sweet and pleasant lay, 
Sound forth her voice in chirping wise to banish care away. 
You see Dame Tellus, she with mantle fresh and green, 
For to display everywhere most comely to be seen ; 
You see Dame Flora, she with flowers fresh and gay, 
Both here and there and everywhere, her banners to display." 

The lady will have no comfort. She replies to her brother in a long echo to 
his speech, ending 

" And therefore, brother, leave off talk ; in vain you seem to prate : 
Not all the talk you utter can, my sorrows can abate." 

Conditions ungallantly takes part against the lady, by a declamation in dis 
praise of women ; which is happily cut short by the tinkers rushing in. Now 
indeed we have movement which will stir the audience. The brother escapes ; 
the lady is bound to a tree : Conditions is to be hanged ; but his adroitness, 
which is excessively diverting, altogether reminding one of another little knave, 
the Flibbertigibbet of Scott, is setting the Stratford audience in a roar. They 

Common Conditions is the Vice of the performance. It appears to us, on the contrary, that the 
ordinary craft of a cunning knave a little, restless, tricky servant works out all the action, in the 
same way that the Vice had formerly interfered with it in the moral plays ; but that he is essen 
tially and purposely distinguished from the Vice. Mr. Collier also calls this play merely an inter- 
lude : it appears to us in its outward form to be as much a comedy as the Winter's Tale. 

L:FK K 129 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

are realizing the description of Gosson, " In the theatres they generally take 
up a wonderful laughter, and shout altogether with one voice when they see 
some notable cozenage practised."* When the tinkers have the noose round 
the neck of Conditions, he persuades them to let him hang himself, and to help 
him up in the tree to accomplish his determination. They consent; arguing 
that if he hangs himself they shall be frees from the penalty of hanging him ; 
and so into the tree he goes. Up the branches he runs like a squirrel, halloo 
ing for help, whilst the heavy tinkers have no chance against his activity and 
his Sheffield knife. They finally make off; and Conditions releases his mistress. 
The next scene presents us Sedmond, the brother, alone. He laments the 
separation from his sister, and the uncertainty which he has of ever finding his 
father ; and he expresses his grief and his determination in lines which seem to 
have rested upon the ear of one of that Stratford audience : 

" But farewell now, my coursers brave, attrapped to the ground ; 
Farewell, adieu, all pleasures eke, with comely hawk and hound : 
Farewell, ye nobles all ; farewell each martial knight ; 
Farewell, ye famous ladies all, in whom I did delight." 

And, continuing his lament, he says, 

"Adieu, my native soil; adieu, Arbaccas king; 
Adieu each wight and martial knight ; adieu each living thing : 
Adieu my woful sire, and sister in like case, 
Whom never I shall see again each other to embrace ; 
For now I will betake myself a wandering knight to be, 
Into some strange and foreign land, their comeliness to see." 

When Conditions released the lady we learnt that the scene was Arabia : 
" And, lady, it is not best for us in Arabia longer to tarry." 

It is to Arabia, his native soil, that Sidmond bids adieu. But the Strattord 
audience learn by a very simple expedient that a change is to take place : a 
board is stuck up with the word "Phrygia" upon it, and a new character, 
Galiarbus, entereth "out of Phrygia." He is the father of the fugitives, who, 
banished from Arabia, has become rich, and obtained a lordship from the Duke 
of Phrygia ; but he thinks of his children, and bitterly laments that they must 
never meet. Those children have arrived in Phrygia ; for a new character ap 
pears, Larnphedon, the son of the Duke, who has fallen violently in love with a 

'Plays Confuted,' &c. 

t We have analysed this very curious comedy from the transcript in the Bodleian Library made 
under the direction of Maloue from the only printed copy, and that an imperfect one, which is 
supposed to exist. In the page which contains the passage now given Malone has inserted the fol 
lowing foot-note, after quoting the celebrated lines in Othello, " Farewell the tranquil mind," &<x : 
" The coincidence is so striking that one is almost tempted to think that Shakspeare had read this 
wretched piece." It is scarcely necessary for us to point out how constantly the date of a play 
must be borne in mind to allow us to form any fair opinion of its merits. Malone himself con- 
eiders that this play was printed about the year 1570, although we believe that this conjecture 
fixes the date at least ten years too early. It appears to ua that it is a remarkable production even 
for 1580; and if , as a work of art, it be of little worth, it certainly contains the elements of the 
romantic drama, except th true poetical element, which could only be the result of extraordi 
nary individual genius. 
130 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

iady whom we know by his description to be Clarisia. Conditions has discovered 
that his mistress is equally in love with Lamphedon ; all which circumstances 
are described and not rendered dramatic : and then Conditions, for his own ad 
vantage, brings the two lovers together, and they plight their troth, and are finally 
married. The lost brother, Sedmond, next makes his appearance under the 
name of Nomides ; and with him a Phrygian lady, Sabia, has fallen in love. 
But her love is unrequited ; she is rejected, and the uncourteous knight flies 
from her. Lamphedon and Clarisia are happy at the Duke's court ; but Con 
ditions, as it obscurely appears, wanting to be travelling again, has irritated the 
Duchess against her daughter-in-law, and they both, accompanied by Conditions, 
fly to take ship for Thracia. They fall in with pirates, who receive them on 
ship-board, having been secretly promised by Conditions that they will afford 
a good booty. We soon learn, by the appearance of Lamphedon, that they have 
thrown him overboard, and that he has lost his lady ; but the pirates, who are 
by no means bad specimens of the English mariner, soon present themselves 
again, with a sea-song, which we transcribe ; for assuredly it was fitted to rejoice 
the hearts of the playgoers of a maritime nation : 

" Lustily, lustily, lustily, let us sail forth ; 
The wind trim doth serve us, it blows from the north. 

All things we have ready and nothing we want 

To furnish our ship that rideth hereby ; 
Victuals and weapons they be nothing scant ; 

Like worthy mariners ourselves we will try. 

Lustily, lustily, &c. 

Her flags be new trimmed, set flaunting aloft ; 

Our ship for swift swimming, oh, she doth excel : 
We fear no enemies, we have escaped them oft : 

Of all ships that swimmeth, she beareth the bell. 

Lustily, lustily, &c. 

And here is a master excelleth in skill, 

And our master's mate he is not to seek ; 
And here is a boatswain will do his good will, 

And here is a ship, boy, we never had leak- 
Lustily, lustily, &c. 

If Fortune then fail not, and our next voyage prove, 

We will return merrily and make good cheer, 
And hold all together as friends link'd in love ; 

The cans shall be filled with wine, ale, and beer. 

Lustily, lustily, &c." 

The action of this comedy is conducted for the most part by description ; an 
easier thing than the dramatic development of plot and character. Lamphe 
don falls in with the pirates, and by force of arms he compels them to tell him 
of the fate of his wife. She has been taken, it seems, by Conditions to be s< 
to Cardolus, an island chief; and then Lamphedon goes to fight Cardolus, and 
he does fight him, but finds not the lady. Conditions has however got nd 
his charge, by persuading her to assume the name of Metraea, and enter the ser 
vice of Leosthines. Hardship must have wonderfully changed her ; for after a 

Era 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

tima her brother, Sedmond, arrives under his assumed name, and becomes a can 
didate for her affections. The good old man under whose protection she re 
mains has adopted her as his daughter. Lamphedon is on the way to seek 
her, accompanied by Conditions ; and thus by accident, and by the intrigues of 
the knavish servant, all those are reunited who have suffered in separation : for 
Leosthines is the banished father.* How Conditions is disposed of is not so 
clear. He is constantly calling himself a little knave, and a crafty knave, a 
parasite, a turncoat ; and he says, 

" Conditions ? nay, double Conditions is my name, 
That for my own advantage such dealings can frame." 

It is difficult to discover what advantage he derives from his trickiness, yet he 
has always a new trick. It is probable that he was personated by some dimi 
nutive performer, whose grimaces and ugliness would make the audience roar 
with delight. The tinkers in the first scene say they know not what to do with 
him, except to " set him to keep crows." The object of the writer of the 
comedy, if he had any object, would appear to be to show that the purposes of 
craft may produce results entirely unexpected by the crafty one, and that hap 
piness may be finally obtained through the circumstances which appear most to 
impede its attainment. This comedy is remarkable for containing none of the 
ribaldry which was so properly objected to in the plays of the early stage. It 
is characterised, also, by the absence of that melo-dramatic extravagance which 
belonged to this period, exhibiting power, indeed, but not the power of real 
art. These extravagances are well described by the author of ' The Third Blast 
of Retreat from Plays and Theatres ; ' although his notion that an effort of ima 
gination, and a lie, are the same thing is very characteristic : " The writers of 
our time are so led away with vain glory that their only endeavour is to plea 
sure the humour of men, and rather with vanity to content their minds than 
to profit them with good ensample. The notablest liar is become the best poet ; 
he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falsehood in such sort that 
he may pass unperceived, is held the best writer. For the strangest comedy 
brings greatest delectation and pleasure. Our nation is led away with vanity, 
which the author perceiving, frames himself with novelties and strange trifles 
to content the vain humours of his rude auditors, feigning countries never heard 
of, monsters and prodigious creatures that are not : as of the Arimaspie, of the 
Grips, the Pigmies, the Cranes, and other such notorious lies." Sidney, writing 
of the same period of the drama, speaks of the apparition of "a hideous mon 
ster with fire and smoke."f And Gosson, having direct reference to some 
romantic dramas formed upon romances and legendary tales, as ' Common Con 
ditions ' was, says, "Sometimes you shall see nothing but the adventures of an 
amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his lady, en 
countering many a terrible monster trade of brown paper ; and at his return is 
so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some posy in his 

A leaf or two is lost of the original copy, but enough remains to let us see how the plot will 
end. We learn that Nomides repents of his rejection of Sabia. 
t ' Defence of Poesy.' 
132 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkerchief, or a piece of a cockle-shelJ. '* 
When the true masters of the romantic drama arose, they found the people pre 
pared for the transformation of the ridiculous into the poetical. 

If there was amongst that audience at Stratford, in 1580, witnessing the 
performance of ' Common Conditions/ one in whom the poetical feeling was 
rapidly developing, and whose taste had been formed upon better models than 
anything which the new drama could offer to him such a one perhaps was 
there in the person of William Shakspere he would perceive how imper 
fectly this comedy attained the end of giving delight to a body of persons 
assembled together with an aptitude for delight. And yet they were pleased 
and satisfied. There was in this comedy bustle and change of scene; some 
thing to move the feelings in the separation of lovers and their re-union; 
laughter excited by grotesqueness which stood in the place of wit and humour ; 
music and song ; and, more than all, lofty words and rhymed cadences which 
sounded like poetry. But to that one critical listener the total absence of the 
real dramatic spirit would be most perplexing. At the moment when he him 
self would be fancying what the characters upon the scene were about to do, 
how their discourse, like that of real life, would have reference to the imme 
diate business of the action in which they were engaged, and explain their 
own feelings, passions, peculiarities, the writer would present, through the 
mouth of some one of these characters, a description of what some one else was 
doing or had done ; and thus, though the poem was a dialogue, it was not to 
his sense a drama ; it did not realize the principle of personation which his 
mind was singularly formed to understand and cultivate. The structure of 
the versification, too, would appear to him altogether unfit to represent the 
thoughts and emotions of human beings engaged in working out a natural train 
of adventures. Some elevation of style would be required to distinguish the 
language from that of ordinary life, without being altogether opposed to that 
language ; something that would convey the idea of poetical art, whilst it 
was sufficiently real not to make the art too visible. He had diligently read 
'The Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex;' and the little volume printed in 1571, 
containing that play " as the same was showed on the stage before the Queen's 
Majesty, about nine year past, by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple," was a 
precious volume to him ; for it gave to him the most complete specimen of that 
species of verse which appeared fitted for the purposes of the higher drama. 
The speeches were indeed long, after the model of the stately harangues 
which he had read in his 'Livy' and 'Sallust;' but they were forcible and im 
pressive ; and he had often upon his lips those lines on the causes and miseries 
of civil war of which our history had furnished such fearful examples : 

" And thou, Britain ! whilom in renown, 
"Whilom in wealth and fame, shalt thus be torn, 
Dismember'd thus, and thus be rent in twain, 
Thus wasted and defac'd, spoil'd and destroy'd : 
These be the fruits your civil wars will bring. 



* ' Plays Confuted.' 

M3 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

Hereto it comes, when kings will not consent 

To grave advice, but follow wilful will. 

This is the end, when in fond princes' hear* s 

Flattery prevails, and sage rede hath no place. 

These are the plagues, when murder is the mean 

To make new heirs unto the royal crown. 

Thus wreak the gods, when that the mother's wrath 

Naught but the blood of her own child may 'suage. 

These mischiefs sp/ing when rebels will arise, 

To work revenge, and judge their prince's fact. 

This, this ensues, when noble men do fail 

In loyal truth, and subjects will be kings. 

And this doth grow, when, lo ! unto the prince, 

Whom death or sudden hap of life bereaves, 

No certain heir remains ; such certain heir 

As not all only is the rightful heir, 

But to the realm is so made known to be, 

And truth thereby vested in subjects' hearts." 

Even this versification he would think might be improved. The entire play 
of ' Ferrex and Porrex,' was to him monotonous and uninteresting ; it seemed 
as if the dramatic form oppressed the undoubted genius of one of the authors 
of that play. How inferior were the finest lines which Sackville wrote in this 
play, correct and perspicuous as they were, compared with some of the noble 
bursts in the Induction to 'A Mirror for Magistrates' ! Surely the author of 
the sublime impersonation of War could have written a tragedy that would 
have filled the heart with terror, if not with pity ! 

" Lastly stood War in glittering arms yclad, 

With visage grim, stern looks, and blackly hued ; 

In his right hand a naked sword he had 

That to the hilts was all with blood imbrued ; 

And in his left (that kings and kingdoms rued) 

Famine and Fire he held, and therewithal 

He razed towns, and threw down towers and alL" 

Still, he wondered that the example which Sackville had given of dramatic 
blank verse had not been followed by the writers of plays for the common 
theatres. He saw, however, that a change was taking place ; for the First Part 
of ' Promos and Cassandra,' of which he had recently obtained a copy, was 
wholly in rhyme ; while in the Second Part, Master George Whetstone had 
freely introduced blank verse. In the little book which Stephen Gosson had 
just written against plays, his second book in answer to Thomas Lodge, 
which had been lent him to read by a zealous minister of the church who 
disapproved of such vanities, he found an evidence that the multitude most 
delighted in rhyme : " The poets send their verses to the stage, upon such feet 
as continually are rolled up in rhyme at the fingers' ends, which is plausible to 
the barbarous and carrieth a sting into the ears of the common people." 1 * And 
yet, from another passage of the same writer, he might collect that even the 
refined and learned were delighted with the poetical structure of the common 

* ' Plays Confuted, in Five Actions.' 
134 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

dramas : " So subtle is the devil, that under the colour of recreation in Lon 
don, and of exercise of learning in the universities, by seeing of plays, he 
maketh us to join with the Gentiles in their corruption. Because the sweet 
numbers of poetry, flowing in verse, do wonderfully tickle the hearers' ears, 
the devil hath tied this to most of our plays, that whatsoever he would have 
stick fast to our souls might slip down in sugar by this enticement, for that 
which delighteth never troubleth our swallow. Thus, when any matter of love 
is interlarded, though the thing itself be able to allure us, yet it is so set out 
with sweetness of words, fitness of epithets, with metaphors, allegories, hyper 
boles, amphibologies, similitude ; with phrases so picked, so pure, so proper ; 
with action so smooth, so lively, so wanton ; that the poison, creeping on se 
cretly without grief, chokes us at last, and hurleth us down in a dead sleep." 
It was difficult to arrive at an exact knowledge of the truth from the descrip 
tion of one who wrote under such strong excitement as Master Stephen Gosson. 

The controversy upon the lawfulness of stage-plays was a remarkable feature 
of the period which we are now describing ; and, as pamphlets were to that 
age what newspapers are to ours, there can be little doubt that even in the 
small literary society of Stratford the tracts upon this subject might be well 
known. The dispute about the Theatre was a contest between the holders of 
opposite opinions in religion. The Puritans, who even at that time were 
strong in their zeal if not in their numbers, made the Theatre the especial 
object of their indignation, for its unquestionable abuses allowed them so to 
frame their invectives that they might tell with double force against every 
description of public amusement, against poetry in general, against music, 
against dancing, associated as they were with the excesses of an ill-regulated 
stage. A Treatise of John Northbrooke, licensed for the press in 1577, is 
directed against " dicing, dancing, vain plays, or interludes." Gosson, who had 
been a student of Christchurch, Oxford, had himself written two or three plays 
previous to his publication, in 1579, of 'The School of Abuse, containing a 
Pleasant Invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such-like Cater 
pillars of a Commonwealth.' This book, written with considerable ostentation 
of learning, and indeed with no common vigour and occasional eloquence, 
defeats its own purposes by too large an aim. Poets, whatever be the character 
of their poetry, are the objects of Gosson's new-born hostility: "Tiberias the 
Emperor saw somewhat when he judged Scaurus to death for writing a tragedy ; 
Augustus when he banished Ovid; and Nero when he charged Lucan to put 
up his pipes, to stay his pen, and write no more." Music comes in for the 
same denunciation, upon the authority of Pythagoras, who " condemns them 
for fools that judge music by sound and ear." The three abuses of the time 
are held to be inseparable :" As poetry and piping are cousin-germans, so 
piping and playing are of great affinity, and all three chained in links of 
abuse." It is not to be thought that declamation like this would produce any 
great effect in turning a poetical mind from poetry, or that even Master 
Gosson's contrast of the "manners of England in old time" and " New England" 
would go far to move a patriotic indignation against modern refinements. We 
have, on one hand, Dion's description how Englishmen " went naked and were 

135 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

good soldiers ; they fed upon roots and barks of trees ; they would stand up 
to the chin many days in marshes without victuals;" and, on the other hand, 
" but the exercise that is now among us is banqueting, playing, piping, and 
dancing, and all such delights as may win us to pleasure, or rock us in sleep. 
Quantum mutatus ab illo !" If the young Shakspere had his ambition turned 
towards dramatic poetry when he was sixteen, that ambition was not likely to 
be damped by Gosson's general declamation ; and in truth in this his first 
tract the worthy man has a sneaking kindness for the theatre which he can 
with difficulty suppress: "As some of the players are far from abuse, so 
some of their plays are without rebuke, which are easily remembered, as 
quickly reckoned. The two prose books played at the Bell Savage, where you 
shall find never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter 
placed in vain. ' The Jew,' and ' Ptolemy,' shown at the Bull ; the one repre 
senting the greediness of worldly choosers, and bloody minds of usurers ; the 
other very lively describing how seditious estates with their own devices, 
false friends with their own swords, and rebellious commons in their own 
snares are overthrown ; neither with amorous gestures wounding the eye, nor 
with slovenly talk hurting the ears of the chaste hearers. 'The Blacksmith's 
Daughter,' and ' Catiline's Conspiracies,' usually brought in at the Theatre : 
the first containing the treachery of Turks, the honourable bounty of a noble 
mind, the shining of virtue in distress. The last, because it is known to be a 
pig of mine own sow, I will speak the less of it ; only giving you to understand 
that the whole mark which I shot at in that work was to show the reward of 
traitors in Catiline, and the necessary government of learned men in the per 
son of Cicero, which foresees every danger that is likely to happen, and fore 
stalls it continually ere it take effect." 

The praise of the "two prose books at the Bell Savage," that contained 
"never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in 
vain," is quite sufficient to show us that these prose books exhibited neither 
character nor passion. The 'Ptolemy' and the ' Catiline' there can be no doubt 
were composed of a succession of tedious monologues, having nothing of the 
principle of dramatic art in them, although in their outward form they appeared 
to be dramas. Gosson says, " These plays are good plays and sweet plays, and 
of all plays the best plays, and most to be liked, worthy to be sung of the Muses, 
or set out with the cunning of Roscius himself; yet are they not fit for every 
man's diet, neither ought they commonly to be shown." It is clear that these 
good plays and sweet plays had not in themselves any of the elements of popu 
larity; therefore they were utterly barren of real poetry. The highest poetry 
is essentially the popular poetry : it is universal in its range, it is unlimited in 
its duration. The lowest poetry (if poetry it can be called) is conventional ; it 
lives for a little while in narrow corners, the pet thing of fashion or of pedantry. 
When Gosson wrote, the poetry of the English drama was not yet born ; and 
the people contented themselves with something else that was nearer poetry 
than the plays which were " not fit for every man's diet." Gosson, in his 
second tract which, provoked by the answer of Lodge to his ' School of Abuse,' 
is written with much more virulence against plays especially, thus describes 
136 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

what the people most delighted in: "As the devil hath brought in all that 
Poetry can sing, so hath he sought out every strain that Music is able to pipe, 
and drawn all kinds of instruments into that compass, simple and mixed. Foi 
the eye, beside the beauty of the houses and the stages, he sendeth in garish 
apparel, masks, vaulting, tumbling, dancing of jigs, galiards, morisces, hobby 
horses, showing of juggling casts ; nothing forgot that might serve to set out 
the matter with pomp, or ravish the beholders with variety of pleasure." Lodge, 
in his reply to Gosson's ' School of Abuse,' had indirectly acknowledged the 
want of moral purpose in the stage exhibitions; but he contends that, as the 
ancient satirists were reformers of manners, so might plays be properly directed 
to the same end. " Surely we want not a Roscius, neither are there great 
scarcity of Terence's profession : but yet our men dare not now-a-days presume 
so much as the old poets might ; and therefore they apply their writings to the 
people's vein; whereas, if in the beginning they had ruled, we should now-a- 
days have found small spectacles of folly, but of truth You say, 

unless the thing be taken away the vice will continue ; nay, I say, if the style 
were changed the practice would profit." To this argument, that the Theatre 
might become a censor of manners, Gosson thus replies : " If the common people 
which resort to theatres, being but an assembly of tailors, tinkers, cordwainers, 
sailors, old men, young men, women, boys, girls, and such-like, be the judges of 
faults there pointed out, the rebuking of manners in that place is neither law 
ful nor convenient, but to be held for a kind of libelling and defaming." * The 
notion which appears to have possessed the minds of the writers against the 
stage at this period is, that a fiction and a lie were the same.f Gosson says, 
" The perfectest image is that which maketh the thing to seem neither greater 
nor less than indeed it is ; but in plays, either the things are feigned that never 
were, as Cupid and Psyche played at Paul's, and a great many comedies more 
at the Blackfriars, and in every playhouse in London, which, for brevity sake, 
I overskip ; or, if a true history be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, 
longest at the rising and fall of the sun ; shortest of all at high noon." 

The notion evidently was, that nothing ought to be presented upon the stage 
but what was an historical fact ; that all the points belonging to such a history 
should be given ; and that no art should be used in setting it forth beyond that 
necessary to give the audience, not to make them comprehend, all the facts. It 
is quite clear that such a process will present us little of the poetry or the 
philosophy of history. The play- writers of 1580, weak masters as they were, 
knew their art better than Gosson ; they made history attractive by changing 



* 'Plavs Confuted ' fcc. The Shakspere Society reprinted in one volume 'The School of Abuse, 
first published in 1579, and Heywood's Apology for Actors/ first published in 1612 These publica 
tions belong to different period, The controversy of the first period was presented *"* 
by Lodge's answer to Gosson, by Gosson's 'Plays Confuted' in reply to Lodge and by the Second 
and Third ' Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres,' the author of wh.ch counted Ihe School of 
Abuse ' the First Blast. These tracts are exceedingly rare, and they open to us cle* 
early stage than any other contemporary productions. 

t See Note at the end of this chapter. 

1 Of 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

it into a melo-drama : " The poets drive it (a true history) most commonly 
unto such points as may best show the majesty of their pen in tragical speeches, 
or set the heroes agog with discourses of love, or paint a few antics to fit their 
own humours with scoffs and taunts, or bring in a show to furnish the stage 
when it is bare. When the matter of itself comes short of this, they follow the 
practice of the cobbler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out. So was 
the history of ' Caesar and Pompey,' and the play of ' The Fabii/ at the theatre 
both amplified there where the drums might walk or the pen ruffle. When the 
history swelled or ran too high for the number of the persons who should play 
it, the poet with Proteus cut the same to his own measure : when it afforded no 
pomp at all, he brought it to the rack to make it serve. Which invincibly 
proveth on my side that plays are no images of truth." The author of 'The 
Blast of Retreat,' who describes himself as formerly " a great affector of that 
vain art of play-making," charges the authors of historical plays not only with 
expanding and curtailing the action, so as to render them no images of truth, 
but with changing the historical facts altogether : " If they write of histories 
that are known, as the life of Pompey, the martial affairs of Caesar, and other 
worthies, they give them a new face, and turn them out like counterfeits to 
show themselves on the stage." From the author of 'The Blast of Retreat 'we 
derive the most accurate account of those comedies of intrigue of which none 
have come down to us from this early period of the drama. We might fancy 
he was describing the productions of Mrs. Behn or Mrs. Centlivre, in sentences 
that might appear to be quoted from Jeremy Collier's attacks upon the stage 
more than a century later : "Some, by taking pity upon the deceitful tears of 
the stage-lovers, have been moved by their complaint to rue on their secre: 
friends, whom they have thought to have tasted like torment : some, having 
noted the ensamples how maidens restrained from the marriage of those whom 
their friends have misliked, have there learned a policy to prevent their parents 
by stealing them away : some, seeing by ensample of the stage-player one carried 
with too much liking of another man's wife, having noted by what practice she 
has been assailed and overtaken, have not failed to put the like in effect in 
earnest that was afore shown in jest The device of carrying and re- 
carrying letters by laundresses, practising with pedlars to transport their tokens 
by colourable means to sell their merchandise, and other kind of policies to 
beguile fathers of their children, husbands of their wifes, guardians of their 
wards, and masters of their servants, is it not aptly taught in 'The School of 
Abuse'?"* Perhaps the worst abuse of the stage of this period was the licence 
of the clown or fool an abuse which the greatest and the most successful of 
dramatic writers found it essential to denounce and put down. The author of 
' The Blast of Retreat ' has described this vividly : " And all be [although] 
these pastimes were not, as they are, to be condemned simply of their own nature, 
yet because they are so abused they are abominable. For the Fool no sooner 
showeth himself in his colours, to make men merry, but straightway lightly 
there followeth some vanity, not only superfluous, but beastly and wicked. Yet 

* The editor of the tract appends a note : " Ue meaneth plays, who are not unfitly so called." 
138 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

we, so carried away by his unseemly gesture and unreverenced scorning, that 
we seem only to be delighted in him, and are not content to sport ourselves with 
modest mirth, as the matter gives occasion, unless it be intermixed with knavery, 
drunken merriments, crafty cunnings, undecent jugglings, clownish conceits, and 
such other cursed mirth, as is both odious in the sight of God, and offensive to 
honest ears." 

In the controversial writers of the period immediately before us we find no 
direct mention of those Histories, " borrowed out of our English chronicles, 
wherein our forefathers' valiant acts that have been long buried in rusty brass 
and worm-eaten books are revived, and they themselves raised from the grave 
of oblivion and brought to plead their aged honours in open presence." This 
is a description of the early chronicle histories of the stage, as given by Thomas 
Nashe in 1592; and although we believe that in this description some of the 
plays of Shakspere himself would necessarily be included, it can scarcely be 
imagined that he was altogether the inventor of this most attractive as well as 
most obvious species of drama. Whilst the writers for the stage previous to 
1580 were reproducing every variety of ancient history and fable, it is not 
likely that they would have entirely neglected the copious materials which the 
history of their own country would present to them. Nashe in another passage 
says, " What a glorious thing it is to have King Henry V. represented on the 
stage leading the French King prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dauphin 
to swear fealty ! " Something like this dramatic action is to be found in one of 
these elder historical plays which have come down to us, 'The Famous Vic 
tories of Henry V., containing the Honourable Battle of Agincourt.' The only 
other English historical play that can be safely assigned to the dramatic period 
before Shakspere is ' The True Tragedy of Richard III.'* It has been already 
necessary for us to notice ' The Famous Victories ' somewhat fully in connexion 
with Shakspere's plays of King Henry IV., and King Henry V., but the view 
which we are here endeavouring to give of the state of the early stage would 
be essentially incomplete, were we to pass over a class of dramas so important 
in themselves, and so interesting in connexion with what we may believe to 
have been the earliest productions of Shakspere's dramatic genius, as the English 
Histories ; and of these ' The Famous Victories ' is an authentic and a very curious 
example.f 

There is a full audience collected in the ^w-. Hall of Stratford, to witness 
the new performance of the Earl of Darby's players. Slight preparation will 
be necessary for the performance, although the history to be performed will be 
a regal story; its scenes changing from the tavern to the palace, from England 
to France; now exhibiting the wild Prince striking the representative of his 
father on the seat of justice, and then after a little while the same Prince a 
hero and a conqueror. The raised floor at the upper end of the Town Hall 
will furnish ample room for all these displays. The painted board will lead 

* See the Notices of Richard III. in the fourth volume of this edition. 

t The play of ' The Famous Victories' was not printed till 1594 ; but there is no doubt that the 
celebrated Tarleton, who died in 1583, played the clown in it; and it is reasonably assigned to 

the period of which we are writing. 

139 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

the imagination of the audience from one country to another; and when the 
honourable battle of Agincourt is to be fought, " two armies fly in represented 
with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it 
for a pitched field?"* The curtain is removed, and without preparation we 
encounter the Prince in the midst of his profligacy. Ned and Tom are his 
companions ; and when the Prince says, " Think you not that it was a villainous 
part of me to rob my father's receivers?" Ned very charitably answers, "Why 
no, my lord, it was but a trick of youth." Sir John Oldcastle, who passes by 
the familiar name of Jockey, joins this pleasant company, and he informs the 
Prince that the town of Deptford has risen with hue and cry after the Prince's 
man who has robbed a poor carrier. The accomplished Prince then meets 
with the receivers whom he has robbed ; and, after bestowing upon them the 
names of villains and rascals, he drives them off with a threat that if they say 
a word about the robbery he will have them hanged. With their booty, then, 
will they go to the tavern in Eastcheap, upon the invitation of the Prince : 
" We are all fellows, I tell you, sirs ; an the king my father were dead, we 
would be all kings." The scene is now London, with John Cobbler, Robin 
Pewterer, and Lawrence Costermonger keeping watch and ward in the accus 
tomed style of going to sleep. There is short rest for them ; for Derrick, the 
carrier who has been robbed by the Prince's servant, is come to London to seek 
his goods. But why does the Stratford audience begin to roll about in a 
phrenzy of laughter, which waits not for laughter-moving words, but is set on 
by a look or a gesture, more irresistible than words? It is Tarleton, the 
famous Clown, who plays the Kentish carrier ; and he is in high humour to 
night. It matters little what the author of the play has written down for 
him, for his " wondrous plentiful pleasant extemporal wit " will do much 
better for the amusement of his audience than the dull dialogue of the prompt 
books. In the scene before us he has to catch the thief, and to take him before 
the Lord Chief Justice ; and when the Court is set in order, and the Chief 
Justice cries, " Gaoler, bring the prisoner to the bar," Derrick speaks accord 
ing to the book, " Hear you, my lord, I pray you bring the bar to the 
prisoner ; " but what he adds, having this hint for a clown's licence, soon renders 
the Chief Justice a very insignificant personage. The real wit of Tarleton 
probably did mufti to render the dullness of the early stage endurable by 
persons of any refinement. * . r et>j< Chettle, in his curious production ' Kind- 
Hartes Dreame,' written about four years after Tarleton's death, thus describes 
his appearance in a vision : " The next, by his suit of russet, his buttoned 
cap, his tabor, his standing on the toe, and other tricks, I knew to be either 
the body or resemblance of Tarleton, who living, for his pleasant conceits was 
of all men liked, and dying, for mirth left not his fellow. "t The Piince 

* Sidney. ' Defence of Poesy." 

t From the ' Palladia Tamia ' of Francis Meres we learn that Dr. John Case, the commentator 
upon Aristotle, did not think Tarleton beneath his notice : " As Antipater Sidonius was famous 
for extemporal verse in Greek, and Ovid for his ' Quicquid conabar dicere versus erat,' so was our 
Tarleton, of whom Dr. Case, that learned physician, thus speaketh in the seventh book and seven 
teenth chapter of his ' Politics :' ' Aristoteles suum Theodoretum laudavit quendam peritura tragoa- 
140 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

enters and demands the release of his servant, which the Chief Justice refuses. 
The scene which ensues when the Prince strikes the Chief Justice is a remark- 
able example of the poetical poverty of the early stage. In the representation 
the action would of course be exciting, but the dialogue which accompanies it 
is beyond comparison bald and meaningless. The audience was, however, 
compensated by Tarleton's iteration of the scene : " Faith, John, I'll tell thee 
what; thou shalt be my lord chief justice, and thou shalt sit in the chair; 
and I'll be the young prince, and hit thee a box on the ear; and then thou 
shalt say, To teach you what prerogatives mean, I commit you to the Fleet." 
The Prince is next presented really in prison, where he is visited by Sir John 
Oldcastle. The Prince, in his dialogue with Jockey, Ned, and Tom, again 
exhibits himself as the basest and most vulgar of ruffians; but, hearing his 
father is sick, he goes to Court, and the bully, in the twinkling of an eye, 
becomes a saintly hypocrite : " Pardon me, sweet father, pardon me ; good 
my lord of Exeter, speak for me: pardon me, pardon, good father: not a 
word : ah, he will not speak one word : ah, Harry, now thrice unhappy Harry. 
But what shall I do? I will go take me into some solitary place, and there 
lament my sinful life, and, when I have done, I will lay me down and die." 
The scene where the Prince removes the crown, poor as it is in poetical con 
ception, touches the Stratford audience ; and there is one there who fancies he 
could extemporize that scene into something more touching. Henry IV. dies; 
Henry V. is crowned; the evil companions are cast off; the Chief Justice is 
forgiven; and the expedition to France is resolved upon. To trace the course 
of the war would be too much for the patience of our readers. The clashing of 
the four swords and bucklers might have rendered its stage representation 
endurable, and Derrick has become a soldier. This is the wit set down for 
him : 

"Derrick. I was four or five times slain. 

John. Four or five times slain! Why, how couldst thou have been 
alive now? 

Derrick. John, never say so, for I was called the bloody soldier 
amongst them all. 

John. Why, what didst thou? 

Derrick. Why, I will tell thee, John : every day when I went into the 
field, I would take a straw, and thrust it into my nose, and make my 
nose bleed ; and then I would go into the field ; and when the captain saw 
me, he would say, Peace, ah bloody soldier; and bid me stand aside, 
whereof I was glad." 

The scene which Nashe represented as a glorious thing does not violate the his 
torical fact in making Henry lead the French king prisoner; but there is a 
swearing of fealty in which the Dauphin participates : 

"Henry V. Well, my good brother of France, there is one thing I 
must needs desire. 

French King. What is that, my good brother of England ? 
Henry V. That all your nobles must be sworn to be true to me. 



diarum actorem ; Cicero suum Roscium ; nos Angli Tarletonum, in cujus voce et vultu omnea jocosi 
affectus, in cujus cerebroso capite lepidse facetiae habitant.' " 

141 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

Preach. King. Whereas they have not stuck with greater matters, I 
know they will not stick with such a trifle : begin you with uiy lord 
duke of Burgundy. 

Henry V. Come, my lord of Burgundy, take your oath upon my 
word. 

Burgundy. I, Philip duke of Burgundy, swear to Henry king of 
England to be true to him, and to become his league-man ; and that, if 
I, Philip, hear of any foreign power coming to invade the said Henry, 
or his heirs, then I, the said Philip, to send him word, and aid him 
with all the power I can make ; and thereunto I take my oath. 

[He Idssetk the sword. 

Henry V. Come, prince Dolphin, you must swear too. 

[He Jcistcth tfie sword." 

Ii was about the period which we are now touching upon that Sidney wrote 
his Defence of Poesy.' The drama was then as he has described it, " much 
used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused ; which, like an unman 
nerly daughter showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy's honour to 
be called in question." The early framers of the drama seem scarcely to have 
considered that she was the daughter of Poesy. A desire for dramatic exhibi 
tions not a new desire, but taking a new direction had forcibly seized upon 
the English people. The demand was to be supplied as it best might be, by 
the players who were to profit by it. They were, as they always will be, the 
best judges of what would please an audience ; and it was to be expected that, 
having within themselves the power of constructing the rude plot of any popular 
story, so as to present rapid movement, and what in the language of the stage is 
called business, the beauty or even propriety of the dialogue would be a second 
ary consideration, and indeed would be pretty much left to the extemporal 
invention of the actor. That the wit of the clown was almost entirely of this 
nature we have the most distinct evidence. Sidney, with all his fine taste, was 
a stickler for "place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal 
actions. For," he says, "where the stage should always represent one place, 
and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept 
and common reason, but one day, there is both many days and many places 
inartificially imagined." As the players were the rude builders of our early 
drama, and as that drama was founded upon the ruder Mysteries and Moral 
Plays, in which all propriety was disregarded, so that the senses could be grati 
fied, they naturally rejected the unities of time and place, the observance of 
which would have deprived their plays of their chief attraction rapid change 
and abundant incident. And fortunate was it that they did so ; for they thus 
went on strengthening and widening the foundations of our national drama, the 
truth and freedom of which could not exist under a law which is not the law of 
nature. Had Sidney lived five or six years longer, had he seen or read Romeo 
and Juliet, or A Midsummer-Night's Dream, he would probably have ceased 
to regard the drama as the unmannerly daughter of Poesy ; he would in all 
likelihood have thought that something was gained even through the "defec- 
tuous circumstances" that spurn the bounds of time and place, and compel the 
imagination to be still or to travel at its bidding, to be utterly regardless of the 
142 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

halt or the march of events, so that one dominant idea possess the souj and sway 
all its faculties. But this was only to be effected when a play was to become a 
great work f art; when all the conditions of its excellence should be fully 
comprehended; when it should unite the two main conditions of the highest 
excellence that of subjecting the popular mind to its power, through the skill 
which only the most refined understanding can altogether appreciate. When 
the young man of Stratford, who, as we have conceived, knew the drama of his 
time through the representations of itinerant players, heard the rude dialogue 
of 'The Famous Victories' not altogether without delight, and laughed most 
heartily at the extemporal pleasantness of the witty clown, a vivid though an 
imperfect notion of the excellence that might be attained by working up such 
common materials upon a principle of art must assuredly have been developed 
in his mind. If Sidney's noble defence of his beloved Poesy had then been pub 
lished, he would, we think, have found in it a reflection of his own opinions as 
to the "bad education" of the drama. "All their plays be neither right 
tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter 
so carrieth, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in 
majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion : so as neither the 
admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel 
tragi-comedy obtained." The objection here is scarcely so much to the mingling 
kings and clowns, when "the matter so carrieth," as to the thrusting in the 
clown by head and shoulders. Upon a right principle of art the familiar and 
the heroic might be advantageously blended. Here, in this play of 'The 
Famous Victories,' the Prince was not only prosaic, but altogether brutalized, 
so that the transition from the ruffian to the hero was distasteful and unnatural. 
But surround the same Prince with companions whose profligacy was in some 
sort balanced and counteracted by their intellectual energy, their wit, their 
genial mirthfulness ; make the Prince a gentleman in the midst of his most 
wanton levity ; and the transition to the hero is not merely probable, it is grace 
ful in itself, it satisfies expectation. But the young poet is yet without models, 
and he will remain so. He has to work out his own theory of art ; but that 
theory must be gradually and experimentally formed. He has the love of 
country living in his soul as a presiding principle. There are in his country's 
annals many stories such as this of Henry V. that might be brought upon the 
stage to raise "heroes from the grave of oblivion," for glorious example to 
"these degenerate days." But in those annals are also to be found fit subjects 
for "the high and excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and 
showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue; that maketh kings 
fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours ; that, with 
stirring the affections of admiration and commiseration, teacheth the uncer 
tainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations gilded roofs are builded.'" 
As the young poet left the Town Hall of Stratford he would forget Tarleton 
and his tricks; he would think that an English historical play was yet to be 
written; perhaps, as the ambitious thought crossed his mind to undertake such 
a task, the noble lines of Sackville would be present to his memory : 

* Sidney. ' Defence of Poesy.' 

143 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKK : 

' And sorrowing I to see the summer flowers. 
The lively green, the lusty leas forlorn, 
The sturdy trees so shatter* d with the showers. 
The fields so fade that flourish' d so beforn ; 
It taught me well all earthly things be born 
To die the death, for nought long time may last ; 
The summer's beauty yields to winter's blast. 

Then looking upward to the heaven's learns, 
With night's stars thick-powdered everywhere, 
Which erst so glisten' d with the golden streams 
That cheerful Phoebus spread down from his spherr, 
Beholding dark oppressing day so near : 
The sudden sight reduced to my mind 
The sundry changes that in earth we find. 

That musing on this worldly wealth in thought, 

Which comes and goes more faster than we see 

The flickering flame 'that with the fire is wrought, 

My busy mind presented unto me 

Such fall of peers as in this realm had l>e : 

That oft I wish'd some would their woes deserive, 

'io warn the rest whom fortune left alive." 




[Thomas Sacfcville.] 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON SIDNEY'S 'DEFENCE OF POESY. 1 



IT has scarcely, we think, been noticed that the justly-celebrated work of Sir Philip Sidney fonr.a 
an important part of the controversy, not only against the Stage, but against Poetry and Music, that 
appears to have commenced in England a little previous to 1580. Gosson, as we have seen, attacks 
the Stage, not only for its especial abuses, but because it partakes of the general infamy of Poetry. 
According to this declaimer, it is "the whole practice of poets, either with fables to show their 
abuses, or with plain terms to unfold their mischief, discover their shame, discredit themselves, 
and disperse their poison throughout the world." Gosson dedicated his 'School of Abuse' to 
Sidney; and Spenser, in one of his letters to Gabriel Harvey, shows how Sidney received the 
compliment : " New books I hear of none ; but only of one that, writing a certain book called 
' The School of Abuse,' and dedicating it to Master Sidney, was for his labour scorned ; if, at 
least, it be in the goodness of that nature to scorn. Such folly is it not to regard aforehaud 
the inclination and quality of him to whom we dedicate our books." We have no doubt that 
the 'Defence of Poesy,' or, as it was first called, 'An Apology for Poetry,' was intended 
as a reply to the dedicator. There is every reason to believe that it was written in 1581. 
Sidney can scarcely avoid pointing at Gosson when he speaks of the " Poet-haters," as of " people 
who seek a praise by dispraising others," that they " do prodigally spend a great many wandering 
words in quips and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing which, by stirring the spleen, may 
stay the brain from a thorough beholding the worthiness of the subject." We have seen how the 
early fanatical writers against the stage held that a Poet and a Liar were synonymous. To this 
ignorant invective, calculated for the lowest understandings, Sidney gives a brief and direct answer : 
" That they should be the principal liars, I answer paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that of 
all writers under the sun, the poet is the least liar, and though he would, as a poet, can scarcely be 
a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon 
them to measure the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the physicians lie, when they 
aver things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in 
a potion before they come to his ferry ? And no less of the rest which take upon them to affirm : 
Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth ; for, as I take it, to lie is to affirm 
that to be true which is false : So as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many 
things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies : But the poet, as 
I said before, never affirmeth, the poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure 
you to believe for true what he writeth : He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for 
his entry calleth the sweet Muses to aspire unto him a good invention : In troth, not labouring to 
to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore, though he recount 
things not true, yet, because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not, unless we will say that 
Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David; which as a wicked man durst scarce sa^, so 
think I none so simple would say that JEsop lied in the tales of his beasts ; for who thinketh that 
.iEsop wrote it for actually true were well worthy to have his name chronicled among the beasts he 
writeth of. What child is there that, coming to play and seeing 'Thebes' written in great letters 
upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes ? If then a man can arrive to the child's age, to 
know that the poet's persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and not stories what have 
been, they will never give the lie to things not affirmatively, but allegorically and figuratively, 
written ; and therefore, as in history, looking for truth, they may go away full fraught with false 
hood, so in poesy, looking but for fiction, they shall use the narration but as an imaginative ground- 
plat of a profitable invention." 



LIFK. 




CHAPTER XI. 



LIVING IX THE PAST. 



THE earliest, and the most permanent, of poetical associations are those which 
are impressed upon the mind by localities which have a deep historical interest. 
It would be difficult to find a district possessing more striking remains of a past 
time than the neighbourhood in which William Shakspere spent his youth. 
The poetical feeling which the battle-fields, and castles, and monastic ruins of 
mid England would excite in him, may be reasonably considered to have derived 
an intensity through the real history of these celebrated spots being vague, and 
for the most part traditional. The ase of local historians had not yet arrived. 
The monuments of the past were indeed themselves much more fresh and per 
fect than in the subsequent days, when every tomb inscription was copied, and 
every mouldering document set forth. But in the year 1580, if William Shak 
spere desired to know, or example, with some precision, the history which 

belonged to those noble towers of Warwick upon which he had often gazed 
146 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

with a delight that scarcely required to be based upon knowledge, he would 
look in vain for any guide to his inquiries. Some old people might tell him 
that they remembered their fathers to have spoken of one John Rous, the son 
of Geffrey Rous of Warwick, who, having diligently studied at Oxford, and 
obtained a reputation for uncommon learning, rejected all ambitious thoughts, 
shut himself up with his books in the solitude of Guy's Cliff, and was engaged 
to the last in writing the Chronicles of his country, and especially the history 
of his native County and its famous Earls ; and there, in the quiet of that 
pleasant place, performing his daily offices of devotion as a chantry priest in the 
little chapel, did John Rous live a life of happy industry till 1491. But the 
world in general derived little advantage from his labours. Another came 
after him, commissioned by royal authority to search into all the archives of the 
kingdom, and to rescue from damp and dust all ancient manuscripts, civil and 
ecclesiastical. The commission of Leland was well performed ; but his ' Itine 
rary ' was also to be of little use to his own generation. William Shakspere 
knew not what Leland had written about Warwickshire; how the enthusiastic 
and half-poetical antiquary had described, in elegant Latinity, the beauties of 
woodland and river ; and had even given the characteristics of such a place as 
Guy's Cliff in a few happy words, that would still be an accurate description of 
its natural features, even after the lapse of three centuries. Caves hewn in the 
living rock, a thick overshadowing wood, sparkling springs, flowery meadows, 
mossy grottos, the river rolling over the stones with a gentle noise, solitude and 
the quiet most friendly to the Muses, these are the enduring features of the place 




[Chapel at Guy : s Cliff.] 



L 2 



Wll.I.TAM SIIAKSPF.RE : 

ns painted by the fine old topographer.* But his manuscripts were as sealed to 
the young Shakspere as those of John Rous. Yet if the future Poet sustained 
some disadvantage by living before the days of antiquarian minuteness, he could 
still dwell in the past, and people it with the beings of his own imagination. 
The Chroniclers who had as yet attempted to collect and systematize the records 
of their country did not aim at any very great exactness either of time or place. 
When they dealt with a remote antiquity they were as fabulous as the poets 
themselves ; and it was easy to see that they most assumed the appearance of 
exactness when they wrote of times -which have left not a single monumental 
record. Very diffuse were they when they had to talk of the days of Brute. 
Intimately could they decipher the private history of Albanact and Humber. 
The Fatal passion of Locrine for Elstride was more familiar to them than that 
of Henry for Rosamond Clifford, or Edward for Elizabeth Woodville. Of the 
cities and the gales of King Lud they could present a most accurate descrip 
tion. Of King Leir very exact was their narration: how he, the son of Baldud, 
" was made ruler over the Britons the year of the world 4338 ; was noble of 
conditions, and guided his land and subjects in great wealth." Minutely thus 
does Fabyan, a chronicler whose volume was open to William Shakspere's boy 
hood, describe how the King, " fallen into impotent age," believed in the pro 
fessions of his two elder daughters, and divided with them his kingdom, leaving 
his younger daughter, who really loved him, to be married without dower to 
the King of France ; and then how his unkind daughters and their husbands 
^'bereft him the governance of the land," and he fled to Gallia, " for to be com 
forted of his daughter Cordeilla, whereof she having knowledge, of natural 
kindness comforted him." This in some sort was a story of William Shak 
spere's locality ; for, according to the Chronicle. Leir " made the town of Caer- 
leir, now called Leiceter or Leicester;" and after he was "restored again to his 
lordship he died, and was buried at his town of Caerleir." The local associa 
tion may have helped to fix the story in that mind, which in its maturity was 
to perceive its wondrous poetical capabilities. The early legends of the chroni 
clers are not to be despised, even in an age which in many historical things 
iustly requires evidence ; for they were compiled in good faith from the his- 
toiies which had been compiled before them by the monkish writers, who 
handed down from generation to generation a narrative which hung together 
with singular consistency. They were compiled, too, by the later chroniclers, 
with a zealous patriotism. Fabyan, in his Prologue, exclaims, with a poetical 
spirit which is more commendable even than the poetical form which he adopts, 

" Not for any pomp, nor yet for groat nieed, 

This work have I taken on hand to compile, 
But only because that I would spread 

The famous honour of this fertile isle, 

That hath continued, by many a long while, 
In excellent honour, with many a royal guide, 
Of whom the deeds have sprong to the world wide." 



* " Antra in vivo saxo, uemusculum ibidem opacum, fontes liquidas et gemmei ; prata florida, 
nntra muscosa, rivi levia et per saxa discursus ; necnon solitudo et quies Musis amicissima." 
I. eland's MS. 'Itinerary,' as quoted by Dugdale. 
148 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Lines such as these, homely though they are, were as seeds sown upon a goodly 
soil, when they were read by William Shakspere. His patriotism was almost 
instinct. 

In the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford there are two remarkable 
monuments of ancient civilization, the great roads of the Ichnield-way and 
the Foss-way. Upon these roads, which two centuries and a half ago would 
present a singular contrast in the strength of their construction to the miry 
lanes of a later period, would the young Shakspere often walk ; and he would 
naturally regard these ways with reverence as well as curiosity, for his chro 
niclers would tell him that they were the work of the Britons before the inva 
sion of the Romans. Fabyan would tell him, in express words, that they were 
the work of the Britons ; and Camden and Dugdale were not as yet to tell him 
otherwise. Robert of Gloucester says 

" Faire weyes many on ther ben in Englonde ; 

But four most of all ther ben I understand e, 

That thurgh an old kynge were made ere this, 

As men schal in this boke aftir here tell I wis, 

Fram the South into the North takith Erminge-strete. . 

Fram the East into the West goeth Ikeneld-strete. 

Fram South est to North-west, that is sum del grete 

Frain Dover into Chestre goth Watlyng-strete. 

The ferth of thise is most of alle that tilleth frain Tateneys. 
Fram the South-west to North-est into Englondes ende 

Fosse men callith thilke wey that by mony town doth wende. 

Thise foure weyes on this londe kyng Bel in the wise 

Made and ordeined hem with gret fraunchise." 

His notion, therefore, of the people of the days of Lud and Cymbeline would 
be that they were a powerful and a refined people ; excelling in many of the 
arts of life ; formidable in courage and military discipline ; enjoying free insti 
tutions. When the matured dramatist had to touch upon this period, he would 
paint the Britons boldly refusing the Roman yoke, but yet partakers of the 
Roman civilization. The English king who defies Augustus says 

" Thy Csesar knighted me ; my youth I spent 
Much under him ; of him I gather'd honour ; 
Which he to seek of me again, perforce, 
Behoves me keep at utterance." * 

This is an intelligent courage, and not the courage of a king of painted savages. 
In the depths of the remarkable intrenchments which surround the hill of 
Welcombe, hearing only the noise of the sheep-bell in the uplands, or the even- 
ing chime from the distant church-tower, would William Shakspere think 
much of the mysterious past. No one could tell him who made these intrench- 
ments, or for what purpose they were made. Certainly they were produced by 
the hand of man ; but were they for defence or for religious ceremonial ? Was 
the lofty mound, itself probably artificial, which looked down upon them, a fort 

* Cytnbeline, Act ill., Scene I. 

149 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'KUK : 

or a temple ? Man, who would know everything and explain everything, 
assuredly knows little, when he cannot demand of the past an answer to such 
inquiries. But does he know much more of things which are nearer to his 
own days? Is the annalist to be trusted when he undertakes not only to 
describe the actions and to repeat the words, but to explain the thoughts and 
the motives which prompted the deeds that to a certain extent fixed the destiny 
of an age ? There was a truth, however, which was to be found amidst all the 
mistakes and contradictions of the annalists the great poetical truth, that the 
devices of men are insufficient to establish any permanent command over events ; 
that crime would be followed by retribution ; that evil passions would become 
their own tormentors ; that injustice could not be successful to the end ; that, 
although dimly seen and unwillingly acknowledged, the great presiding power 
of the world could make evil work for good, and advance the general happiness 
out of the particular misery. This was the mode, we believe, in which that 
thoughtful youth read the Chronicles of his country, whether brief or elaborate. 
Looking at them by the strong light of local association, there would be local 
tradition at hand to enforce that universal belief in the justice of God's provi 
dence which is in itself alone one of the many proofs of that justice. It is this 
religious aspect of human affairs which that young man cultivated when he 
cherished the poetical aspect. His books have taught him to study history 
through the medium of poetry. ' The Mirror for Magistrates ' is a truer book 
for him than Fabyan's ' Chronicle.' He can understand the beauty and the 
power of his beloved Froissart, who described with incomparable clearness the 
events which he saw with his own eyes. To do this, as Froissart has done it, 
requires a gift of imagination as well as of faithfulness ; of that imagination 
which, grouping and concentrating things apparently discordant, produces the 
highest faithfulness, because it sees and exhibits all the facts. But the prosaic 
digest of what others had seen and written about, disproportionate in its estimate 
of the importance of events, dwelling little upon the influences of individual 
character, picturing everything in the same monotonous light, and of the same 
height and breadth ; this, which was called history, was to him a tedious fable. 
He stands by the side of the tomb of King John at Worcester. There, with 
little monumental pomp, lies the faithless King, poisoned, as he has read, by a 
monk. The poetical aspect of that man's history lies within a narrow compass. 
He was intriguing, treacherous, bloody, an oppressor of his people, a persecutor 
of the unprotected. His life is one of contest and misery ; he loses his foreign 
possessions; his own land is invaded. But he stands up against foreign 
domination, and that a priestly domination. According to the tradition, he 
falls by private murder, as a consequence, not of his crimes, but of his resistance 
to external oppression. The prosaic view of this man's history separates the 
two things, his crimes and their retribution. The poetical view connects them. 
Arthur is avenged when the poisoned king, hated and unlamented, finds a rest 
ing-place from his own passions and their consequences in the earth beneath the 
paving-stones of the cathedral of Worcester. But there was a tear even for that 
man's grave, when his last sufferings were shadowed out in the young poet's 
mind : 
150 




(Tomb of King John, Worcester.] 

" Poison' d jlp -iH fare; dead, forsook, cast off; 
And none of you will bid the winter come, 
To thrust Tiis icy fingers in my maw ; 
Nor let my kingdom's rivers take their course 
Through my burn'd bosom ; nor entreat the north 
To make his bleak winds kiss my parched lips, 
And comfort me with cold." * 

When the dramatic power was working, as we have no doubt it was working 
early, in the mind of William Shakspere, he would look at history to see how 
events might be brought together, not in the exact order of time, but in the 
more natural order of cause and effect. Events would be made prominent, not 
according, to their absolute political importance, but as they were the result of 
high passions and fearful contests of opinion. The epic of history is a different 
thing from the dramatic. In the epic the consequences of an event, perhaps the 
remote consequences, may be more important than the event itself; may be fore 
seen before the event comes ; may be fully delineated after the event has hap 
pened. In the drama the importance of an actio'n must be understood in the 
action itself ; the hero must be great in the instant time, and not in the possible 
future. It is easy to understand, therefore, how the matured Shakspere 
attempted not to work upon many of the local associations which must have 
been vividly present to his youthful fancy. The great events connected with 
certain localities were not capable of sustaining a dramatic development. There 

* King John, Act v., Scene vn. 

151 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'ERE: 

was no event, for example, more important in its consequences than the Battle 
of Evesham. The battle-field must have been perfectly familiar to the young 
Shakspere. About two miles and a half from Evesham is an elevated point, 
near the village of Twyford, vhere the Alcester road is crossed by another 
track. The Avon is not more than a mile distant on either hand ; for, flowing 
from Oflfenham to Evesham, a distance of about three miles, it encircles that 
town, returning in a nearly parallel direction, about the same distance, to Charl- 
bury. The great road, therefore, from Alcester to Evesham continues, after it 
passes Twyford, through a narrow tongue of land bounded by the Avon, having 
considerable variety of elevation. Immediately below Twyford is a hollow 
now called Battlewell, crossing which the road ascends to the elevated platform 
of Greenhill. Here, then, was the scene of that celebrated battle which put an end 
to the terrible conflicts between the Crown and the Nobility, and for a season 
left the land in peace under the sway of an energetic despotism. The circum 
stances which preceded that battle, as told in ' The Chronicle of Evesham ' (which 
in William Shakspere's time would have been read and remembered by many 
an old tenant of the Abbey), were singularly interesting. Simon Montfort, the 
great Earl of Leicester, was waiting at Evesham the arrival of his son's army 
from Ken il worth ; but Prince Edward had surprised that army, and taken 
many of its leaders prisoners, and young Montfort durst not leave his strong- 
hold. In that age rumour did not fly quite so quickly as in our days. The 
Earl of Leicester was ignorant of the events that had happened at Kenilworth. 
He had made forced marches from Hereford to Worcester, and thence to Eves- 
ham. There were solemn masses in the Abbey Church on the 3rd of August, 
1265, and the mighty Earl, who had won for himself the name of 'Sir Simon 
the Righteous,' felt assured that his son was at hand, and that Heaven would 
uphold his cause against a perjured Prince. On the morning of the 4th of 
August the Earl of Leicester sent his barber Nicholas to the top of the Abbey 
tower, to look for the succour that was coming over the hills from Kenilworth. 
The barber came down with eager gladness, for he saw, a few miles off, the banner 
of young Simon de Montfort in advance of a mighty host. And again the Earl 
sent the barber to the top of the Abbey tower, and the man hastily descended 
in fear and sorrow, for the banner of young de Montfort was no more to be seen, 
but, coming nearer and nearer, were seen the standards of Prince Edward, and 
of Mortimer, and of Gloucester. Then saw the Earl his imminent peril ; and 
he said, according to one writer, " God have our souls all, our days are all done ; " 
or, according to another writer, " Our souls God have, for our bodies be theirs." 
But Montfort was not a man to fly. Over the bridge of Evesham he might 
have led his forces, so as to escape from the perilous position in which he was 
shut up. He hastily marched northward, with King Henry his prisoner, at 
two o'clock in the afternoon of that day. Before nightfall the waters of the 
little valley were blood-red. Thousands were slain between those two hills ; 
thousands fled, but there was no escape but by the bridge of Evesham, and they 
perished in the Avon. The old King, turned loose upon a war-horse amidst the 
terrible conflict, was saved from death at the hands of the victors by crying 
out, " I am Henry of Winchester." The massacre of Evesham, where a hun- 
152 




[Bridge at Evesham.] 

dred ai.d eighty barons and knights, in arms for what they call their liberties, 
were butchered without quarter, was a final measure of royal vengeance. It 
was a great epic story. It had dramatic points, but it was not essentially 
dramatic. If Shakspere had chosen the wars of the Barons, instead of the wars 
of the Roses, for a vast dramatic theme, the fate of Simon de Montfort and his 
gallant company might have been told so as never to have been forgotten. But 
he had another tale of civil war to tell ; one more essentially dramatic in the 
concentration of its events, the rapid changes in its fortunes, the marked cha 
racters of its leaders. On the battle-field of Evesham he would indeed medi 
tate upon " The ill success of treason, the fall of hasty climbers, the wretched 
end of usurpers, the misery of civil dissension, and how just God is evermore 
in punishing murder."* But these lessons were to be worked out more em 
phatically in other histories. Another Warwickshire poet would sing the great 
Battle of Edward and Leicester : 

" In that black night before this sad and dismal day, 
Were apparitions strange, as dread Heaven would bewray 
The horrors to ensue : most amazing sight ! 
Two armies in the air discerned were to fight, 
Which came so near to earth, that in the morn they found 
The prints of horses' feet remaining on the ground ; 
Which came but as a show, the time to entertain 
Till th' angry armies join'd, to act the bloody scene. 
Shrill shouts, and deadly cries, each way the air do fill, 
And not a word was heard from either side, but kill ; 
The father 'gainst the sou, the brother 'gainst the brother, 
With gleaves, swords, bills, and pikes, were murthering one another. 



Nashe, 



WII.UAM SI! AKSri.l;!. : 

The full luxurious earth seems surfeited with blood, 
Whilst in his uncle's gore th* unnatural nephew stood ; 
Whilst with their charged staves the desperate horsemen meet, 
They hear their kinsmen groan under their horses' feet. 
Dead men, and weapons broke, do on the earth abound ; 
The drums, bedash'd with brains, do give a dismal sound. 
Great Le'ster there expir'd, with Henry hia brave son, 
When many a high exploit they in that day had done. 
Scarce was there noble house of which those times could tell, 
But that some one thereof on this or that side fell ; 
Amongst the slaughter'd men that there lay heap'd on piles, 
Bohuns and Beauchamps were, Bassets and Mandeviles : 
Segraves and Saint Johns seek, upon the end of all, 
To crive those of their names their Christian burial. 
Ten thousand on both sides were ta'en and slain that day ; 
Prince Edward gets the goal, and bears the palm away." * 

There is peace awhile in the land. A strong man is on the throne. The 
first Edward dies, and, a weak and profligate sort succeeding him, there is 
again misrule and turbulence. Within ten miles of Stratford there was a 
fearful tragedy enacted in the year 1312. On the little knoll called Blacklow 
Hill, about a mile from Warwick, would William Shakspere ponder upon the 
fate of Gaveston. In that secluded spot all around him would be peacefulness ; 
the only sound of life about him would be the dashing of the wheel of the old 
mill at Guy's Cliff. The towers of Warwick would be seen rising above their 




[Mill at Guy' Cliff.] 



surrounding trees ; and, higher than all, Guy's Tower. He would have heard 
that this tower was not so called from the Saxon champion, the Guy of min 
strelsy, whose statue, bearing shield and sword, he had often looked upon in 
the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen at Guy's Cliff. The Tower was called after 



* Draytou's ' Polyolbion/ 22nd Song. 
154 




[Ancient Statue of Guy at Guy's Cliff. 1 

I 

the Guy whose common name a name of opprobrium fixed on him by 
Gaveston was associated with that of his maternal ancestors, Guy, the Black 
Dog of Arden. And then the tragedy of Blacklow Hill, as he recollected this, 
would present itself to his imagination. There is a prisoner standing in the 
great hall of Warwick Castle. He is unarmed ; he is clad in holiday vest 
ments, but they, are soiled and torn ; his face is pale with fear and the fatigue 
of a night journey. By force has he been hurried some thirty miles across the 
country from Dedington, near Banbury; and amidst the shouts of soldiery 
and the rude clang of drum and trumpet has he entered the castle of his 
enemies, where they are sitting upon the dais, Warwick and Lancaster, and 
Hereford and Arundel, and the prisoner stands trembling before them, a 
monarch's minion, but one whom they have no right to punish. But the 
sentence is pronounced that he shall die. He sued for mercy to those whom 
he had called " the black dog" and " the old hog," but they spurned him. A 
sad procession is marshalled. The castle gates are opened ; the drawbridge is 
let down. In silence the avengers march to Blacklow Hill, with their prisoner 
in the midst. He dies by the axe. In a few years his unhappy master falls 
still more miserably. Here is, ihdeed, a story fit for tragedy ; and that the 
young Shakspere had essayed to dramatize it, or at any rate had formed a 
dramatic picture of so remarkable an event, one so fitted for the display of 
character and passion, may be easily conjectured. But it was a story, also, 
which in some particulars his judgment would have rejected, as unworthy to 
be dramatized. Another poet would arise, a man of undoubted power, of 
daring genius, of fiery temperament, who would seize upon the story of 
Edward II. and his wretched favourite, and produce a drama that should 
present a striking contrast to the drawling histories of the earlier stage. The 

155 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'KKE : 

subject upon which the "dead Shepherd" had put forth his strength was m.t 
to be touched by his greater rival.* 

A reign of power succeeds to one of weakness. Edward III. is upon the 
throne. William Shakspere is familiar with the great events of this reign ; for 
the ' Chronicles ' of Froissart, translated by Lord Berners, have more than the 
charm of the romance-writers ; they present realities in colours more brilliant 
than those of fiction. The clerk of the chamber to Queen Philippa is overflow 
ing with that genial spirit which was to be a great characteristic of Shakspere 
himself. Froissart looks upon nothing with indifference. He enters most 
heartily into the spirit of every scene into which he is thrown. The luxuries 
of courts unfit him not for a relish of the charms of nature. The fatigues of 
camps only prepare him for the enjoyment of banquets and dances. He throws 
himself into the boisterous sports of the field at one moment, and is proud to 
produce a virelay of his own composition at another. The early violets and 
white and red roses are sweet to his sense ; and so is a night draught of claret 
or Rochelle wine. He can meditate and write as he travels alone upon his 
palfrey, with his portmanteau, having no follower but his faithful greyhound ; 
he can observe and store up in his memory when he is in the court of David II. 
of Scotland, or of Gaston de Foix, or in the retinue of the Black Prince. The 
hero of Froissart is Edward Prince of Wales, the glorious son of a glorious 
father. William Shakspere was in the presence of local associations connected 
with this prince. He was especially Prince of Coventry ; it was his own city ; 
and he gave licence to build its walls and gates, and cherished its citizens, and 
dwelt among them. As the young poet walked in the courts of the old hall ot 
St. Mary's, itself a part of an extensive palace, he would believe that the prince 
had sojourned there after he had won his spurs at Cressy ; and he would picture 
the boy-hero, as Froissart had described him, left by his confiding father in the 
midst of danger to struggle alone, and alone to triumph : " The prince's bat 
talion at one period was very hard pressed ; and they with the prince sent a 
messenger to the king, who was on a little windmill hill ; then the knight said 
to the king, ' Sir, the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Oxford, Sir Regnold 
Cobham, and others, such as be about the prince your son, are fiercely fought 
withal, and are sore handled ; wherefore they desire you that you and your 
battle will come and aid them ; for if the Frenchmen increase, as they doubt 
they will, your son and they shall have much ado.' Then the king said, ' Is 
my son dead or hurt, or on the earth felled ?' ' No, Sir/ quoth the knight, ' but 
he his hardly matched, wherefore he hath need of your aid.' ' Well,' said the 
king, ' return to him and to them that sent you hither, and say to them that 
they send no more to me for any adventure that falleth, as long as my son is 
alive ; and also say to them that they suffer him this day to win his spurs, for, 

The notice by Shakspere of Marlowe, in As You Like It, in one of the few examples we have 
of any mention by the great poet of his contemporaries. This is a kind notice conveyed in the in 
troduction of a line from Marlowe's ' Hero and Leander :' 

" Dead Shepherd ! now I find thy saw of might, 
Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight ? " 




[St. Mary's Hall, Court Front.] 



if God be pleased, I will this journey be his, and the honour thereof, and to 
them that be about him/ Then the knight returned again to them, and showed 
the king's words, the which greatly encouraged them, and they repined in that 
they had sent to the king as they did." And then, it may be, the whole epopee 
of that great war for the conquest of France might be shaped out in the young 
man's imagination, and amidst its chivalrous daring, its fields of slaughter, its 
perils overcome by almost superhuman strength, kings and princes for prisoners, 
and the conqueror lowly and humble in his triumph, would there be touching 
domestic scenes, Sir Eustace de Pierre, the rich burgher of Calais, putting his 
life in jeopardy for the safety of the good town, and the vengeance of the stern 
conqueror averted by his gentle queen, all arranging themselves into something 
like a great drama. But even here the dramatic interest was not sustained. 
There was a succession of stirring events, but no one great action to which all 
other actions tended and were subservient. Cressy is fought, Calais is taken, 
Poictiers is to come, after the hero has marched through the country, burning 

157 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKIiK : 

and wasting, regardless of the people, thinking only of his father's disputed 
rights ; and then a mercenary war in Spain in a bad cause, and the hero dies in 
his bed, and the war for conquest is to generate other wars. These are events 
that belong to the chronicler, and not to the dramatist. Romance has come in 
to lend them a human interest. The future conqueror of France is to be a weak 
lover at the feet of a Countess of Salisbury ; to be rejected ; to cast off his weak 
ness. The drama may mix the romance and the chronicle together ; it has done 
so : but we believe not that he who had a struggle with his judgment to unite 
the epic and the dramatic in the history of Henry V. ever attempted to drama 
tize the story of Edward III.* 

Warwick it is full of historical associations, but its early history is not dra 
matic according to the notions that William Shakspere will subsequently work 
out. Let the ballad -makers and the heroic pcets that are to follow sing the 
legend of Guy the Saxon, and his combat with Colbrand the Dane. The stern 
power of the later Guy is for another to dramatize. Thomas Earf of Warwick, 
who led the van at Cressy, shall have his fame with the Cobhams and the Chan- 

See our Notice of the play entitled ' The Reign of Edward III.' in the Analysis of plays 
ascribed to Shakspere. 




[Warwick Cnrtif. from the 



158 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

doses, and posterity shall look upon his tomb in the midst of the choir of the 
collegiate church at Warwick. The Earl who was cast aside by Richard II. 
(he also was named Thomas) shall be merged in the eventful history of that 
time ; but it shall be recollected that he built " that strong and stately tower 
standing at the north-east corner of the Castle here at Warwick."* His strong 
and stately tower could not stead him in his necessity, for he was made prisoner 
by the King at a feast to which he was treacherously invited, banished, subse 
quently imprisoned in the Tower, and his possessions seized upon. The fall of 
Richard restored him to his honours and possessions ; and he was enabled to 
appoint by his will " that the sword and coat of mail sometime belonging to the 
famous Guy" should remain to his son and his heirs after him. This sword 
and coat of mail would have been a more appropriate, though perhaps not a 
more authentic, relic for the young Shakspere to look upon than the famous 
porridge-pot of our own day. In the reign of Henry IV. there came Earl 
Richard, who took the banner of Owen Glendower, and fought against the Percies 
at Shrewsbury ; who voyaged to the Holy Land, and hung up his offerings 
at the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, and was royally feasted by the Soldan's 
lieutenant, " hearing that he was descended from the famous Sir Guy of War 
wick, whose story they had in books of their own language. "f And it was he 
who was sent to France to treat for the marriage of Henry V. with the Lady 
Katherine ; and it was he who, after the death of the Conqueror of Agincourt, 
had tutelage of the young Henry his son; and was lieutenant-general and 
governor of the realm of France. The remainder of his history might be read 
by William Shakspere, inscribed upon that splendid monument which he erected 
in the chapel called after his name, and ordered by his will to be built adjoining 
the collegiate church. Visited by long sickness, he died in the Castle at Rouen. 
His monument is still a glorious specimen of the arts of the middle ages, and so 
is the chapel under whose roof it is erected. Another lord of Warwick suc 
ceeded, who, having been created Duke of Warwick, moved the envy of other 
great ones in that time of faction : but he died young, and without issue ; and 
his sister, the wife of Richard Neville, succeeded to her brother's lands and 
castles, and by patent her husband became Earl of Warwick. This was indeed 
a mighty man, the stout Earl of Warwick, the king-maker, he who first fought 
at St. Albans in the great cause of York, and after many changes of opinion 
and of fortune fell at Barnet in the cause of Lancaster. The history of this, 
the greatest of the lords of the ragged staff, is in itself a wonderful drama, in a 
series of dramas that are held together by a strong poetical chain. The first 
scene of this great series of dramas begins when the Duke of Hereford and the 
Duke of Norfolk meet in the lists 

" At Coventry upon St. Lambert's clay." J 

The last scene is at Bosworth, when he who is held to have wanted every virtue 
but courage left the world exclaiming 

" A horge, a horse, my kingdom for a horse !" 

* Dugdale, quoting Walsingham. t Dugdale. 

J Richard II., Act I. Richard III., Act v 

1 *>T 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

The family traditions of William Shakspere; the Chronicle "of the two noble 
and illustre Families of Lancaster and York," his household book; the localities 
amidst which he dwelt ; must have concurred early in fixing his imagination 
upon the dramatic capabilities of that magnificent story which has given us a 
series of eight poetical ' Chronicle Histories,' of which a German critic has said, 
" The historian who cannot learn from them is not yet perfect in his own art."" 

* Tiock. ' Dramatnrgische Blatter. 




mp Chapel, Warwick | 



160 




(St. Mary's Hall Interior., 



CHAPTER XII. 



YOEK AND LANCASTER. 



HALL, the chronicler, writing his history of ' The Families of Lancaster and 
York/ about seventy years after the " continual dissension for the crown of this 
noble realm " was terminated, says, " What nobleman liveth at this day, or what 
gentleman of any ancient stock or progeny is clear, whose lineage hath not been 
infested and plagued with this unnatural division?" During the boyhood of 
William Shakspere, it cannot be doubted that he would meet with many a gentle 
man, and many a yeoman, who would tell him how their forefathers had been 
LIFE. M Tfll 



WILLIAM SIIAKSIM:I;I: 

thus " infested and plagued." The traditions of the most stirring events of that 
contest would at this time be about a century old ; generally diluted in their 
interest by passing through the lips of three or four generations, but occasionally 
presented vividly to the mind of the inquiring boy in the narration of some 
amongst the " hoary-headed eld," whose fathers had fought at Bosworth or 
Tewksbury. Many of these traditions, too, would be essentially local ; extend 
ing back even to the period when the banished Duke of Hereford, in his bold 
march 

" From Ravenspurg to CotawolJ," * 

gathered a host of followers in the counties of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, 
Warwick, and Worcester. Fields, where battles had been fought ; towns, where 
parliaments had assembled, and treaties had been ratified ; castles, where the 
great leaders had stood at bay, or had sallied forth upon the terrified country 
such were the objects which the young poet would associate with many an 
elaborate description of the chroniclers, and many an interesting anecdote of his 
ancient neighbours. Let us endeavour rapidly to trace such portion of the 
history of these events as may be placed in association with the localities that 
were familiar to William Shakspere ; for it appears to us that his dramatic 
power was early directed towards this long and complicated story, by some prin 
ciple even more exciting than its capabilities for the purposes of the drama. It 
was the story, we think, which was presented to him in the evening-talk around 
the hearth of his childhood ; it was the story whose written details were most 
accessible to him, being narrated by Hall with a rare minuteness of picturesque 
circumstance ; but it was a story also of which his own district had been the 
scene, in many of its most stirring events. Out of ten English Historical Plays 
which were written by him, and some undoubtedly amongst his first perform 
ances, he has devoted eight to circumstances belonging to this memorable story. 
No other nation ever possessed such a history of the events of a century, a 
history in which the agents are not the hard abstractions of warriors and states 
men, but men of flesh and blood like ourselves ; men of passion, and crime, and 
virtue ; elevated perhaps by the poetical art, but filled, also through that art, 
with such a wondrous life, that we dwell amongst them as if they were of our 
own day, and feel that they must have spoken as he has made them speak, and 
act as he has made them act. It is in vain that we are told that some events are 
omitted, and some transposed ; that documentary history does not exhibit its 
evidence here, that a contemporary narrative somewhat militates against the 
representation there. The general truth of this dramatic history cannot be 
shaken. It is a philosophical history in the very highest sense of that some 
what abused term. It contains the philosophy that can only be produced by 
the union of the noblest imagination with the most just and temperate judg 
ment. It is the loftiness of the poetical spirit which has enabled Shakspere 
alone to write this history with impartiality. Open the chroniclers, and we 

" Richard II., Act n., Scene in. 
162 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

find the prejudices of the Yorkist or the Lancastrian manifesting the intensity 
of the old factious hatred. Who can say to which faction Shakspere belongs ? 
He has comprehended the whole, whilst others knew only a part. 

After the first two or three pages of Hall's ' Chronicle/ we are plunged into 
the midst of a scene, gorgeous in all the pomp of chivalry a combat for life or 
death, made the occasion of a display of regal magnificence such as had been 
seldom presented in England. The old chronicler of the two Houses puts forth 
all his strength in the description of such scenes. He slightly passes over the 
original quarrel between Hereford and Norfolk : the pride, and the passion, and 
the kingly craft, are left for others to delineate ; but the " sumptuous theatre 
and lists royal " at The city of Coventry are set forth with wondrous exactness. 
We behold the High Constable and the High Marshal of England enter the 
lists with a great company of men in silk sendall, embroidered with silver, to 
keep the field. The Duke of Hereford appears at the barriers, on his white 
courser barbed with blue and green velvet, embroidered with swans and ante 
lopes of goldsmith's work ; and there he swears upon the Holy Evangelists that 
his quarrel is true and just ; and he enters the lists, and sits down in a chair of 
green velvet. Then comes the King, with ten thousand men in harness ; and 
he takes his seat upon a stage, richly hanged and pleasantly adorned. The 
Duke of Norfolk hovers at the entry of the lists, his horse being barbed with 
crimson velvet, embroidered with lions of silver and mulberry-trees ; and he, 
having also made oath, enters the field manfully, and sits down in his chair of 
crimson velvet. One reader of Hall's pompous description of the lists at Coventry 
will invest that scene with something richer than velvet and goldsmith's work. 
He will make the champions speak something more than the formal words of 
the chivalric defiance ; and yet the scene shall still be painted with the minutest 
ceremonial observance. We in vain look, at the present day, within the streets 
once enclosed by the walls of Coventry, for the lists where, if Richard had not 
thrown down his warder, the story of the wars of the Roses might not have been 
written. Probably in the days of the young Shakspere the precise scene of 
that event might have been pointed out. The manor of Cheylesmore, which 
was granted by Edward III. to the Black Prince for the better support of his 
honour as Duke of Cornwall, descended to his son Richard ; and in the eighth 
year of his reign, " the walls on the south part of this city being not built, the 
mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty thereof humbly besought the King to give them 
leave that they might go forward with that work, who thereupon granted 
licence to them so to do, on condition that they should include within their 
walls his said manor-place standing within the park of Cheylesmore, as the 
record expresseth, which park was a woody ground in those times."" En 
croached upon, no doubt, was this park in the age of Elizabeth. But Coventry 
would then have abundant memorials of its ancient magnificence which have 
now perished. He who wrote the glorious scene of the lists upon St. Lambert's 
day in all probability derived some inspiration from the genius loci. 

The challenger and the challenged are each banished. John of Gaunt dies, 

* Dugdale. 
M 2 163 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPKKK . 

and the King seizes upon the possessions of his dangerous son. Then begins 
that vengeance which is to harass England with a century of blood. Hal! and 
Froissart make the Duke of Lancaster, after his landing, march direct to Lon 
don, and afterwards proceed to the west of England. There can be no doubt 
that they were wrong ; that the Duke, having brought with him a very small 
force, marched as quickly as possible into the midland counties, where he had 
many castles and possessions, and in which he might raise a numerous army 
among his own friends and retainers. The local knowledge of the poet, founded 
upon traditionary information, would have enabled him to decide upon the 
correctness of the statement which shows Bolingbroke marching direct from 
Ravenspurg to Berkeley Castle. The natural and easy dialogue between 
Bolingbroke and Northumberland exhibits as much local accuracy in a single 
line as if the poet had given us a laboured description of the Cotswolds : 

" I am a stranger here in Glostershire. 
Theoe high wild hills, and rough uneven ways, 
Draw out our miles, and make them wearisome." * 

In a few weeks England sustains a revolution. The King is deposed ; the 
great Duke is on the throne. Two or three years of discontent and intrigue, 
and then insurrection. Shrewsbury can scarcely be called one of Shakspere's 
native localities, yet it is clear that he was familiar with the place. In 
Falstaff's march from London to Shrewsbury the poet glances, lovingly as it 
were, at the old well-known scenes. " The red-nosed innkeeper at Daventry " 
had assuredly filled a glass of sack for him. The distance from Coventry to 
Sutton-Coldfield was accurately known by him, when he makes the burly 
commander say " Bardolph, get thee before to Coventry ; fill me a bottle of 
sack : our soldiers shall march through : we '11 to Sutton Cophill to-night."f 
Shakspere, it seems to us, could scarcely resist the temptation of showing the 
Prince in Warwickshire: "What, Hal? How now, mad wag? What a devil 
dost thou in Warwickshire?" A word or two tells us that the poet had seen 
the field of Shrewsbury : 

" How bloodily the sun begins to peer 
Above yon busky hill ! " 

The Chronicle informs us that Henry had marched with a great army towards 
Wales to encounter Percy and Douglas, who were coming from the north to 
join with Glendower ; and then, " The King, hearing of the Earls' approaching, 
thought it policy to encounter with them before that the Welshman should 
join with their army, and so include him on both parts, and therefore returned 
suddenly to the town of Shrewsbury. He was scantly entered into the town, 

Richard II., Act ii., Scene m. 

+ All the old copies of The First Part of Henry IV. have Cop-hill. There is no doubt that 
Sutton Coldjuld, as it is now spelt, was meant by Cop-hill; but the old printers, we believe, im 
properly introduced the hyphen ; for Dugdale, in his map, spells the word Cofeild; and it is easy to 
see how the common pronunciation would be Cophill, or Cofill. 
164 



> 




[Shrewsbury.] 

but he was by his posts advertised that the Earls, with banners displayed and 
battles ranged, were coming toward him, and were so hot and so courageous 
that they with light horses began to skirmish with his host. The King, per 
ceiving their doings, issued out, and encamped himself without the east gate 
of the town. The Earls, nothing abashed although their succours them deceived, 
embattled themselves not far from the King's army." There was a night of 
watchfulness ; and then, " the next day in the morning early, which was the 
vigil of Mary Magdalen, the King, perceiving that the battle was nearer than 
he either thought or looked for, lest that long tarrying might be a minishing 
of his strength, set his battles in good order." The scene of this great contest 
is well defined ; the King has encamped himself without the east gate of 
Shrewsbury. The poet, by one of his magical touches, shows us the sun rising 
upon the hostile armies ; but he is more minute than the chronicler. The 
King is looking eastward, and he sees the sun rising over a wooded hill. This 
is not only poetical, but it is true. He who stands upon the plain on the east 
side of Shrewsbury, the Battle Field as it is now called, waiting, not " a long 
hour by Shrewsbury clock," but waiting till the minute 

" when the morning sun shall raise his car 
Above the border of this horizon," 

will see that sun rise over a " busky hill," Haughmond Hill. We may well 



- Henry VI., Part III. ; Act IV., Scene VIL 



1C5 



WILLIAM sn \KSI-I: 1:1: : 

believe therefore, from this accuracy, that Shrewsbury had lent a local interest 
in the mind of Shakspere to the dramatic conception of the death-scene of the 
gallant Percy. Insurrection was not crushed at Shrewsbury ; but the course 
of its action does not lie in the native district of the poet. Yet his Falstart 
has an especial affection for these familiar scenes, and perhaps through him 
the poet described some of the " old familiar faces." Shallow and Silence 
assuredly they were his good neighbours. We think there was a tear in his 
eye when he wrote, " And is old Double dead ? " Mouldy, and Shadow, and 
Wart, and Feeble were they not the representatives of the valiant men of 
Stratford, upon whom the Corporation annually expended large sums for 
harness? After the treacherous putting down of rebellion at Gualtree Forest, 
Falstaff casts a longing look towards the fair seat of " Master Robert Shallow, 
Esquire." " My lord, I beseech you give me leave to go through Gloucester 
shire." We are not now far out of the range of Shakspere's youthful journeys 
around Stratford. Shallow will make the poor carter answer it in his wages 
" about the sack he lost the other day at Hinckley Fair." " William Visor of 
Wincot," that arrant knave who, according to honest and charitable Davy 
" should have some countenance at his friend's request," was he a neighbour 
of Christopher Sly's " fat ale-wife of Wincot ; " and did they dwell together in 
the Wincot of the parish of Aston-Clifford, or the Wilmecote of the parish of 
Aston-Cantlow ? The chroniclers are silent upon this point ; and they tell us 
nothing of the history of " Clement Perkes of the Hill." The chroniclers deal 
with less happy and less useful sojourners on the earth. Even " gooaman 
Puff of Barson," one of " the greatest men in the realm," has no fame beyond 
the immortality which Master Silence has bestowed upon him. 

The four great historical dramas which exhibit the fall of Richard II., the 
triumph of Bolingbroke, the inquietudes of Henry IV., the wild career of his 
son ending in a reign of chivalrous daring and' victory, were undoubtedly 
written after the four other plays of which the great theme was the war of the 
Roses. The local associations which might have influenced the young poet in 
the choice of the latter subject would be concentrated, in a great degree, upon 
Warwick Castle. The hero of these wars was unquestionably Richard Neville. 
It was a Beauchamp who fought at Agincourt in that goodly company who 
were to be remembered " to the ending of the world," 

" Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, 

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester." 

He ordained in his will that in his chapel at Warwick " three masses every day 
should be sung as long as the world might endure." The masses have long 
since ceased ; but his tomb still stands, and he has a memorial that will last 
longer than his tomb. The chronicler passes over his fame at Agincourt, but 
the dramatist records it. Did the poet's familiarity with those noble towers in 
which the Beauchamp had lived suggest this honour to his memory ? But 
here, at any rate, was the stronghold of the Neville. Here, when the land was 
at peace in the dead sleep of weak government, which was to be succeeded by 
1C6 




[Entrance to Warwick Castle.] 



fearful action, the great Earl dwelt with more than a monarch's pomp, having 
his own officer-at-arms called Warwick herald, with hundreds of friends and 
dependants bearing about his badge of the ragged staff; for whose boundless 
hospitality there was daily provision made as for the wants of an army ; whose 
manors and castles and houses were to be numbered in almost every county ; 
and who not only had pre-eminence over every Earl in the land, but, as Great 
Captain of the Sea, received to his own use the King's tonnage and poundage. 
When William Shakspere looked upon this castle in his youth, a peaceful Earl 
dwelt within it, the brother of the proud Leicester the son of the ambitious 
Northumberland who had suffered death in the attempt to make Lady Jane 
Grey queen, but whose heir had been restored in blood by Mary. Warwick 
Castle, in the reign of Elizabeth, was peaceful as the river which glided by it, 
the most beautiful of fortress palaces. No prisoners lingered in its donjon 
keep ; the beacon blazed not upon its battlements, the warder looked not 
anxiously out to see if all was quiet on the road from Kenilworth ; the draw 
bridge was let down for the curious stranger, and he might refresh himself in the 
buttery without suspicion. . Here, then, might the young poet gather from the 
old servants of the house some of the traditions of a century previous, when the 
followers of the great Earl were ever in fortress or in camp, and for a while there 
seemed to be no king in England, but the name of Warwick was greater than 
that of kin" Here, in the quiet woods and launds of this castle, or stretched 

167 



WILLIAM SHAKSI'I 

on the bank of his own Avon beneath its high walls, might he have imagined, 
without the authority of any chronicler, that scene in the Temple Gardens 
which was to connect the story of the wars in France with the coming events 
in England. In this scene the Earl of Warwick first plucks the " white rose 
with Plantagenet ; " and it is Warwick who prophesies what is to come : 

" This brawl to-day 

Grown to this faction, in the Temple garden, 
Shall send, between the red rose and the white, 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night." * 

In the connected plays which form the Three Parts of Henry VI., the Earl 
of Warwick, with some violation of chronological accuracy, is constantly brought 
forward in a prominent situation. When the " brave peers of England " unite 
in denouncing the marriage of Henry with Margaret of Anjou, the Earl of 
Salisbury says to his bold heir : 

" Warwick, my son, the comfort of my age, 

Thy deeds, thy plainness, and thy housekeeping, 
Hath won the greatest favour of the Commons."t 

In a subsequent scene, Beaufort calls him " ambitious Warwick." A scene or 
two onward, and Warwick, after privately acknowledging the title of Richard 
Duke of York, exclaims 

" My heart assures me that the earl of Warwick 
Shall one day make the duke of York a king." 



Henry VI., Part I., Act ir., Scene iv. 



t Henry VI., Part II., Act n., Scene 




[Warwick, from Lodge Hill.1 



1G8 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

It is he, the " blunt-witted lord," that defies Suffolk, and sets the men of Bury 
upon him to demand his banishment. It is he who stands by the bed of the 
dying Beaufort, judging that 

" So bad a death argues a monstrous life." 

All this is skilfully managed by the dramatist, to keep Warwick constantly 
before the eyes of his audience, before he is embarked in the great contest for 
the crown. The poet has given Warwick an early importance, which the 
chroniclers of the age do not assign to him. He is dramatically correct in so 
doing ; but, at the same time", his judgment might in some degree have been 
governed by the strength of local associations. Once embarked in the great 
quarrel, Warwick is the presiding genius of the scene : 

" Now, by my father's badge, old Neva's crest, 
The rampant bear chain'd to the ragged staif, 
This day I '11 wear aloft my burgonet, 
As on a mountain-top the cedar shows 
That keeps his leaves in spite of any storm." * 

The sword is first unsheathed in that battle-field of St. Albans. After three or 
four years of forced quiet it is 'again drawn. The " she-wolf of France " plunges 
her fangs into the blood of York at Wakefield, after Warwick has won the great 
battle of Northampton. The crown is achieved by the son of York at the field 
of Towton, where 

" Warwick rages like a chafed bull." 

The poet necessarily hurries over events which occupy a large space in the 
narratives of the historian. The rash marriage of Edward provokes the resent 
ment of Warwick, and his power is now devoted to set up the fallen house of 
Lancaster. Shakspere is then again in his native localities. After the battle 
of Banbury, according to the chronicler, "the northern men resorted toward 
Warwick, where the Earl had gathered a great multitude of people. ...... 

The King likewise, sore thirsting to recover his loss late sustained, and desirous 
to be revenged of the death and murders of his lords and friends, marched 
toward Warwick with a great army. . .'.. All the King's doings were by espials 
declared to the Earl of Warwick, which, like a wise and politic captain, intend 
ing not to lose so great an advantage to him given, but trusting to bring all his 
purposes to a final end and determination, by only obtaining this enterprise, 
in the dead of the night, with an elect company of men of war, as secretly a 
was possible set on the King's field, killing them that kept the watch, and 
the King was ware (for he thought of nothing less than of that chance that 
happened), at a place called Wolney (Wolvey), four mile from Warwick, he was 
taken prisoner, and brought to the Castle of Warwick."t The statement that 
Wolvey is four miles from Warwick is one of many examples of the mace 
of the old annalists in matters of distance. It is upon the borders o: 

* Henry VI., Part II., Act v., Scene HI. t Hall. 



WILLIAM SII.\KS!'I:I;K: 

shire, Coventry lying equidistant between Wolvey and Warwick. Shakspore 
has dramatized the scene of Edward's capture. Edward escapes from Middle- 
ham Castle, and, after a short banishment, lands again with a few followers in 
England, to place himself again upon the throne, by a movement which has only 
one parallel in history.* Shakspere describes his countrymen, in the speech 
which the great Earl delivers for the encouragement of Henry : 

" In Warwickshire I have true-hearted friends, 
Xot mutinous in peace, yet bold in war; 
Those will I muster up." 

Henry is again seized by the Yorkists. Warwick, " the great-grown traitor,'-' 
is at the head of his native forces. The local knowledge of the poet is now 
rapidly put forth in the scene upon the walls of Coventry : 

" War. Where is the post that comes from valiant Oxford ? 
How far hence is thy lord, mine honest fellow ? 

1 Mess. By this at Dunsmore, marching thitherward. 
War. How far off is our brother Montague ? 

Where is the post that came from Montague ? 

2 Mess. By this at Daintry, with a puissant troop. 

Enter Sir JOHN SOMERVILLE. 

War. Say, Somerville, what says my loving son ? 
And, by thy guess, how nigh is Clarence now ? 

Som. At Southam. I did leave him with his forces, 
And do expect him here some two hours hence. 

[Drum heard. 

War. Then Clarence is at hand, I hear his drum. 

Som. It is not his, my lord ; here Soutkam lies ; 
The drum your honour hears marcheth from Warwick." f 

The chronicler tells the great event of the encounter of the two leaders at 
Coventry, which the poet has so spiritedly dramatized : " In the mean season 
King Edward came to Warwick, where he found all the people departed, and 
from thence with all diligence advanced his power toward Coventry, and in a 
plain by the city he pitched his field. And the next day after that he came 
thither his men were set forward and marshalled in array, and he valiantly 
bade the Earl battle : which, mistrusting that he should be deceived by the Duke 
of Clarence, as he was indeed, kept himself close within the walls. And yet 
he had perfect word that the Duke of Clarence came forward toward him with 
a great army. King Edward, being also thereof informed, raised his camp, and 
made toward the Duke. And lest that there might be thought some fraud to 
be cloaked between them, the King set his battles in an order, as though he 
would fight without any longer delay ; the Duke did likewise." J Then " a 

The landing of Bonaparte from Elba, and Edward at Ravenspurg, are remarkably similar in 
their rapidity and their boldness, though very different in their final consequences. 
+ Henry VI., Part III, Act v., Scene i. 
J Hall. 

170 




[St. Mary's Hall Street Front.] 



fraternal amity was concluded and proclaimed," which was the ruin of War 
wick, and of the House of Lancaster. Ten years before these events, in the 
Parliament held in this same city of Coventry a city which had received 
great benefits from Henry VI. York, and Salisbury, and Warwick had been 
attainted. And now Warwick held the city for him who had in that same city 
denounced him as a traitor. With store of ordnance, and warlike equipments, 
had the great Captain lain in this city for a few weeks ; and he was honoured 
as one greater than either of the rival Kings one who could bestow a crown 
and who could take a crown away ; and he sate in state in the old halls of 
Coventry, and prayers went up for^his cause in its many churches, and the 
proud city's municipal officers were as his servants. He marched out of the 
city with his forces, after Palm Sunday; and on Easter-day the quarrel between 
him and the perjured Clarence and the luxurious Edward was settled for ever 
upon Barnet Field : 

" Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge, 

Whose rms gave shelter to the princely eagle ; 
Under v/hose shade the raui{ iDg lion slept ; 

17! 



\vn.i.i \M 

Whose top-braucli overjR'er'd Jove's spreading f.ret 1 , 
Aud kept low shrubs from winter's powerful wind." ' 

The Battle of Barnet was fought on the 14th of April, 1471. Sir John 
Paston, a stout Lancastrian, writes to his mother from London on the 18th of 
April : " As for other tidings, it is understood here that the Queen Margaret 
is verily landed, and her son, in the west country, and I trow that as to-morrow, 
or else the next day, the King Edward will depart from hence to her ward to 
drive her out again. "f .Sir John Paston, himself in danger of his head, seems 
to hint that the landing of Queen Margaret will again change the aspect of 
things. Tn sixteen days the Battle of Tewksbury was fought. This is the 
great crowning event of the terrible struggle of sixteen years ; and the scenes 
at Tewksbury are amongst the most spirited of these dramatic pictures. We 
may readily believe that Shakspere had looked upon the " fair park adjoining 
to the town," where the Duke of Somerset " pitched his field, against the will 
and consent of many other captains which would that he should have drawn 
aside;" and that he had also thought of the unhappy end of the gallant Prince 
Edward, as he stood in " the church of the Monastery of Black Monks in 
Tewksbury," where " his body was homely interred with the other simple 



corses. 



Henry VI., Part III., Act V., Scene n. 
f ' Paston Letters,' edited by A. Ramsay, vol. ii., p. 60. 



I Hall. 




ITewksl.uiy. , 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

There were twelve years of peace between the Battle of Tewksbury and the 
death of Edward IV. Then came the history which Hall entitles, ' The 
Pitiful Life of King Edward the Fifth,' and ' The Tragical Doings of King 
Richard the Third.' The last play of the series which belongs to the wars of 
the Roses is unquestionably written altogether with a more matured power 
than those which preceded it ; yet the links which connect it with the other 
three plays of the series are so unbroken, the treatment of character is so con 
sistent, and the poetical conception of the whole so uniform, that, whatever 
amount of criticism may be yet in store to show that our view is incorrect, we 
now confidently speak of them all as the plays of Shakspere, and of Shakspere 
alone.* Matured, especially in its wonderful exhibition of character, as the 
Richard III. is, we cannot doubt that the subject was very early familiar to 
the young poet's mind. The Battle of Bosworth Field was the great event of 
his own locality, which for a century had fixed the government of England. 
The course of the Reformation, and especially the dissolution of the Monasteries, 
had produced great social changes, which were in operation at the time in 
which William Shakspere was born ; whose effects, for good and for evil, he 
must have seen working around him, as he grew from year to year in know 
ledge and experience. But those events were too recent, and indeed of too 
delicate a nature, to assume the poetical aspect in his mind. They abided still 
in the region of prejudice and controversy. It was dangerous to speak of the 
great religious divisions of the kingdom with a tolerant impartiality. History 
could scarcely deal with these opinions in a spirit of justice. Poetry, thus, 
which has regard to what is permanent and universal, has passed by these 
matters, important as they are. But the great event which placed the Tudor 
family on the throne, and gave England a stable government, however occa 
sionally distracted by civil and religious division, was an event which would 
seize fast upon such a mind as that of William Shakspere. His ancestor, there 
can be little doubt, had been an adherent of the Earl of Richmond. For his 
faithful services to the conqueror at Bosworth he was rewarded, as we are 
assured, by lands in Warwickshire. That field of Bosworth would therefore 
have to him a family as well as a local interest. Burton, the historian of 
Leicestershire, who was born about ten years after William Shakspere, tells 
us " that his great-great-grandfather, John Hardwick, of Lindley, near Bos 
worth, a man of very short stature, but active and courageous, tendered his 
service to Henry, with some troops of horse, the night he lay at Atherston, 
became his guide to the field, advised him in the attack, and how to profit by 
the sun and by the wind."f Burton further says, writing in 1622, that the in 
habitants living around the plain called Bosworth Field, more properly the plain 
of Sutton, " have many occurrences and passages yet fresh in memory, by 
reason that some persons thereabout, which saw the battle fought, were living 
within less than forty years, of which persons myself have seen some, and have 

* See our ' Essay on the Three Parts of King Henry VI., and King Richard III.' 
f Button's ' Bosworth Field.' 

173 



WILLIAM SIIAK>IT.I;I: . 

heard of their disclosures, though related by the second hand." This " living 
within less than forty years " would take us back to about the period which we 
are now viewing in relation to the life of Shakspere. But certainly there is 
something over- marvellous in Burton's story, to enable us to think that William 
Shakspere, even as a very young boy, could have conversed with " some persons 
thereabout " who had seen a battle fought in 1485. That, as Burton more 
reasonably of himself says, he might have " heard their discourses at second 
hand " is probable enough. Bosworth Field is about thirty miles from Strat 
ford. Burton says that the plain derives its name from Bosworth, " not that 
this battle was fought at this place (it being fought in a large, flat plain, and 
spacious ground, three miles distant from this town, between the towns of 
Shenton, Sutton, Dadlington, and Stoke) ; but for that this town was the most 
worthy town of note near adjacent, and was therefore called Bosworth Field. 
That this battle was fought in this plain appeareth by many remarkable 
places : By a little mount cast up, where the common report is, that at the 
first beginning of the battle Henry Earl of Richmond made his parsenetical 
oration to his army ; by divers pieces of armour, weapons, and other warlike 
accoutrements, and by many arrowheads here found, whereof, about twenty 
years since, at the enclosure of the lordship of Stoke, great store were digged 
up, of which some I have now (1622) in my custody, being of a long, large, 
and big proportion, far greater than any now in use ; as also by relation of the 
inhabitants, who have many occurrences and passages yet fresh in memory."* 
Burton goes on to tell two stories connected with the eventful battle. The 
one was the vision of King Richard, of " divers fearful ghosts running about 
him, not suffering him to take any rest, still crying ' Revenge.' " Hall relates 
the tradition thus : " The fame went that he had the same night a dreadful 
and a terrible dream, for it seemed to him, being asleep, that he saw divers 
images like terrible devils, not suffering him to take any quiet or rest." Burton 
says, previous to his description of the dream, " The vision is reported to be in 
this manner." And certainly his account of the fearful ghosts "still crying 
Revenge " is essentially different from that of the chronicler. Shakspere has 
followed the more poetical account of the old local historian ; which, however, 
could not have been known to him : 

" Methought the souls of all that I have murther'd 
Came to my teut : and every one did threat 
To-morrow's vengeance on the head of Richard." 

Did Shakspere obtain his notion from the same source as Burton from " rela 
tion of the inhabitants who have many occurrences and passages yet fresh in 
memory ? " The topographer has another story, not quite so poetical, which 
the dramatist does not touch : " It was foretold, that if ever King Richard did 
come to meet his adversary in a place that was compassed with towns whose 
termination was in ton (what number is adjacent may, by the map, be per 

* From Burton's Manuscripts, quoted by Mr. Nicholls. 
174 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

ceived), that there he should come to great distress ; or else, upon the same 
occasion, did happen to lodge at a place beginning and ending with the same 
syllable of An (as this of Anbiari), that there he should lose his life, to expiate 
that wicked murder of his late wife Anne, daughter and coheir of Richard 
Neville Earl of Salisbury and Warwick." This is essentially a local tradition. 
The prediction and the vision were in all likelihood rife in Sutton, and Shenton, 
and Sibson, and Coton, and Dadlington, and Stapleton, and Atherston, in the 
days of Shakspere's boyhood. Anbian, or Ambiam, a small wood, is in the centre 
of the plain called Bosworth Field. Tradition has pointed out a hillock where 
Richard harangued his army ; and also a little spring, called King Richard's 
Well. Dr. Parr, about forty years ago, found out a well " in dirty, mossy ground," 
in the midst of this plain ; and then a Latin inscription was to be set up to 
enlighten the peasantry of the district, and to preserve the memory of the spot 
for all time. Two words about the well in Shakspere would have given it a 
better immortality. 

King Henry is crowned upon the Field of Bosworth. According to the Chro 
nicler, Lord Stanley " took the crown of King Richard, which was found amongst 
the spoil in the field, and set it on the Earl's head, as though he had been 
elected king by the voice of the people, as in ancient times past in divers realms 
it hath been accustomed." Then, " the same night in the evening King Henry 
with great pomp came to the town of Leicester," where he rested two days. " In 
the mean season the dead corpse of King Richard was as shamefully carried to 
the town of Leicester, as he gorgeously the day before with pomp and pride 
departed out of the said town." 

Years roll on. There was another conqueror, not by arms but by peaceful 
intellect, who had once moved through the land in " pomp and pride," but who 
came to Leicester in humility and heaviness of heart. The victim of a shifting 
policy and of his own ambition, Wolsey, found a grave at Leicester scarcely 
more honourable than that of Richard : 

" At last, with easy roads, he came to Leicester, 
Lodg'd in the abbey ; where the reverend abbot, 
With all his convent, honourably receiv'd him ; 
To whom he gave these words : ' 0, father abbot, 
An old man, broken with the storms of state, 
Is come to lay his weary bones among ye ; 
Give him a little earth for charity ! ' 
So went to bed ; where eagerly his sickness 
Pursued him still ; and three nights after this, 
About the hour of eight, (which he himself 
Foretold should be his last,) full of repentance, 
Continual meditations, tears, and sorrows, 
He gave his honours to the world again, 
His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace." * 



* Henry VIII., Act IV., Scene II. 

175 



WILLIAM SIIAUSIT.I.'i: 



Wolsey is the hero of Shakspere's last liistorical play ; and evi-u in this history, 
large as it is, and belonging to the philosophical period of the poet's life, we may 
trace something of the influence of the principle of Local Association. 







[Leicester. ; 




Eveshara. The Bell Tower. 



CHAPTER XIII. 



BUINS, NOT OF TIME, 



" High towers, fair temples, goodly theatres, 
Strong walla, rich porches, princely palaces, 
Large streets, brave houses, sacred sepulchres, 
Sure gates, sweet gardens, stately galleries, 
Wrought with fair pillars and fine imageries ; 
All these, O pity J now are turn'd to dust, 
And overgrown with black oblivion's rust." 

SUCH is Spenser's noble description of what was once the " goodly Verlam." 
These were " The Ruins of Time." But within sixteen miles of Stratford 
would the young Shakspcre gaze in awe and wonder upon ruins more solemn 
than any produced by " time's decay." The ruins of Evesham were the fearful 
LIFE. N 177 



WILLIAM >IIAKSI'Ll;l. : 

monuments of a political revolution which William Shakspere himself had not 
seen ; but which, in the boyhood of his father, had shaken the land like an 
earthquake, and, toppling down its " high steeples," had made many 

" An heap of lime and sand, 
For the screech-owl to build her baleful bower." 

Such were the ruins he looked upon, cumbering the ground where, forty years 
before, stood the magnificent abbey whose charters reached back to the days of 
the Kings of Mercia. 

The last great building of the Abbey of Evesham is the only one properly 
belonging to the monastery which has escaped destruction. The campanile 
which formed an entrance to the conventual cemetery was commenced by Abbot 
Lichfield in 1533. In 1539 the good abbot resigned the office which he had 
held for twenty-six years. His successor was placed in authority for a few 
months to carry on the farce which was enacting through the kingdom, of a 
voluntary grant and surrender of all the remaining possessions of the religious 
houses, which preceded the Act of 1539 "for dissolution of abbeys." Leland, 
who visited the place within a year or two after the suppression, " rambling to 
and fro in this nation, and in making researches into the bowels of antiquity,"* 
says, " In the town is no hospital, or other famous foundation, but t/ie late 
abbey." The destruction must indeed have been rapid. The house and site 
of the monastery were granted to Philip Hobby, with a remarkable exception ; 
namely, " all the bells and lead of the church and belfry." The roof of this 
magnificent fabric thus went first ; and in a few years the walls became a stone- 
quarry. Fuller, writing about a century afterwards, says of the abbey, " By a 
long lease it was in the possession of one Mr. Andrewes, father and son ; whose 
grandchild, living now at Berkhampstead in Hertfordshire, hath better thriven, 
by God's blessing on his own industry, than his father and grandfather did with 
Evesham Abbey ; the sale of the stones whereof he imputeth a cause of their 
ill success. "f All was swept away. The abbey-church, with its sixteen altars, 
and its hundred and sixty-four gilded pillars, J its chapter-house, its cloisters, 
its library, refectory, dormitory, buttery, and treasury ; its almery, granary, 
and storehouse ; all the various buildings for the service of the church, and for 
the accommodation of eighty-nine religious inmates and sixty-five servants, 
were, with a few exceptions, ruins in the time of William Shakspere. Habing- 
don, who has left a manuscript ' Survey of Worcestershire,' written about two 
centuries ago, says, " Let us but guess what this monastery now dissolved was 
in former days by the gate-house yet remaining ; which, though deformed with 
age, is as large and stately as any at this time in the kingdom." That gateway 
has since perished. Of the great mass of the conventual buildings Habingdon 
states that nothing was left beyond " a huge deal of rubbish overgrown with 
grass." One beautiful gateway, however, formerly the entrance to the chapter 
house, yet remains even to our day. .It admits us to a large garden, now let 

Wood, 'Athenae Oxon.' + Church History. 

+ Dugdale's ' Monaaticou," ed. 1819, vol. ii., p. 12. 
178 




out in small allotments to poor and industrious inhabitants of Evesham. The 
change is very striking. The independent possession of a few roods of land 
may perhaps bestow as much comfort upon the labourers of Evesham as their 
former dependence upon the conventual buttery. But we cannot doubt that, 
for a long course of years, the sudden and violent dissolution of that great 
abbey must have produced incalculable poverty and wretchedness. Its 
princely revenues were seized upon by the heartless despot, to be applied to 
his unbridled luxury and his absurd wars. The same process of destruction 
and appropriation was carried on throughout the country. The Church, 
always a gentle landlord, was succeeded in its possessions by the grasping 
creatures of the Crown ; the almsgiving of the religious houses was at an 
end ; and then came the age of vagabondage and of poor-laws. The general 
effects of the dissolution of the abbeys have been well described by Edmund 
Howes : 

" In the time of Henry VIII. the clergy was exceeding rich and power 
ful, and were endowed with wondrous stately palaces and great possessions, so 
as in every city, and county, and towns corporate, and in very many remote 
places, then were very strong and sumptuous houses for religious persons : as 
abbeys', priories, friaries, monks regular, minories, chantries, nunneries, and 
such-like ; at which time the clergy grew proud, negligent, and secure, presum 
ing, like the Knights Templars, upon their proper greatness, as well in regard 
of the reasons aforesaid, as that every Lord Abbot and Lord Prior that wore 
mitre sat in the upper Parliament and had free voices, as Barons, subsistent 
with the Bishops. The Lords, and Ladies Abbesses, of which houses were 
usually of noble birth, and sometime of the blood royal, as well women as men ; 
for by this time, through the charitable devotion and special affection of former 
kings, princes, peers, and common people, the monasteries were so much 
increased, gloriously builded and adorned, and plenteously endowed with large 
privileges, possessions, and all things necessary. Albeit they relieved the poor, 
and raised no rents, nor took excessive fines, yet they many ways neglected 
N 2 !7ft 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

their duty to God and man, being verily persuaded their estate and safety to 
be more safe and secure than ever was any condition of people, becauss their 
houses were repaired, their rents increased, their churches new builded and 
beautified, even to the very day of their general dissolution, which came sud 
denly upon them, like the universal deluge. For, whilst the religious persons 
thus flattered and secured themselves, the King obtained the ecclesiastical 
supremacy into his particular possession, and therewithal had power given him 
by Parliament, to survey and reform the abuses of all those houses and persons 
above said : but the King, because he would go the next way to work, over 
threw them, razed them ; many ruins of them remain a testimony thereof to this 
day : whereat many of the peers and common people murmured, because they 
expected that the abuses should have been only reformed, and the rest have 
still remained. The general plausible project which caused the Parliament 
consent unto the reformation or alteration of the monasteries was that the 
King's exchequer should for ever be enriched, the kingdom and nobility 
strengthened and increased, and the common subjects acquainted [acquitted] 
and freed from all former services and taxes, to wit, that the abbots, monks, 
friars, and ntms, being suppressed, that then in their places should be created 
forty earls, threescore barons, and three thousand knights, and forty thousand 
soldiers, with skilful captains, and competent maintenance for them all, ever 
out of the ancient churches' revenues, so as, in so doing, the King and succes 
sors should never want of treasure of their own, nor have cause to be beholding 
to the common subjects, neither should the people be any more charged with 
loans, subsidies, and fifteens. Since which time, there have been more statute- 
laws, subsidies, and fifteens than five hundred years before. And not long 
after that the King had subsidies granted, and borrowed great sums of money, 
and died in debt, and the forenamed religious houses were utterly ruinated, 
whereat the clergy, peers, and common people were all sore grieved, but could 
not help it."* 

The sense which we justly entertain of the advantages of the Reformation has 
accustomed us to shut our eyes to the tremendous evils which must have been 
produced by the iniquitous spoliations of the days of Henry VIII. and Edward 
VI. The religious houses, whatever might have been their abuses, were centres 
of civilization. Leland says, " There was no town at Evesham before the found 
ation of the abbey." Wherever there was a well-endowed religious house, 
there was a large and a regular expenditure, employing the local industry in 
the way best calculated to promote the happiness of the population. Under 
this expenditure, not only did handicrafts flourish, but the arts were encouraged 
in no inconsiderable degree. The commissioners employed to take surrender 
of the monasteries in Warwickshire reported of the nunnery of Polsworth, 
" that in this town were then forty-four tenements, and but one plough, the 
residue of the inhabitants being artificers, who had their livelihood by this 
house."f In another place Dugdale says, " Nor is it a little observable that, 
whilst the monasteries stood, there was no act for relief of the poor, so amply 

Continuation of Stow'a ' Chronicle.' f Dugdale's ' Warwickshire,' p. 800. 

ISO 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

did those houses give succour to them that were in want ; whereas in the next 
age, namely 39th of Elizabeth, no less than eleven bills were brought into the 
House of Commons for that purpose."* We have little doubt that the judi 
cious encouragement of industry in the immediate neighbourhood of each 
monastery did a great deal more to render a state provision for the poor unne 
cessary than the accustomed " succour to those who were in want." The bene 
volence of the religious houses was systematic and uniform. It was not the 
ostentatious and improvident almsgiving which would raise up an idle pauper 
population upon their own lands. The poor, as far as we can judge from the 
acts of law-makers, did not become a curse to the country, and were not dealt 
with in the spirit of a detestable severity, until the law-makers had dried up 
the sources of their profitable industry. Leland, writing immediately after 
the dissolution of the Abbey of Evesham, says of the town that it is " meetly 
large and well builded with timber ; the market-sted is fair and large ; there 
be divers pretty streets in the town." While the abbey stood there was an 
annual disbursement there going forward which has been computed to be equal 
to eighty thousand pounds of our present money. f The revenues, principally 

* Dugdale's ' Warwickshire/ p. 803. 
t ' History of Evesham,' by George May. A remarkably intelligent local guide. 







[The Parish Churches, Evesham-l 



131 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKIU: : 

derived from manors and tenements in eight different counties, are seized upon 
by the Crown. The site of the abbey is sold or granted to a private person, 
who will derive his immediate advantage by the rapid destruction of a pile of 
buildings which the piety and magnificence of five or six centuries had been 
rearing. More than a hundred and fifty inmates of this monastery are turned 
loose upon the world, a few with miserable pensions, but the greater number 
reduced to absolute indigence. Half the population at least of the town of 
Evesham must have derived a subsistence from the expenditure of these in 
mates, and this fountain is now almost wholly dried up. In the youth of 
William Shakspere it is impossible that Evesham could have been other than a 
ruined and desolate place. Not only would its monastic buildings be destroyed, 
but its houses would be untenanted and dilapidated ; its reduced population 
idle and dispirited. Its two beautiful parish churches, situated close to the 
precincts of the abbey, escaped the common destruction of 1539 ; but till 
within the last seven years that of St. Lawrence had been long disused, and 
had fallen into ruin. It is now restored ; for after three centuries of destruc 
tion and neglect we have begun to cherish some respect for what remains of our 
noble ecclesiastical edifices. 

The act for the suppression of the smaller religious houses (27th Henry 
VIII.) recites that "manifest sin, vicious, carnal, and abominable living, is 
daily used and committed amongst the little and small abbeys, priories, and 
other religious houses." But in suppressing and confiscating all such small 
houses, whose annual expenditure is not two hundred pounds, the same statute 
affirms that, in the "great solemn monasteries of this realm, thanks be to God, 
religion is right well kept and observed." The smaller houses were destroyed, 
according to the statute, through the ardent desire of the King's most royal 
majesty for " the increase, advancement, and exaltation of true doctrine and 
virtue in the said church." And yet, in four years, the " great solemn 
monasteries of this realm, wherein, thanks be to God, religion is right well kept 
and observed," were also utterly suppressed and annihilated, under the pre 
tence that they had been voluntarily surrendered to the King. It was the 
policy of the unscrupulous reformers who, whatever service they may ulti 
mately have worked in the destruction of superstitious observances, were, as 
politicians, the most dishonest and rapacious it was their policy, when (to 
use their own heartless cant) they had driven away the crows and destroyed 
their nests, to heap every opprobrium upon the heads of the starving and 
houseless brethren, of whom it has been computed that fifty thousand were 
wandering through the land. The young Shakspere was in all probability 
brought into contact with some of the aged men who had been driven from 
the peaceful homes of their youth, where they had been brought up in scholastic 
exercises, and had looked forward to advance in honourable office, each in his 
little world. Some one of the Grey Friars of Coventry, or the Benedictines of 
Evesham, must he have encountered, hovering round the scenes of their ancient 
prosperity ; sheltered perhaps in the cottage of some old servant who could 
labour with his hands, and upon whom the common misfortune therefore had 
183 




[Old Houses, Evesham.] 

fallen lightly. The friars of the future great dramatist would, of necessity, be 
characters formed either out of his early observation, or moulded according to 
the general impressions of his early associates. In his mature life the race 
would be extinct. These his dramatic representations are wonderfully consist 
ent ; and it is manifest that he looked upon the persecuted order with pity and 
with respect. It was for Chaucer to satirize the monastic life in the days of its 
greatness and abundance. It was for this rare painter of manners to show the 
grasping, dissimulating friar, sitting down upon the churl's bench, and endea 
vouring to frighten or wheedle the bed-ridden man out of his money : 

" Thomas, nought of your tresor I desire 
As for myself, but that all our covent 
To pray for you is aye so diligent." 

The ridicule in those times of the Church's pride might be salutary ; but other 
days had come. The most just and tolerant moralist that ever helped to dis 
encumber men of their hatreds and prejudices has consistently endeavoured to 
represent the monastic character as that of virtue and benevolence. One of 
Shakspere's earliest plays is Romeo and Juliet ; and many of the rhymed por 
tions of that delicious tragedy might have been the desultory compositions of a 
very young poet, to be hereafter moulded into the dramatic form. Such is the, 
graceful soliloquy which first introduces Friar Lawrence. The kind old man 
going forth from his cell in the morning twilight to fill his osier basket with 
weeds and flowers, and moralizing on the properties of plants which at once 
yield poison and medicine, has all the truth of individual portraiture. But 
Friar Lawrence is also the representative *of a class. The Infirmarist of a mo 
nastic house, who had charge of the sick brethren, was often in the early days 
of medical science their sole physician. The book-knowledge and the expe- 

183 



WILLIAM SHAKRPERE : 

rience of such a valuable member of a conventual body would still allow him 
to exercise useful functions when thrust into the world ; and the young Sliak- 
spere may have known some kindly old man, full of axiomatic wisdom, and 
sufficiently confident in his own management, like the well-meaning Friar Law 
rence. In Much Ado about Nothing, it is the friar who, when Hero is unjustly 
accused by him who should have been hor husband, vindicates her reputation 
with as much sagacity as charitable zeal : 

" I have mnrk'd 

A thousand blushing apparitions start 
Into her face ; a thousand innocent shames 
In angel whiteness bear away those blushes ; 
And in her eye there hath appear'd a fire, 
To burn the errors that these princes hold 
Against her maiden truth : Call me a fool ; 
Trust not my reading, nor my observations, 
Which with experimental seal doth warrant 
Th,e tenor of my book ; trust not my age, 
My reverence, calling, nor divinity, 
If this sweet lady lie not guiltless here 
Under some biting error." 

In Measure for Measure the whole plot is carried on by the Duke assuming the 
reverend manners, ami professing the active benevolence, of a friar ; and his 
agents and confidants are Friar Thomas and Friar Peter. In an age when the 
prejudices of the multitude were flattered and stimulated by abuse and ridicule 
of the ancient ecclesiastical character, Shakspere always exhibits it so as to 
command respect and affection. The poisoning of King John by a monk, " a 
resolved villain," is despatched by him with little more than an allusion. The 
Germans believe that Shakspere wrote the Old King John, in two Parts. The 
vulgar exaggeration of the basest calumnies against the monastic character 
satisfies us that the play was written by one who formed a much lower estimate 
than Shakspere did of the dignity of the poet's office, as an instructor of the 
people. 

A deep reverence for antiquity is one of the clearest indications of the inti 
mate union of the poetical and the philosophical temperament. An able writer 
of our own day has indeed said, " In some, the love of antiquity produces a sort 
of fanciful illusion : and the very sight of those buildings, so magnificent in 
their prosperous hour, so beautiful even in their present ruin, begets a sympathy 
for those who founded and inhabited them."* But, rightly considered, the fanci 
ful illusion becomes a reasonable principle. Those who founded and inhabited 
these monastic buildings were for ages the chief directors of the national mind. 
Their possessions were, in truth, the possessions of all classes of the people. The 
highest offices in those establishments were in some cases bestowed upon the 
noble and the wealthy, but they were open to the very humblest. The studious 
and the devout here found a shelter and a solace. The learning of the monastic 
bodies has been underrated ; the ages in which they flourished have been 

Hallam's ' Constitutional History of England.' 
184 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

called dark ages ; but they were almost the sole depositaries of the knowledge 
of the land. They were the historians, the grammarians, the poets. They 
accumulated magnificent libraries. They were the barriers that checked the 
universal empire of brute force. They cherished an ambition higher and more 
permanent than could belong to the mere martial spirit. They stood between 
the strong and the weak. They held the oppressor in subjection to that power 
which results from the cultivation, however misdirected, of the spiritual part of 
our nature. Whilst the proud baron continued to live in the same dismal castle 
that his predatory fathers had built or won, the churchmen went on from age 
to age adding to their splendid edifices, and demanding a succession of ingeni 
ous artists to carry out their lofty ideas. The devotional exercises of their life 
touched the deepest feelings of the human heart. Their solemn services, handed 
down from a remote antiquity, gave to music its most ennobling cultivation ; 
and the most beautiful of arts thus became the vehicle of the loftiest enthusiasm. 
Individuals amongst them, bringing odium upon the class, might be sordid, 
luxurious, idle, in some instances profligate. It is the nature of great pros 
perity and apparent security to produce these results. But it was not the 
mandate of a pampered tyrant, nor the edicts of a corrupt parliament, that 
could destroy the reverence which had been produced by an intercourse of 
eight hundred years with the great body of the people. The form of vene 
rable institutions may be changed, but their spirit is indestructible. The 
holy places and mansions of the Church were swept away; but the memory 
of them could not be destroyed. Their ruins, recent as they were, were 
still antiquities, full of instruction. The lightning had blasted the old oak, 
and its green leaves were no longer put forth ; but the gnarled trunk was a 
thing not to be despised. The convulsion which had torn the land was of a 
nature to make deep thinkers. After the wonder and the disappointment of 
great revolutions have subsided, there must always be an outgushing of 
earnest thought. The form which that thought may assume may be the resuk 
of accident; it may be poetical or metaphysical, historical or scientific. By a 
combination of circumstances, perhaps by the circumstance of one man being 
born who had the most marvellous insight into human nature, and whose mind 
could penetrate all the disguises of the social state, the drama became the 
great exponent of the thought of the age of Elizabeth. It was altogether a new 
form for English poetry to put on. The drama, as we have seen, had been the. 
humblest vehicle for popular excitement. When the Church ceased to use it 
as an instrument of instruction, it fell into the hands of illiterate^ mimics.^ The 
courtly writers were too busy with their affectations and their flatteries to 
recognise its power, and its especial applicability to the new state of society. 
Those who were of the people ; who watched the manifestations of the popular 
feeling and understanding; whose minds had been stirred up by the political 
storms, the violence of which had indeed passed away, but under whose in 
fluence the whole social state still heaved like a disturbed sea; those were to 
build up our great national drama. But, at the period of which we are speak 
ing, they were for the most part boys, or very young men. It is perhaps 

185 



\V1U.IAM SIIAKSI'I I.I 

tunate for us that the most eminent of these was introduced to the knowledge 
of life under no particular advantages ; was not dedicated to any one of the 
learned professions ; was cloistered not in an university ; was an adherent of 
no party ; was obliged to look forward to the necessity of earning his own main 
tenance, and yet not humiliated by poverty and meanness. William Shakspere 
looked upon the very remarkable state of society with which he was surrounded, 
with a free spirit. But he saw at one and the same time the present and the 
past. He knew that the entire social state is a thing of progress ; that the 
characters of men are as much dependent upon remote influences as upon the 
matters with which they come in daily contact ; that the individual essentially 
belongs to the general, and the temporary to the universal. His drama can 
never be antiquated, because he primarily deals with whatever is permanent 
and indestructible in the aspects of external nature, and in the constitution of 
the human mind. But at the same time it is no less a faithful transcript of the 
prevailing modes of thought even of his own day. Individual peculiarities, in 
liis time called humours, he left to others. 

This principle of looking at life with an utter disregard of all party and 
sectarian feelings, of massing all his observations upon individual character, 
could have proceeded only from a profound knowledge of the past, and a 
more than common apprehension of the future. As we have endeavoured to 
show, the localities amidst which he lived were highly favourable to his culti 
vation of a poetical reverence for antiquity. But his unerring observation of 
the present prevented the past becoming to him an illusion. He had always 
an earnest patriotism ; he had a strong sense of the blessings which had been 
conferred upon his own day through the security won out of peril and suffering 
by the middle classes. The destruction of the old institutions, after the first 
evil effects had been mitigated by the energy of the people, had diffused 
capital, and had caused it to be employed with more activity. But he, who 
scarcely ever stops to notice the political aspects of his own day, cannot forbear 
an indignant comment upon the sufferings of the very poorest, which, if not 
caused by, were at least coincident with, the great spoliation of the property of 
the Church. Poor Tom, " who is whipped from tithing to tithing, and stocked, 
punished, and imprisoned,"* was no fanciful portrait; he is the creature of the 
pauper legislation of half a century. Exhortations in the churches, " for the 
furtherance of the relief of such as were in unfeigned misery," were prescribed 
by the statute of the 1st of Edward VI.; but the same statute directs that the 
unhappy wanderer, after certain forms of proving that he has not offered him 
self for work, shall be marked V with a hot iron upon his breast, and adjudged 
to be "a slave" for two years to him who brings him before justices of the 
peace ; and the statute goes on to direct the slave-owner " to cause the said 
slave to work by beating, chaining, or otherwise." Three years afterwards the 
statute is repealed, seeing that it could not be carried into effect by reason of 
the multitude of vagabonds and the extremity of their wants. The whipping 
and the stocking were applied by successive enactments of Elizabeth. The 

* King Lear, Act IIL, Scene iv. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

gallows, too, was always at hand to make an^ end of the wanderers when, 
hunted from tithing to tithing, they inevitaoly became thieves. Nothing but 
a compulsory provision for the maintenance of the poor could then have saved 
England from a fearful Jacquerie. It cannot reasonably be doubted that the 
vast destruction of capital by the dissolution of the monasteries threw for many 
years a quantity of superfluous labour upon the yet unsettled capital of the 
ordinary industry of the country. That Shakspere had witnessed much of this 
misery is evident from his constant disposition to descry " a soul of goodness 
in things evil," and from his indignant hatred of the heartlessness of petty 
authority : 

" Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand." * 

And yet, with many social evils about him, the age of Shakspere's youth was 
one in which the people were making a great intellectual progress. The poor 
were ill provided for. The Church was in an unsettled state, attacked by the 
natural restlessness of those who looked upon the Reformation with regret and 
hatred, and by the rigid enemies of its traditionary ceremonies and ancient 
observances, who had sprung up in its bosom. The promises which had been 
made that education should be fostered by the State had utterly failed ; for 
even the preservation of the universities, and the protection and establishment 
of a few grammar-schools, had been unwillingly conceded by the avarice of 
those daring statesmen who had swallowed up the riches of the ancient esta 
blishment. The genial spirit of the English yeomanry had received a check 
from the intolerance of the powerful sect who frowned upon all sports and 
recreations who despised the arts who held poets and pipers to be " cater 
pillars of a commonwealth." But yet the wonderful stirring up of the intellect 
of the nation had made it an age favourable for the cultivation of the highest 
literature ; and most favourable to those who looked upon society, as the young 
Shakspere must have looked, in the spirit of cordial enjoyment and practical 
wisdom. 

* Lea/, Act TV., Scene vi. 




1 Hengewcrth Church, seen through the Arch of the Bell-Tower ] 



137 




fWelford The Wake.) 



CHAPTER XIV. 

SOCIAL HOURS. 



I. THE WAKE. 

DECAY, followed by reproduction, is the order of nature ; and so, if the vital 
power of society be not extinct, the men of one generation attempt to repair 
what the folly or the wickedness of their predecessors has destroyed. Sump 
tuous abbeys were pulled down in the reign of Henry VIII.; but humble parish - 
churches rose up in the reign of Elizabeth. Within four miles of Stratford, on 
the opposite bank of the Avon, is the pretty village of Welford ; and here 
is a church which bears the date of 1568 carved upon its wall. Although the 
church was new, the people would cling, and perhaps more pertinaciously than 
ever, to the old usages connected with their church. They certainly would 
188 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

not forego their Wake," an ancient custom among the Christians of this island 
to keep a feast every year upon a certain week or day in remembrance of the 
finishing of the building of their parish-church, and of the first solemn dedi 
cating of it to the service of God."* For fifty years after the period of which 
we are writing, the wakes prevailed, more or less, throughout England. The 
Puritans had striven to put them down ; but the opposite party in the Church 
as zealously encouraged them. Charles I. spoke the voice of this party in one 
of his celebrated declarations for sports, which gave such deep, and in some 
respects just, offence. In 1633 the King's declaration in favour of wakes was 
as follows : " In some counties of this kingdom, his Majesty finds that, under 
pretence of taking away abuses, there hath been a general forbidding, not only 
of ordinary meetings, but of the feasts of the dedication of the churches, com 
monly called Wakes. Now, his Majesty's express will and pleasure is, that 
these feasts, with others, shall be observed; and that his justices of the peace, 
in their several divisions, shall look to it, both that all disorders there may be 
prevented or punished, and that all neighbourhood and freedom, with manlike 
and lawful exercises, be used."f Neighbourhood and freedom, and manlike 
exercises, were the old English characteristics of the wakes. At the period 
when William Shakspere was just entering upon life, with the natural disposi 
tion of youth, strongest perhaps in the more imaginative, to mingle in the 
recreations and sports of his neighbours with the most cordial spirit of enjoy 
ment, the Puritans were beginning to denounce every assembly of the people 
that strove to keep up the character of merry England. Stubbes, writing at 
this exact epoch, says, describing " The manner of keeping of Wakesses," that 
" every town, parish, and village, some at one time of the year, some at an 
other, but so that every one keep his proper day assigned and appropriate to 
itself (which they call their wake-day), useth to make great preparation and 
provision for good cheer ; to the which all their friends and kinsfolks, far and 
near, are invited." Such were the friendly meetings in all mirth and freedom 
which the proclamation of Charles calls " neighbourhood." The Puritans de 
nounced them as occasions of gluttony and drunkenness. Excess, no doubt, 
was occasionally there. The old hospitality could scarcely exist without excess. 
But it must not be forgotten that, whatever might be the distinction of ranks 
amongst our ancestors in all matters in which " coat-armour " was concerned, 
there was a hearty spirit of social intercourse, constituting a practical equality 
between man and man, which enabled all ranks to mingle without offence and 
without suspicion in these public ceremonials ; and thus the civilization of the 
educated classes told upon the manners of the uneducated. There is no writer 
who furnishes us a more complete picture of this ancient freedom of intercourse 
than Chaucer. The company who meet at the Tabard, and eat the victual of 
the best, and drink the strong wine, and submit themselves to the merry host, 
and tell their tales upon the pilgrimage without the slightest restraint, are not 
only the very high and the very humble, but the men of professions and the 

* Brand's 'Popular Antiquities,' by Ellis, 1841, vol. ii., p. 1. 
t Rushworth's ' Collections,' quoted in Harris's ' Life of Charles I.' 

189 



w 1 1. i.i AM SHAKSPERE: 

men of trade, who in these later days too often jostle and look big upon the de 
bateable land of gentility. And so, no doubt, this freedom existed to a consi 
derable extent even in the days of Shakspere. In the next generation Herrick, 
a parish priest, writes, 

" Come, Antbca, let us two 
Go to feast, as others do. 
Tarts and custards, creams and cakes, 
Are the junkets still at wakes : 
Unto which the tribes resort, 
Where the business is the sport." 

With " the tribes " were mingled the stately squire, the reverend parson, and 
the well-fed yeoman ; and, what was of more importance, their wives and 
daughters there exchanged smiles and courtesies. The more these meetings 
were frowned upon by the severe, the more would they be cherished by those 
who thought not that the proper destiny of man was unceasing labour and 
mortification. Some even of the most pure would exclaim, as Burton ex 
claimed after there had been a contest for fifty years upon the matter, " Let 
them freely feast, sing, and dance, have their puppet-plays, hobby-horses, 
tabors, crowds, bagpipes, &c., play at ball and barley-breaks, and what sports 
and recreations they like best ! " * 

From sunrise, then, upon a bright summer morning, are the country people 
in their holiday dresses hastening to Welford. It is the Baptist's day. There 
were some amongst them who had lighted the accustomed bonfires upon the 
hills on the vigil of the saint ; and perhaps a maiden or two, clinging to the 
ancient superstitions, had tremblingly sat in the church-porch in the solemn 
twilight, or more daringly had attempted at midnight to gather the fern-seed 
which should make mortals "walk invisible." Over the bridges at Binton 
come the hill people from Temple Grafton and Billesley. Arden pours out its 
scanty population from the woodland hamlets. Bidford and Barton send in 
their tribes through the flat pastures on either bank of the river. From Strat 
ford there is a pleasant and not circuitous walk by the Avon's side, now leading 
through low meadows, now ascending some gentle knoll, where a long reach of 
the stream may be traced, and now close upon the sedges and alders, with a 
glimpse of the river sparkling through the green. It is a merry company who 
follow along this narrow road ; and there is a clear voice carolling 

" Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way, 

And merrily bent the stile-a : 

A merry heart goes all the day, 

Your sad tires in a mile-a." f 

They soon cross the ferry at Ludington, and, passing through the village oi 
Weston, they hear the church-bells of Welford sending forth a merry peal. At 

Anatomy of Melancholy, Part II., Sec. 2. 

t Winter's Tale, Act iv., Scene 11. The music of this song is given in the Pictorial Shakspere, 
and in Mr. Chappell's admirable collection of ' English National Airs.' We are indebted to Mr. 
Chappell for many of the facts connected with our ancient music noticed in the present chapter. 
190 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



length they reach the village. There is cordial welcome in every house. The 
tables of the Manor Hall are set out with a substantial English breakfast ; and 
the farmer's kitchen emulates the same bounteous hospitality. In a little 'while 
the church-tower sends forth another note. A single bell tolls for matins. The 
church soon fills with a zealous congregation ; not a seat is empty. The service 
for this particular feast is attended to with pious reverence; and when the 
people are invited to assist in its choral parts, they still show that, however the 
national taste for music may have been injured by the suppression of the 
chauntries, they are familiar with the fine old chaunts of their fathers, and can 
perform them with spirit and exactness, each according to his ability, but the 
most with some knowledge of musical science. The homily is ended. The 
sun shines glaringly through the white glass of this new church ; and some of 
the Stratford people may think it fortunate that their old painted windows are 
not yet all removed.* The dew is off the green that skirts the churchyard ; 
the pipers and crowders are ready; the first dance is to be chosen. Thomas 
Heywood, one of Shakspere's pleasant contemporaries, has left us a dialogue 
which shows how embarrassing was such a choice : 



" Jack. Come, what shall it be ? ' Rogero ? ' 

Jenkin. ' Rogero ? ' no ; we will dance ' The beginning of the world.' 
Sisly. I love no dance so well as ' John, come kiss me now.' 
Nicholas. I have ere now deserv'd a cushion ; call for the ' Cushion-dance.' 
Roger. For my part, I like nothing so well as ' Tom Tyler.' 
Jenkin. No ; we'll have ' The hunting of the fox.' 
Jack. ' The hay, The hay ; ' there 's nothing like ' The hay.' 
Jenkin. Let me speak for all, and we'll have ' Sellenger's round.' "t 

Jenkin, who rejects ' Rogero,' is strenuous for ' The Beginning of the World,' 
and he carries his proposal by giving it the more modern name of ' Sellenger's 
Round.' The tune was as old as Henry VIII. ; for it is mentioned in 'The 
History of Jack of Newbury,' by Thomas Deloney, whom Kemp called the 
great ballad-maker : " In comes a noise of musicians in tawny coats, who, 
taking off their caps, asked if they would have any music ? The widow 
answered, ' No ; they were merry enough.' ' Tut ! ' said the old man ; ' let us 
hear, good fellows, what you can do ; and play me The Beginning of the 
World.' " A quaint tune is this, by whatever name it be known an air not 
boisterous in its character, but calm and graceful ; a round dance " for as 
many as will ; " who " take hands and go round twice, and back again," with a 
succession of figures varying the circular movement, and allowing the display 
of individual grace and nimbleness : 



* "All images, shrines, tabernacles, roodlofts, and monuments of idolatry are removed, taken 
down, and defaced ; only the stories in glass windows excepted, which, for want of sufficient store 
of new stuff, and by reason of extreme charge that should grow by the alteration of the same into 
white panes throughout the realm, are not altogether abolished in most places at once, but by little 
and little suffered to decay, that white glass may be provided and set up in their rooms." Harri 
son's 'Description of England:' 1586. 

t A Woman Killed with Kindness. 1600. 

191 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE r 

" Each one, tripping on his toe, 
Will be here with mop and mowe." * 

The countryfolks of Shakspere s time put their hearts into the dance ; and, as 
their ears were musical by education, their energy was at once joyous and 
elegant. Glad hearts are there even amongst those who are merely lookers-on 
upon this scene. The sight of happiness is in itself happiness ; and there was 
real happiness in the " unreproved pleasures" of the youths and maidens 

" Tripping the comely country-round 
With daffodils and daisies crown'd." t 

If Jenkin carried the voices for ' Sellenger's Round,' Sisly must next be gratified 
with ' John, come kiss me now.' Let it not be thought that Sisly called for a 
vulgar tune. This was one of the most favourite airs of Queen Elizabeth's 
' Virginal Book,' and after being long popular in England it transmigrated into 
a " godly song " of Scotland. The tune is in two parts, of which the first part 
only is in the ' Virginal Book,' and this is a sweet little melody full of grace and 
tenderness. The more joyous revellers may now desire something more stir 
ring, and call for ' Packington's Pound,' as old perhaps as the days of Henry VIII., 
and which survived for a couple of centuries in the songs of Ben Jonson and 
Gay.J The controversy about players, pipers, and dancers has fixed the date 
of some of these old tunes, showing us to what melodies the young Shakspere 
might have moved joyously in a round or a galliard. Stephen Gosson, for 
example, sneers at ' Trenchmore.' But we know that ' Trenchmore ' was of an 
earlier date than Gosson's book. A writer who came twenty years after Gos 
son shows us that the ' Trenchmore ' was scarcely to be reckoned amongst the 
graceful dances : " In this case, like one dancing the ' Trenchmore,' he stamped 
up and down the yard, holding his hips in his hands."|| It was the leaping, 
romping dance, in which the exuberance of animal spirits delights. Burton 
says " We must dance ' Trenchmore ' over tables, chairs, and stools." Selden 
has a capital passage upon ' Trenchmore,' showing us how the sports of the 
country were adopted by the Court, until the most boisterous of the dancing 
delights of the people fairly drove out " state and ancientry." He says, in his 
' Table Talk,' " The Court of England is much altered. At a solemn dancing, 
first you had the grave measures, then the corantoes and the galliards, and this 
kept up with ceremony ; and at length to ' Trenchmore ' and the ' Cushion- 
dance : ' then all the company dances, lord and groom, lady and kitchen-maid, 
no distinction. So in our Court in Queen Elizabeth's time, gravity and state 
were kept up ; in King James's time things were pretty well ; but in King 
Charles's time there has been nothing but ' Trenchmore ' and the ' Cushion- 
dance,' omnium gatherum, tolly polly, hoite come toite." It was in this spirit 
that Charles II. at a court ball called for ' Cuckolds all arow,' which he said 

Tempest, Act iv., Scene n. f Herrick's ' Hesperides.' 

I See Ben Jouson's song in ' Bartholomew Fair/ beginning 

" My masters, and friends, and good people, draw near." 
See p. 56. || Deloney's ' Gentle Craft : ' 1598. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

was " the old dance of England."* From its name, and its jerking melody, this 
would seem to be one of the country dances of parallel lines. They were each 
danced by the people ; but the round dance must unquestionably have been the 

most graceful. Old Burton writes of it with a fine enthusiasm : " It was a 

pleasant sight, to see those pretty knots and swimming figures. The sun and 
moon (some say) dance about the earth, the three upper planets about the sun 
as their centre, now stationary, now direct, now retrograde ; now in apogseo, 
then in perigseo ; now swift, then slow ; occidental, oriental ; they turn round, 
jump and trace, ? and 5 about the sun with those thirty-three Maculae or 
Burbonian planets, circa solem saltantes Cytharedum, saith Fromundus. Four 
Medicean stars dance about Jupiter, two Austrian about Saturn, &c., and all 
(belike) to the music of the spheres." f ' Joan's Placket,' the delightful old 
tune that we yet beat time to, when the inspiriting song of ' When I followed 
a lass ' comes across our memories, J would be a favourite upon the green at 
Welford ; and surely he who in after-times said, "I did think by the excellent 
constitution of thy leg it was formed under the star of a galliard," might 
strive not to resist the attraction of the air of ' Sweet Margaret,' and willingly 
surrender himself to the inspiration of its gentle and its buoyant movements. 
One dance he must take part in ; for even the squire and the squire's lady can 
not resist its charms, the dance which has been in and out of fashion for two 



* Pepys's 'Memoirs,' 8vo., vol., i. p. 359. 

t ' Anatomy of Melancholy,' Part III., Sec. 2. Burton, the universal reader, might have 
caught the idea from Sir John Davie$'s ' Orchestra ; or, a Poem expressing the Antiquity and Ex 
cellency of Dancing:' 

" Dancing, bright lady, then began to be, 
When the first seeds whereof the world did spring, 
The fire, air, earth, and water, did agree, 
By Love's persuasion, Nature's mighty king, 
To leave their first disorder'd combating ; 
And in a dance such measure to observe, 
As all the world their motion should preserve. 

Since when they still are carried in a round, 
And, changing, come one in another's place ; 
Yet do they neither mingle nor confound, 
But every one doth keep the bounded space 
Wherein the dance doth bid it turn or trace 
This wondrous miracle did Love devise, 
For dancing is Love's proper exercise. 

Like this, he fram'd the gods' eternal bower, 

And of a shapeless and confused mass, 

By his through-piercing and digesting power, 

The turned vault of heaven formed was : 

Whose starry wheels he hath so made to pass, 

As that their movings do a music frame, 

And they themselves still dance unto the same." 

J Love in a Village. Twelfth Night, Act i., Scene in. 

LIFE. O l* 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

centuries and a half, and has again asserted its rights in England, in despite of 
waltz and quadrille. We all know, upon the most undoubted testimony, that 
the Sir Roger de Coverley who to the lasting regret of all mankind caught a 
cold at the County Sessions, and died, in 1712, was the great-grandson of the 
Worthy knight of Coverley, or Cowley, who " was inventor of that famous 
country-dance which is called after him."" Who can doubt, then, that William 
Shakspere might have danced this famous dance, in hall or on greensward, with 
its graceful advancings arjd retirings, its bows and curtsies, its chain figures, its 
pretty knots unravelled in simultaneous movement? In vain for the young blood of 
1580 might Stubbes denounce peril to body and mind in his outcry against the 
" horrible vice of pestiferous dancing." The manner in which the first Puritans set 
about making people better, after the fashion of a harsh nurse to a froward child, 
was very remarkable. Stubbes threatens the dancers with lameness and broken 
legs, as well as with severer penalties ; but, being constrained to acknowledge 
that dancing " is both ancient and general, having been used ever in all ages as 
well of the godly as of the wicked," he reconciles the matter upon the following 
principle : " If it be used for man's comfort, recreation, and godly pleasure, 
privately (every sex distinct by themselves), whether with music or otherwise, 
it cannot be but a very tolerable exercise." We doubt if this arrangement 
would have been altogether satisfactory to the young men and maidens at the 
Welford Wake, even if Philip Stubbes had himself appeared amongst them, 
with his unpublished manuscript in his pocket, to take the place of the pipers, 
crying out to them " Give over, therefore, your occupations, you pipers, you 
fiddlers, you minstrels, and you musicians, you drummers, you tabretters, you 
fluters, and all other of that wicked brood. "f Neither, when the flowing cup 
was going round amongst the elders to song and story, would he have been 
much heeded, had he himself lifted up his voice, exclaiming, " Wherefore should 
the whole town, parish, village, and country, keep one and the same day, and 
make such gluttonous feasts as they do?"J One young man might have an 
swered, " Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more 
cakes and ale ? " 

Crossing the Avon by the ancient mill of Welford, we descend the stream for 
about a mile, till we reach the rising ground upon which stands the hamlet of 
Hillborough. This is the " haunted Hillborough " of the lines which tradition 
ascribes to Shakspere. || Assuredly the inhabitants of that fine old farm-house, 
still venerable in its massive walls and its mullioned windows, would be at the 
wake at Welford. They press the neighbours from Stratford to go a little out 
of their way homewards to accept their own hospitality. There is dance and 
merriment within the house, and shovel-board and tric-trac for the sedentary. 
But the evening is brilliant ; for the sun is not yet setting behind Bardon Hill, 
and there is an early moon. There will be a game at Barley- Break in the field 
before the old House. The lots are cast ; three damsels and three youths are 

Spectator, New. 2 ami 517. f Anatomy of Abuses. 

Twelfth Night, Act n., Scene HI. II Sec p. 68. 

194 




[Great Hillborough. Barley-break.] 

chosen for the sport ; a plot of ground is marked out into three compartments, 
in each of which a couple is placed, the middle division bearing the name of 
hell. In that age the word was not used profanely nor vulgarly. Sidney and 
Browne and Massinger describe the sport. The couple who are in this con 
demned place try to catch those who advance from the other divisions, and we 
may imagine the noise and the laughter of the vigorous resistance and the coy 
yieldings that sounded on Hillborough, and scared the pigeons from their old 
dovecote. The difficulty of the game consisted in this that the couple in the 
middle place were not to separate, whilst the others might loose hands when 
ever they pleased. Sidney alludes to this peculiarity of the game : 

" There you may see, soon as the middle two 
Do, coupled, towards either couple make, 
They, false and fearful, do their hands undo." 

But half a century after Sidney, the sprightliest of poets, Sir John Suckling, 
described the game of Barley-break with unequalled vivacity : 

" Love, Reason, Hate, did once bespeak 
Three mates to play at barley-break ; 
Love, Folly took ; and Reason, Fancy ; 
And Hate consorts with Pride ; so dance they : 
Love coupled last, and so it fell 
That Love and Folly were in hell. 

They break, and Love would Reason meet, 
But Hate was nimbler on her feet ; 
Fancy looks for Pride, and thither 
Hies, and they two hug together : 
2 1&6 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKRE: 

Yet this new coupling utill doth tell 
That Love and Folly were in hell. 

The rest do break again, and Pride 
Hath now got Reason on her side ; 
Hate and Fancy meet, and stand 
Untouch'd by Love in Folly's hand ; 
Folly was dull, but Love ran well, 
So Love and Folly were in hell." 

The young Shakspere, whose mature writings touch lightly upon country 
sports, but who mentions them always as familiar thiYigs, would be the foremost 
in these diversions. He would " ride the wild mare with the boys." * and 
" play at quoits well,"t and "change places" at " handy-dandy," J and put out 
all his strength in a jump, though he might not expect to "win a lady at leap 
frog,'^ and run the country-base" with " striplings, "|| and be a "very good 
bowler." ^[ It was not in solitude only that he acquired his wisdom. He 
knew 

" All qualities, with a learned spirit, 
Of human dealings," * 

through his intercourse with his fellows, and not by meditating upon abstrac 
tions. The meditation was to apply the experience and raise it into philo 
sophy. 

There is a temptation for the young men to make another day's holiday, 
resting at Hillborough through the night. No sprites are there to disturb the 
rest which has been earned by exercise. Before the sun is up they are in the 
dewy fields, for there is to be an otter-hunt below Bidford. The owner of the 
Grange, who has succeeded to the monks of Evesham, has his pack of otter 
dogs. They are already under the marl-cliffs, busily seeking for the enemy of 
all anglers. " Look ! down at the bottom of the hill there, in that meadow, 
checkered with water-lilies and lady-smocks ; there you may- see what work 
they make ; look ! look ! you may see all busy ; men and dogs ; dogs and men ; 
all busy." Thus does honest Izaak Walton describe such an animated scene 
The otter-hunt is. now rare in England ; but in those days, when field-sports 
had the double justification of their exercise and of their usefulness, the otter- 
hunt was the delight of the dwellers near rivers. Spear in hand, every root 
and hole in the bank is tried by watermen and landsmen. The water-dog, as 
the otter was called, is at length found in her fishy hole, near her whelps. She 
takes to the stream, amidst the barking of dogs and the shouts of men ; horse 
men dash into the fordable places ; boatmen push hither and thither ; the dogs 
have lost her, and there is a short silence ; for one instant she comes up to the 
surface to breathe, and the dogs are after her. One dog has just seized her, 
but she bites him, and he swims away howling ; she is under again, and they 

Henry IV., Act IL, Scene iv. f Ibid. Lear, Act iv., Scene VL 

Henry V., Act v., Scene n. || Cymbeline, Act v., Scene iv. 

U Love's Labour's Lost, Act v., Scene n. ** OtbftUn. Act m., Soene HI. 

1M 




[Marl Cliffs, near Bidford.] 



are at fault. Again she rises, or, in the technical language, vents. " Now 
Sweetlips has her ; hold her, Sweetlips ! Now all the dogs have her ; some 
above, and some under water : but now, now she is tired, and past losing." This 
is the catastrophe of the otter-hunt according to Walton. Somerville, in his 
grandiloquent blank verse, makes her die by the spears of the huntsmen. 

When Izaak Walton and his friends have killed the otter, they go to their 
sport of angling. Shakspere in three lines describes "the contemplative man's 
recreation " as if he had enjoyed it : 

" The pleasantest angling ia to see the fish 
Cut with her golden oars the silver stream, 
And greedily devour the treacherous bait." * 

The oldest books upon angling have something of that half poetical, half devout 
enthusiasm about the art which Walton made so delightful. Even the author 
of the ' Treatise of Fishing with an Angle,' in the ' Book of St. Albans/ talks of 
" the sweet air of the sweet savour of the mead-flowers," and the " melodious 
harmony of fowls ; " and concludes the ' Treatise ' thus : " Ye shall not use this 
foresaid crafty disport for no covetyseness to the increasing and sparing of your 
money only, but principally for your solace, and to cause the health of your 
body, and specially of your soul ; for when ye purpose to go on your disports 
in fishing ye will not desire greatly many persons with you, which might let 



* Much Ado about Nothing, Act nr., Scene i. 



197 



WILLIAM 8HAKSPERE: 

you of your game. And then ye may serve God devoutly in saying affec- 
tuously your customable prayer, and thus doing ye shall eschew and void 
many vices." * According to this good advice, with which he was doubtless 
familiar, would the young poet go alone to fish in the quiet nooks of his Avon. 
With his merry companions about him he would not try the water at Bidford 
on this day of the otter-hunt. 

About a mile from the town of Bidford on the road to Stratford was, some twenty 
years ago, an ancient crab-tree well known to the country round as Shakspere's 
Crab-tree. The tradition which associates it with the name of Shakspere is, 
like many other traditions regarding the poet, an attempt to embody the 
general notion that his social qualities were as remarkable as his genius. la 
an age when excess of joviality was by some considered almost a virtue, the 
genial fancy of the dwellers at Stratford may have been pleased to confer upon 
this crab-tree the honour of sheltering Shakspere from the dews of night, on 
an occasion when his merrymakings had disqualified him from returning home 
ward, and he had laid down to sleep under its spreading branches. It is 
scarcely necessary to enter into an examination of this apocryphal story. But 
as the crab-tree is associated with Shakspere, it may fitly be made the scene of 
some of his youthful exercises. He may " cleave the pin " and strike the 
quintain in the neighbourhood of the crab-tree, as well as sleep heavily beneath 
its shade. We shall dimmish no honest enthusiasm by changing the associa- 

* 'The Treaty.*pa perteynyng to Ilawkynge, Huntynge, and Fiushynge with an Angle.' 1496 




[fildford.] 



A BJOGRAl'HY. 

tion. Indeed, although the crab-tree was long ago known by the name of 
Shakspere's Crab-tree, the tradition that he was amongst a party who haa 
accepted a challenge from the Bidford topers to try which could drink hardest, 
and there bivouacked after the debauch, is difficult to be traced further than 
the hearsay evidence of Mr. Samuel Ireland. In the same way, the merry 
folks of Stratford will tell you to this day that the Falcon inn in that town was 
the scene of Shakspere's nightly potations, after he had retired from London 
to his native home ; and they will show you the shovel-board at which he 
delighted to play. Harmless traditions, ye are yet baseless! The Falcon was 
not an inn at all in Shakspere's time, but a goodly private dwelling. 

About the year 1580 the ancient practice of archery had revived in England. 
The use of the famous English long-bow had been superseded in war by the 
arquebuss ; but their old diversion of butt-shooting would not readily be aban 
doned by the bold yeomanry, delighting as they still did in stories of their 
countrymen's prowess, familiar to them in chronicle and ballad. The 'Toxo- 
philus ' of Roger Ascham was a book well fitted to be amongst the favourites of 
our Shakspere ; and he would think with that fine old schoolmaster that the 
book and the bow might well go together.* He might have heard that a 
wealthy yeoman of Middlesex, John Lyon, who had founded the grammar- 
school at Harrow, had. instituted a prize for archery amongst the scholars. 
Had not the fame, too, gone forth through the country of the worthy ' Show and 
Shooting by the Duke of Shoreditch, and his Associates the Worshipful- Citizens 
of London,' f and of ' The Friendly and Frank Fellowship of Prince Arthur's 
Knights in and about the City of London ? ' J There were men of Stratford 
who within a year or two had seen the solemn processions of these companies of 
archers, and their feats in Hogsden Fields ; where the wealthy citizens and their 
ladies sat in their tents most gorgeously dressed, and the winners of the prizes 
were brought out of the field by torchlight, with drum and trumpet, and volleys 
of shot, mounted upon great geldings sumptuously trapped with cloths of silver 
and gold. Had he not himself talked with an ancient squire, who, in the elder 
days, at "Mile End Green" had played "Sir Dagonet at Arthur's Show?" 
And did he not know " old Double," who was now dead ? " He drew a good 
bow ; and dead ! he shot a fine shoot : * * * Dead ! he would have clapped 
i' the clout at twelve score ; and carried you a forehand shaft a fourteen and 
fourteen and a half, that it would have done a man's heart good to see." || 
Welcome to him, then, would be the invitation of the young men of Bidford 
for a day of archery ; for they received as a truth the maxim of Ascham, 
" That still, according to the old. wont of England, youth should use it for the 



" Would to God that all men did bring up their sons, like my worshipful master Sir Henry 
Wingefield, in the book and the bow." ASCHAM. 

t This is the title of a tract published in 1583 ; but the author says that these mock solemniti. 
had been " greatly revived, and within these five years set forward , at the great cost and charges 
of sundry chief citizens." 

.4: The title of a tract by Richard Mulcaeter : 1581. 

Henry IV., Part II., Act in., Scene n. II Ibid. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

most nonest pastime in peace." The butts are erected in the open fields after 
we cross the Ichnield way on the Stratford road. It is an elevated spot, which 
looks down upon the long pastures which skirt the Avon. These are not the 
ancient butts of the town, made and kept up according to the statute of 
Henry VIII. ; nor do the young men compel their fathers, according to the 
same statute, to provide each of them with "a bow and two shafts," until they 
are of the age of seventeen ; but each is willing to obey the statute, having " a 
bow and four arrows continually for himself." Their butts are mounds of turf, 
on which is fixed a small piece of circular paper with a pin in the centre. The 
young poet probably thought of Robin Hood's more picturesque mark : 

" ' On every syde a rose garlonde, 
They shot under the lyne. 

Whoso fayleth of the rose garlonde,' sayd Robiu, 
' His takyll he shall tyne.' " 

At the crab-tree are the young archers to meet at the hour of eight : 
" Hold, or cut bowstrings." * 

The costume of Chaucer's squire's yeoman would be emulated by some of the 
assembly : 

" He was cladde in cote and hode of grene ; 
A shefe of peacock arwes bright and kene 
Under his belt he bare ful thriftily. 
Wei coude he dresse his takel yeinanly : 
His arwes drouped not with fetheres lowe. 
And in his hond he bare a mighty bowe. 

Upon his arme he bare a gaie bracer." 

The lots are cast ; three archers on either side. The marker takes his place, to 
" cry aim." Away flies the first arrow " gone " it is over the butt ; a second 
" short ; " a third " wide ; " a fourth " hits the white/' " Let him be clapped 
on the shoulder and called Adam ; " f a fifth " handles his bow like a crow- 
keeper." J Lastly comes a youth from Stratford, and he is within an inch of 
" cleaving the pin." There is a maiden gazing on the sport ; she whispers a 
word in his ear, and "then the very pin of his heart "is "cleft with the blind 
bow-boy's butt-shaft." He recovers his self-possession, whilst he receives his 
arrow from the marker, humming the while 

" The blinded boy, that shoots so trim, 

From heaven down did hie ; 

He drew a dart and shot at him, 

In place where he did lie." || 



Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act i., Scene n. f Much Ado about Nothing, Act ; 

I Lear. Romeo and Juliet, Act n., Scene iv. 

|| Ballad of ' King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid.' 
20C 




[The Crab-tree.] 

After repeated contests the match is decided. But there is now to be a trial 
of greater skill, requiring the strong arm and the accurate eye the old English 
practice which won the day at Agincourt. The archers go up into the hills : 
he who has drawn the first lot suddenly stops ; there is a bush upon the rising 
ground before him, from which hangs some rag, or weasel-skin, or dead crow ; 
away flies the arrow, and the fellows of the archer each shoot from the same 
spot. This was the roving of the more ancient archery, where the mark was 
sometimes on high, and sometimes on the ground, and always at variable dis 
tances. Over hill and dale go the young men onward in the excitement of 
their exercise, so lauded by Richard Mulcaster, first Master of Merchant Tai 
lors' School : " And whereas hunting on foot is much praised, what moving ot 
the body hath the foot-hunter in hills and dales which the roving archer hath 
not in variety of grounds ? Is his natural heat more stirred than the archer's 
is ? Is his appetite better than the archer's ? " * This natural premonition sends 
the party homeward to their noon-tide dinner at the Grange. But as they pass 
along the low meadows they send up many a " flight," with shout and laughter. 
An arrow is sometimes lost. But there is one who in after-years recollected his 
boyish practice under such mishaps : 

" In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft 
I shot his fellow of the self-same flight 
The self-same way, with more advised watch 
To find the other forth; and, by adventuring both, 
I oft found both : I urge this childhood proof, 
Because what follows is pure innocence. 



Positions: 1581. 



201 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE: 

I owe you much ; and, like a wilful youth, 
That which I owe is lost : but, if you please 
To shoot another arrow that self way 
Which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt, 
As I will watch the aim, or to find both, 
Or bring your latter hazard back again, 
And thankfully rest debtor for the first." * 

There are other sports to be played, and other triumphs to be achieved, 
before the day closes. In the meadow, at some little distance from the butts, is 
fixed a machine of singular construction. It is the Quintain. Horsemen are 
beginning to assemble around it, and are waiting the arrival of the guests from 
the Grange, who are merry in " an arbour " of mine host's " orchard." But the 
youths are for more stirring matters ; and their horses are ready. To the in 
experienced eye the machine which has been erected in the field 

" That which here stands up, 
Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block." f 

It is the wooden figure of a Saracen, sword in hand, grinning hideously upon 
the assailants who confront him. The horsemen form a lane on either side, 
whilst one, the boldest of challengers, couches his spear and rides violently at 
the enemy, who appears to stand firm upon his wooden post. The spear strikes 
the Saracen just on the left shoulder; but the wooden man receives not his 
wound with patience, for by the action of the blow he swings round upon his 
pivot, and hits the horseman a formidable thump with his extended sword 
before the horse has cleared the range of the misbeliever's weapon. Then one 
chorus of laughter greets the unfortunate rider as he comes dolefully back to 
the rear. Another and another fail. At last the quintain is struck right in 
the centre, and the victory is won. The Saracen conquered, a flat board is set 
up upon the pivot, with a sand-bag at one end, such as Stow has described : 
" I have seen a quintain set upon Cornhill, by Leadenhall, where the attendants 
of the lords of merry disports have run and made great pastime ; for he that hit 
not the board end of the quintain was laughed to scorn; and he that hit it full, 
if he rode not the faster, had a sound blow upon his neck with a bag full of sand 
hanged on the other end."J The merry guests of the Grange enjoy the sport 
as heartily as Master Laneham, who saw the quintain at Kenilworth : " The 
speciality of the sport was to see how some of his slackness had a good bob with 
the bag ; and some for his haste to topple downright, and come tumbling to the 
post ; some striving so much at the first setting out, that it seemed a question 
between the man and the beast, whether the course should be made a horseback 
or a foot : and, put forth with the spurs, then would run his race by us among 
the thickest of the throng, that down came they together hand over head. * * 
By my troth, Master Martin, 't was a goodly pastime." And now they go to 
supper, 

" What time the labour'd ox 
In his loose traces from the furrow came." 



* The Merchant of Venice, Act i., Scene L t As You Like It, Act i., Scone in. 

t Survey of London. Milton : ' Comus.' 

202 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

The moon shines brightly upon the terraced garden of the Grange. The 
mill-wheel is at rest. The ripple of the stream over the dam pleasantly breaks 
the silence which is around. There is merriment within the house, whose open 
casements welcome the gentle night-breeze. The chorus of a jovial song has 
just ceased. Suddenly a lute is struck upon the terrace of the garden, and 
three voices beneath the window command a mute attention. They are singing 
one of those lovely compositions which were just then becoming popular in 
England the Madrigal, which the Flemings invented, the Italians cultivated, 
and which a few years after reached its perfection in our own country. The 
beautiful interlacings of the harmony, its " fine bindings and strange closes/' > 
its points, each emulating the other, but each in its due place and proportion, 
required scientific skill as well as voice and ear. But the young men who sang 
the madrigal were equal to their task. There was one who listened till his 
heart throbbed and his eyes were wet with tears ; for he was lifted above the 
earth by thoughts which he afterwards expressed in lines of wondrous loveli 
ness : 

" How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank ! 

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music 

Creep in our ears ; soft stillness, and the night, 

Become the touches of sweet harmony. 

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven 

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. 

There 's not the smallest orb which thou behold' st, 

But in his motion like an angel sings, 

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins : 

Such harmony is in immortal souls ; 

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay 

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." t 

. The madrigal ceased ; but the spirit of harmony which had been thus evoked 
was not allowed to be overlaid by ruder merriment. Watkin's Ale/ and ' 
Carman's Whistle/ ' Peg-a-Ramsay/ ' Three merry men we be/ and ' Heartease/ 
were reserved for another occasion, when a fresh " stoup of wine" might be 
loudly called for, and the jolly company might roar out their "coziers' catches 
without any mitigation or remorse of voice." J But there was many an "old 
and antique song," full of elegance and tenderness, to be heard that night. We 
were a musical -people, in the age of Elizabeth ;. but our music was no new 
fashion of the "brisk and giddy-paced ' times." There was abundant mu 
with which the people were familiar, whether sad or lively, quaint or simple. 
There was many an air not to be despised by the nicest taste, of which il 
be said, 

" It is old and plain : 
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun, 
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones, 
Do use to chant it ; it is silly sooth, 
And dallies with the innocence of love, 
Like the old age." 



Morley'o Treatise f 1597. t Merchant 

i Twelfth Night, Act IL, Scene in. Ibid., Act n., , 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKK . 

Such was the plaintive air of ' Robin Hood is to the Greenwood gone.' a line of 
which has been snatched from oblivion by Ophelia : 

" For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy." * 

Such was the ' Light o' Love.' the favourite of poets, if we may judge from its 
repeated mention in the old dramas. Such was the graceful tune which the 
young Shakspere heard that night with words which he had himself written 

for a friend : 

" 0, mistress mine, where are you roaming ? 
0, stay and bear; your true love's coming, 

That can sing both high and low : 
Trip no further, pretty sweeting ; 
Journeys end in lovers' meeting, 
Every wise man's son doth know. 

What is love ? 'tis not hereafter ; 
Present mirth hath present laughter ; 

What 's to come in still unsure : 
In delay there lies no plenty ; 
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty ; 

Youth 's a stuff will not endure." 

And the challenge was received in all kindness ; and the happy lover might 
say, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, 

" She me caught in her arms long and small. 
Therewithal sweetly she did me kiss, 
And softly said, ' Dear heart, how like you this T ' " 

for he was her accepted " servant," such a " servant " as Surrey sued to Ger- 
aldine to be, the recognised lover, not yet betrothed, but devoted to his mis. 
tress with all the ardour of the old chivalry. In a few days they would be 
handfasted; they would make their public troth-plight. 

* Hamlet, Act iv., Scene v. 







204 



Hidfnrd Grange. | 




[Charlcote Church.] 



II. THE WEDDING. 

CHARLCOTE : the name is familiar to every reader of Shakspere ; but it is not 
presented to the world under the influence of pleasant associations with the 
world's poet. The story, which was first told by Rowe, must be here repeated : 
"An extravagance that he was guilty of forced him both out of his country, 
and that way of living which he had taken up ; and though it seemed at first to 
be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards 
happily proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses that ever 
was known in dramatic poetry. -He had, by a misfortune common enough to 
young fellows, fallen into ill company, and, amongst them, some that made a 
frequent practice of deer-stealing engaged him more than once in robbing a 
park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlcote, near Stratford. For this 
he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely ; 
and, in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And 
though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have 
been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, 
that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some 
time, and shelter himself in London."* The good old gossip Aubrey is wholly 



* Some Account of the Life of William Shakespear, written by Mr. Rowe. 



205 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

silent about the deer-stealing and the flight to London, merely saying, ' This 
William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, I guess 
about eighteen." But there were other antiquarian gossips of Aubrey's age, 
who have left us their testimony upon this subject. The Reverend William 
Fulman, a fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who died in 1688, be 
queathed his papers to the Reverend Richard Davies of Sandford, Oxfordshire ; 
and on the death of Mr. Davies, in 1708, these papers were deposited in the 
library of Corpus Christi. Fulman appears to have made some collections for 
the biography of our English poets, and under the name Shakspere he gives the 
dates of his birth and death. But Davies, who added notes to his friend's 
manuscripts, affords us the following piece of information : " He was much 
given to all unluckiness, in stealing venison and rabbits ; particularly from Sir 
Lucy, who had him oft whipped, and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made him 
fly his native country, to his great advancement. But his revenge was so great, 
that he is his Justice Clodpate, and calls him a great man, and that, in allusion 
to his name, bore three louses rampant for his arms." The accuracy of this 
chronicler, as to events supposed to have happened a hundred years before he 
wrote, may be inferred from his correctness in what was accessible to him. 
Justice Clodpate is a new character ; and the three louses rampant have 
diminished strangely from the " dozen white luces " of Master Slender. In 
Mr. Davies's account we have no mention of the ballad through which, accord 
ing to Rowe, the young poet revenged his " ill usage." But Capell, the editor 
of Shakspere, found a new testimony to that fact : " The writer of his ' Life,' 
the first modern, [Rowe] speaks of a ' lost ballad,' which added fuel, he says, to 
the knight's before-conceived anger, and ' redoubled the prosecution ; ' and 
calls the ballad ' the first essay of Shakspere's poetry : ' one stanza of it, which 
has the appearance of genuine, was put into the editor's hands many years ago 
by an ingenious gentleman (grandson of its preserver), with this account of the 
way in which it descended to him : Mr. Thomas Jones, who dwelt at Tarbick, 
a village in Worcestershire, a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon, and died in the 
year 1703, aged upwards of ninety, remembered to have heard from several old 
people at Stratford the story of Shakespeare's robbing Sir Thomas Lucy's park ; 
and their account of it agreed with Mr. Rowe's, with this addition that the 
ballad written against Sir Thomas by Shakespeare was stuck upon his park-gate, 
which exasperated the knight to apply to a- lawyer at Warwick to proceed 
against him. Mr. Jones had put down in writing the first stanza of the ballad, 
which was all he remembered of it, and Mr. Thomas Wilkes (my grandfather) 
transmitted it to my father by memory, who also took it in writing." * 

The first stanza of the ballad which Mr. Jones put down in writing as all he re 
membered of it, has been so often reprinted, that we can scarcely be justified in 
omitting it. It is as follows : 

" A parliaments member, a justice of peace, 
At home a poor scare-crowe, at London an asse ; 



* Notes and various Readings to Shakespeare, Part III., p. 75. See Xote to this Chapter 
206 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

If lowsie is Lacy, as some volke miscalle it, 
Then Lucy is lowsie, whatever befall it. 

He thiukes himself greate, 

Yet an aase in his state 

We allowe by his eares but with asses to mate. 
If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it, 
Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befalle it." 

But the tradition sprang up in another quarter. Mr. Oldys, the respectable anti 
quarian, has also preserved this stanza, with the following remarks : " There was a 
very aged gentleman living in the neighbourhood of Stratford (where he died fifty 
years since), who had not only heard from several old people in that town of Shak- 
speare's transgression, but could remember the first stanza of that bitter ballad, 
which, repeating to one of his acquaintance, he preserved it in writing, and here it 
is, neither better nor worse, but faithfully transcribed from the copy, which his 
relation very courteously communicated to me." * The copy preserved by Oldys 
corresponds word by word with that printed by Capell ; and it is therefore pretty 
evident that each was derived from the same source, the person who wrote down 
the verses from the memory of the one old gentleman. In truth, the whole matter 
looks rather more like an exercise of invention than of memory. Mr. De Quincey 
has expressed a very strong opinion " that these lines were a production of Charles 
II.'s reign, and applied to a Sir Thomas Lucy, not very far removed, if at all, from 
the age of him who first picked up the precious filth : the phrase ' parliament 
member ' we believe to be quite unknown in the colloquial use of Queen Elizabeth." 
But he has overlooked a stronger point against the authenticity of the ballad. He 
says that " the scurrilous rondeau has been imputed to Shakspeare ever since the 
days of the credulous Howe." This is a mistake. Rowe expressly says the ballad 
is " lost." It was not till the time of Oldys and Capell, nearly half a century after 
Rowe, that the single stanza was found. It was not published till seventy years 
after Rowe's " Life of Shakspeare." We have little doubt that the regret of Rowe 
that the ballad was lost was productive not only of the discovery, but of the 
creation, of the delicious fragment. By-and-by more was discovered, and the 
entire song " was found in a chest of drawers that formerly belonged to Mrs. Dorothy 
Tyler, of Shottery, near Stratford, who died in 1778, at the age of 80." This is 
Malone's account, who inserts the entire song in the Appendix to his posthumous 
" Life of Shakspeare," with the expression of his persuasion " that one part of this 
ballad is just as genuine as the other ; that is, that the whole is a forgery." We 
believe, however, that the first stanza is an old forgery, and the remaining stanzas 
a modern one. If the ballad is held to be all of one piece, it is a self-evident 
forgery. But in the " entire song " the new stanzas have not even the merit of 
imitating the versification of the first attempt to degrade Shakspere to the character 
of a brutal doggrel-monger. 

This, then, is the entire evidence as to the deer-stealing tradition. According to 
Rowe, the young Shakspere was engaged more than once in robbing a park, for 
which he was prosecuted by Sir Thomas Lucy ; he made a ballad upon his pro 
secutor, and then, being more severely pursued, fled to London. According to 

* MS. Notes upon LanL'baine, from which Steevens published the lines in 1778. 

207 



W1L.L1AM SHAKSPERE : 

Davies, he was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits ; 
for which he was often whipped, sometimes imprisoned, and at last forced to 
fly the country. According to Jones, the tradition of Rowe was correct as to 
robbing the park ; and the obnoxious ballad being stuck upon the park-gate, a 
lawyer of Warwick was authorised to prosecute the offender. The tradition is thus 
full of contradictions upon the face of it. It necessarily would be so, for each ot 
the witnesses speaks of circumstances that must have happened a hundred years 
before his time. We must examine the credibility of the tradition therefore by 
inquiring what was the state of the law as to the offence for which William Shak- 
spere is said to have been prosecuted ; what was the state of public opinion as to 
the offence ; and what was the position of Sir Thomas Lucy as regarded his 
immediate neighbours. 

The law in operation at the period in question was the 5th of Elizabeth, 
chapter 21. The ancient forest-laws had regard only to the possessions of the 
Crown ; and therefore in the 32nd of Henry VIII. an Act was passed for the pro 
tection of " every inheritor and possessor of manors, land, and tenements," which 
made the killing of deer, and the taking of rabbits and hawks, felony. This Act was 
repealed in the 1st of Edward VI.; but it was quickly re-enacted in the 3rd and 
4th of Edward VI. (1549 and 1550), it being alleged that unlawful hunting pre 
vailed to such an extent throughout the realm, in the royal and private parks, that 
in one of the king's parks within a few miles of London five hundred deer were 
slain in one day. For the due punishment of such offences the taking of deer was 
again made felony. But the Act was again -repealed in the 1st of Mary. In the 
5th of Elizabeth it was attempted in Parliament once more to make the offence a 
capital felony. But this was successfully resisted ; and it was enacted that, if any 
person by night or by day " wrongfully or unlawfully break or enter into any park 
empaled, or any other several ground closed with wall, pale, or hedge, and used for 
the keeping, breeding, and cherishing of deer, and so wrongfully hunt, drive, or 
chase out, or take, kill, or slay any deer within any such empaled park, or closed 
ground with wall, pale, or other enclosure, and used for deer, as is aforesaid," he 
shall suffer three months' imprisonment, pay treble damages to the party offended, 
and find sureties for seven years' good behaviour. But there is a clause in this Act 
(1562-3) which renders it doubtful whether the penalties for taking deer could be 
applied twenty years after the passing of the Act, in the case of Sir Thomas Lucy. 
" Provided always, That this Act, or anything contained therein, extend not to any 
park or enclosed ground hereafter to be made and used for deer, without the grant 
or licence of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, her heirs, successors, or progenitors." 
At the date of this statute Charlcote, it is said, was not a deer-park ; was not an 
enclosed ground royally licensed. It appears to us that Malone puts the case 
against the tradition too strongly when he maintains that Charlcote was not a 
licensed park in 1562 ; and that, therefore, its venison continued to be unprotected 
till the statute of the 3rd of James. The Act of Elizabeth clearly contemplates any 
"several ground" "closed with wall, pale, or hedge, and used for the keeping of 
deer;" and as Sir Thomas Lucy built the mansion at Charlcote in 1558, it may 
reasonably be supposed that at the date of the statute the domain of Charlcote was 
closed with wall, pale, or hedge. The Lucys, however, whatever was the state of 
208 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

the law as to their park, had a proprietorship in deer, for the successor of the Sir 
Thomas of the ballad sent a present of a buck to the Lord Keeper Egerton in 1602 
The deer-stealing tradition has shifted its locality as it has advanced in age' 
Charlcote, according to Mr. Samuel Ireland, was not the place of Shakspere's un 
lucky adventures. The Park of Fulbrooke, he says, was the property of Sir Thomas 
Lucy ; and he gives us a drawing of an old house where the young offender was 
conveyed after his detection. Upon the Ordnance Map of our own day is the Deer 




[Deer Barn, Fulbiooke.] 

Barn, where, according to the same tradition, the venison was concealed. The 
engraving here given is founded upon a representation of the Deer Barn, " drawn 
by W. Jackson, 1798." I found it amongst some papers belonging to Mr. Waldron, 
that came into my possession, arid I presented it to the author of a tract, published 
in 1862, entitled " Shakespeare no Deer-Stealer." The rude diawing is now in the 
Museum at Stratford. 

The author of this tract, Mr. C. Holte Bracebridge, cannot be named by ourselves, 
nor, indeed, by any of Kis contemporaries, without a feeling of deep respect. His 
generous exertions to alleviate the miseries accompanying the war in the Crimea, 
originated in the same high principle as those of Florence Nightingale. But he 
must excuse us if we hesitate in our belief that the shifting of the scene of the deer- 
stealing from Charlcote to Fulbrooke adds much additional value to the credibility 
of the tradition. The argument of Mr. Bracebridge is in substance as follows : 
"From 1553 to 1592, Fulbrooke Park was held in capite of the Crown by Sir 
Francis Englefield. From 1558 to the time of his death, abroad, in 1592, Sir 
Francis had been attainted, and his property sequestered, although the proceeds 
were not appropriated by the Queen. It follows, then, that neither Sir Thomas 
Lucy nor his family had a proprietary right in Fulbrooke until the last years of 
Shakspere's life, when the estate, having been re-granted to the mother of the 
former attainted owner, it had been purchased from his nephew. But as Lucy's 
park ran along the bank of the Avon for nearly a mile, and for about the same 
distance Fulbrooke occupied the opposite bank ; as the river was shallow and had a 
regular ford at Hampton Lucy, situate at one angle of Charlcote Park, the deer of 



WILLIAM SHAKRPKIM: : 

Fulbrooke and the deer of Cliarlcote were only kept separate by the fence on either 
side, tliat of the banished man being probably broken down. It is clear, holds 
Mr. Bracebridge, that if Shakspere had broken into Charlcote, and had there taken 
a buck or a doe, he would have been liable to the penalties of the 5th of Elizabeth ; 
and that Sir Thomas Lucy would not have abstained from taking the satisfaction of 
the law, " for an offence, looked upon at that period, by the gentry at least, very 
much as housebreaking is with us." Because, therefore, Sir Thomas Lucy was a 
gentleman of ancient lineage, as his ancestor once held Fulbrooke Park of the 
Crown ; as Englefield was abroad as a proscript, " he, Lucy, no doubt, hunted 
there." We state the argument of Mr. Bracebridge, from these facts, in his own 
words : " In this state of things, Shakspeare would treat very lightly the warnings 
of the Charlcote keepers, knowing as a young lawyer that he had as good a right as 
Sir Thomas to sport over Fulbrooke, insomuch as there was no legal park there." 
If Mr. Bracebridge's arguments may be admitted to prove that William Shakspere, 
in the eye of the law, was not a deer-stealer ; if he himself knew that he had as 
good a right to take a deer in Fulbrooke as Sir Thomas Lucy himself, what becomes 
of the tradition, first reduced to shape by Rowe, that he was prosecuted by Sir 
Thomas Lucy, somewhat too severely as he thought ; that in order to revenge the 
ill-usage he made a ballad upon the knight ; and that this production was so very 
bitter that he was obliged to leave his business and family, and shelter himself in 
London? The elaborate and ingenious argument of the author of " Shakespeare no 
Deer-Stealer," offers the best support to our opinion, thus noticed by him : 
"Mr. Knight, after reviewing the evidence as to the tradition, considers it unworthy 
of belief." All the accessories of the story confirm us in this opinion. Under the 
law, as it existed from Henry VIII. to James I., our unhappy poet could not be 
held to have stolen rabbits, however fond he might be of hunting them ; and cer 
tainly it would have been legally unsafe for Sir Thomas Lucy to have whipped him 
for such a disposition. Pheasants and partridges were free for men of all condition 
to shoot with gun or cross-bow, or capture with hawk. There was no restriction 
against taking hares except a statute of Henry VIII., which, for the protection of 
hunting, forbade tracking them in the snow. With this 'general right of sport 
whatever might have been the opinion of the gentry that the taking of a deer was as 
grievous an offence as the breaking into a house it is clear that, with those of 
Shakspere's own rank, there was no disgrace attached to the punishment of an 
offender legally convicted. All the writers of the Elizabethan period speak of 
killing a deer with a sort of jovial sympathy, worthy the descendants of Robin Hood. 
" I '11 have a buck till I die, I'll slay a doe while I live," is the maxim of the Host in 
' The Merry Devil of Edmonton ; ' and even Sir John, the priest, reproves him not : 
he joins in the fun. With this loose state of public opinion, then, upon the subject of 
venison, is it likely that Sir Thomas Lucy, with the law on his side, would have pursued 
for such an offence the eldest son of an alderman of Stratford with any extraordinary 
severity ? If the law were not on his side, Sir Thomas Lucy would only have made 
himself ridiculous amongst his neighbours by threatening to make a Star Chambei 
matter of it. The knight was nearly the most important person residing in the imme 
diate neighbourhood of Stratford. In 1578 he had been High Sheriff. At the period 
when the deer-stealing may be supposed to have taken place he was seeking to be 
210 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



member for the county of Warwick, for which he was returned in 1584 He 
was ,n the hab.t of fnendly intercourse with the residents of Stratford for "n 
583 he was chosen as an arb.trator in a matter of dispute by Hamnet Sadler 
the fnend of John Shakspere and of his son. All these considerations tend 
we thmk to show that the .mprobable deer-stealing tradition is based Ike 
many other stones connected with Shakspere, on that vulgar love of the' mar 
vellous winch not sat.sfied with the wonder which a bein'g eminently endo^d 
h,mself presents w.thout seekmg a contrast of profligacy, or meanness, or igno 
rance ,n h,s early condmon amongst the tales of a rude generation who came 
after l,,m nH hearing of Ins fame, endeavoured to ' ' 




[Charleote House. From Avenue.] 

Charlcote, then, shall not, at least by us, be surrounded by unpleasant asso 
ciations in connexion with the name of Shakspere. It is, perhaps, the most 
interesting- locality connected with that name ; for in its great features it is 
essentially unchanged. There stands, with slight alteration, and those in good 
taste, the old mansion as it was reared in the days of Elizabeth. A broad 
avenue leads to its fine gateway, which opens into the court and the principal 
entrance. We would desire to people that hall with kindly inmates; to ima 
gine the fine old knight, perhaps a little too puritanical, indeed, in his latter 
days, living there in peace and happiness with his family ; merry as he ought 
to have been with his first wife, Jocosa (whose English name, Joyce, soundeth 
not quite so pleasant), and whose epitaph, by her husband, is honourable alike 
to the deceased and to the survivor.* We can picture him planting the second 
P2 211 




[Chailcote House. From tlie Avon.] 

avenue, which leads obliquely across the park from the great gateway to the 
porch of the parish-church. It is an avenue too narrow for carriages, if car 
riages then had been common; and the knight and his lady walk in stately 
guise along that grassy pathway, as the Sunday bells summon them to meet 
their humble neighbours in a place where all are equal. Charlcote is full of 
rich woodland scenery. The lime-tree avenue, may, perhaps, be of a later date 
than the age of Elizabeth ; and one elm has evidently succeeded another from 
century to century. But there are old gnarled oaks and beeches dotted about 
the park. Its little knolls and valleys are the same as they were two centuries 
ago. The same Avon flows beneath the gentle elevation on which the house 
stands, sparkling in the sunshine as brightly as when that house was first 
built. There may we still lie 



" All the time of her life a true and faithful servant of her good God ; never detected of any 
crime or vice ; in religion, moat sound ; in love to her husband, most faithful aud true ; in friend 
ship, most constant ; to what in trust was committed to her, most secret: in wisdom, excelling; in 
governing her house, and bringing up of youth in the fear of Qod, that did converse with her, most 
rare and singular. A great maiutainer of hospitality ; greatly esteemed of her betters ; misliked 
of none unless of the envious. When all is spoken that can be said, a woman so furnished aud 
garnished with virtue as not to be bettered, and hardly to be equalled of any. As she lived most 
virtuously, so she died most godly. 

" Set down by him that best did know what hath been written to be true, Thomas Lucy." 
212 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" Under an oak, whose antique root poeps out 
Upon the brook that brawls along his wood," 

and doubt not that there was the place to which 

" A poor sequestered stag, 
That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt, 
Did come to languish." * 

There may we still see 

" A careless herd, 
Full of the pasture," 

leaping gaily along, or crossing the river at their own will in search of fresh 
fields and low branches whereon to browse. We must associate Charlcote with 
happy circumstances. Let us make it the scene of a troth-plight. 




[House in Charlcote Village.] 



The village of Charlcote is now one of the prettiest of objects. Whatever is 
new about it and most of the cottages are new looks like a restoration of what 
was old. The same character prevails in the neighbouring village of Hampton 
Lucy ; and it may not be too much to assume that the memory of him who 
walked in these pleasant places in his younger days, long before the sound of 
his greatness had gone forth to the ends of the earth, has led to the desire to 
preserve here something of the architectural character of the age in which he 
lived. There are a few old houses still left in Charlcote ; but the more im- 



* As You Like It, Act n., Scene I. 



213 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKIM : 

portant have probably been swept away. In one such house, then, about a year we 
will say before William Shakspere's own marriage, we may picture a small party 
assembled to be present at a solemn rite. There can be little doubt that the ancient 
ceremony of betrothing had not fallen into disuse at that period. Shakspere 
himself, who always, upon his great principle of presenting his audiences with 
matters familiar to them, introduces the manners of his own country in his 
own times, has several remarkable passages upon the subject of the troth-plight. 
In Measure for Measure we learn that the misery of the "poor dejected Ma 
riana" was caused by a violation of the troth-plight : 

"Duke. She should this Angelo have married; was affianced to her 
by oath, and the nuptial appointed : between which time of the coil- 
tract and limit of the solemnity, her brother Frederick was wracked at 
sea, having in that perished vessel the dowry of hi* sister. But 
mark, how heavily this befel to the poor gentlewoman : there she lost a 
noble and renowned brother, in his love toward her ever most kind 
and natural ; with him the portion and sinew of her fortune, her 
marriage -do wry ; with both, her combiuate husband, this well-seeming 
Angelo. 

Isabella. Can this be so ? Did Angelo so leave her 1 
Duke. Left her in tears, and dried not one of them with his comfort ; 
swallowed his vows whole, pretending, in her, discoveries of dishonour; 
in few, bestowed her on her own lamentation, which she yet wears for 
his sake ; and he, a marble to her tears, is washed with them, but 
relents not." 

Angelo and Mariana were bound then "by oath;" the nuptial was appointed; 
there was a prescribed time between the contract and the performance of the 
solemnity of the Church. But, the lady having lost her dowry, the contract 
was violated by her "combinate" or affianced husband. The oath which An 
gelo violated was taken before witnesses ; was probably tendered by a minister 
of the Church. In Twelfth Night we have a minute description of such a 
ceremonial. When Olivia is hastily espoused to Sebastian, she says, 

" Now go with me, and with this holy man, 
Into the chantry by : there, before him, 
And underneath that consecrated roof, 
Plight me the full assurance of your faith ; 
That my most jealous and too doubtful soul 
May live at peace : He shall conceal it 
Whiles you are willing it shall come to note, 
What time we will our celebration keep 
According to my birth." 

This was a private ceremony before a single witness, who would conceal it till 
the proper period of the public ceremonial. Olivia, fancying she has thus 
espoused the page, repeatedly calls him " husband ; " and, being rejected, she 
summons the priest to declare 

" What thou doat know 

Hath newly paaa'd between this youth and mo." 
211 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

The priest answers, 

" A contract of eternal bond of love, 
Confirmed by mutual joinder of your hands, 
Attested by the holy close of lips, 
Strengthen'd by interchangement of your rings ; 
And all the ceremony of this compact 
Seal'd in my function, by my testimony : 
Since when, my watch has told me, toward my grave 
I have travell'd but two hours." 

But from another passage in Shakspere it is evident that the troth-plight was 
exchanged without the presence of a priest, but that witnesses were essential 
to the ceremony.* The scene in the Winter's Tale where this occurs is altogether 
so perfect a picture of rustic life, that we may fairly assume that Shakspere had in 
view the scenes with which his own youth was familiar, where there was mirth 
without grossness, and simplicity without ignorance : 

Flo. 0, hear me breathe my life 

Before this aucient sir, who, it should seem, 
Hath sometime lov'd : / take thy hand; this hand, 
As soft as dove's down, and as white as it; 
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow, 
That 's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er. 

Pol. What follows this ? 
How prettily the young swain seems to wash 
The hand was fair before ! I have put you out : 
But to your protestation ; let me hear 
What you profess. 

Flo. Do, and be witness to 't. 

Pol. And this my neighbour too ? 

Flo. And he, and more 

Than he, and men ; the earth, the heavens, and all : 
That, were I crown'd the most imperial monarch, 
Thereof most worthy j were I the fairest youth 
That ever made eye swerve ; had force, and knowledge, 
More than was ever man's, I would not prize them, 
Without her love : for her, employ them all ; 
Commend them, and condemn them, to her service, 
Or to their own perdition. 

Pol. Fairly offer'd. 

Cam. This shows a sound affection. 

Shep. - - But, my daughter, 

Say you the like to him t 

p er , I cannot speak 

So well, nothing so well ; no, nor mean better : 
By the pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out 
The purity of his. 

Shep. Take hands, a bargain ; 

And, friends unknown, you shall bear witnets to 't : 



Holinshed states that at a synod held at Westminster, in the reiga of Henry L, it WM 
decreed "that contracts mad* between man and woman, without witnesses, concerning mamag*, 
should be void if either of them denied it." 



215 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

I give my daughter to him, and will make 

Her portion equal his. 

Flo. 0, that must be 

I' the virtue of your daughter : one being dv1, 

I shall have more than you can dream of yet ; 

Enough then for your wonder : But, come on, 

Contract u 'fore these vntnettet. 

Skep. Come, your hand; 

And, daughter, yours." 

To the argument of Polixenes that the father of Florizel ought to know of his 
proceeding, the young man answers, 

"Flo. Come, come, he must not : 

Mark our contract." 

And then the father, discovering himself, exclaims, 
" Mark your divorce, young sir." 

Here, then, in the publicity, of a village festival, the hand of the loved one is 
solemnly taken by her " servant ; " he breathes his life before the ancient 
stranger who is accidentally present. The stranger is called to be witness to 
ihe protestation ; and so is the neighbour who has come with him. The maiden 
is called upon by her father to speak, and then the old man adds, 

" Take hands, a bargain." 
The friends are to bear witness to it : 

" I give my daughter to him, and will make 
Her portion equal his." 

The impatient lover then again exclaims, 

" Contract us 'fore these witnesses." 

The shepherd takes the hands of the youth and the maiden. Again the lover 
exclaims, 

" Mark our contract." 

The ceremony is left incomplete, for the princely father discovers himself 
with, 

" Mark your divorce, young sir." 

We have thus shown, by implication, that in the time of Shakspere betroth 
ment was not an obsolete rite. Previous to the Reformation it was in all pro. 
bability that civil contract derived from the Roman law, which was confirmed 
indeed by the sacrament of marriage, but which usually preceded it for a 
definite period, some say forty days, having perhaps too frequently the effect 
of the marriage of the Church as regarded the unrestrained intercourse of those 
so espoused. In a work published in 1543. 'The Christian State of Matri 
mony/ we find this passage : " Yet in this thing also must I warn every rea- 
216 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

sonable and honest person to beware that in the contracting of marriage they 
dissemble not, nor set forth any lie. Every man likewise must esteem the 
person to whom he is handfasted none otherwise than for his own spouse ; 
though as yet it be not done in the church, nor in the street. After the hand- 
fasting and making of the contract the church-going and wedding should not 
be deferred too long." The author then goes on to rebuke a custom, " that at 
the handfasting there is made a great feast and superfluous banquet ; " and he 
adds words which imply that the Epithalamium was at this feast sung, without 
a doubt of its propriety, " certain weeks afore they go to the church," where 

" All sanctimonious ceremonies may 
With full and holy rite be minister "d." 

The passage in The Tempest from which we quote these lines has been held 
to show that Shakspere denounced, with peculiar solemnity, that impatience 
which waited not for " all sanctimonious ceremonies." * But it must be re 
membered that the solitary position of Ferdinand and Miranda prevented even 
the solemnity of a betrothment ; there could be no witnesses of the public 
contract ; it would be of the nature of those privy contracts which the ministers 
of religion, early in the reign of Elizabeth, were commanded to exhort young 
people to abstain from. The proper exercise of that authority during half a 
century had not only repressed these privy contracts, but had confined the 
ancient practice of espousals, with their almost inevitable freedoms, to persons 
in the lower ranks of life, who might be somewhat indifferent to opinion. A 
learned writer on the Common Prayer, Sparrow, holds that the Marriage Ser 
vice of the Church of England was both a betrothment and a marriage. It 
united the two forms. At the commencement of the service the man says, 
" I plight thee my troth ; " and the woman, " I give thee my troth." This 
form approaches as nearly as possible to that of a civil contract ; but then comes 
the religious sanction to the obligation, the sacrament of matrimony. In the 
form of espousals so minutely recited by the priest in Twelfth Night, he is only 
present to seal the compact by his " testimony." The marriage customs of 
Shakspere's youth and the opinions regarding them might be very- different from 
the practice and opinions of thirty years later, when he wrote The Tempest. 
But in no case does he attempt to show, even through his lovers themselves, 
that the public troth-plight was other than a preliminary to a more solemn and 
binding ceremonial, however it might approach to the character of a marriage. 
It is remarkable that Webster, on the contrary, who was one of Shakspere's 
later contemporaries, has made the heroine of one of his noblest tragedies, ' The 
Duchess of Malfi,' in the warmth of her affection for her steward, exclaim 

" I have heard lawyers say, a contract in a chamber 
Per verba prcesenti is absolute marriage." 

This is an allusion to the distinctions of the canon law between betrothing and 
marrying the betrothment being espousals with the verba de futuro ; the mai - 

* Life of Shakspeare, by Mr. cle Quincey, in the ' Encyclopaedia Britannica.' 

217 



\\ II. 1.1AM S 

riage, espousals with the cerba Uc iirameiiti. The Duchess of Malfi had mis 
interpreted the lawyers when she believed that a secret " contract in a chamber " 
was " absolute marriage," whether the engagement was for the present or the 
future. 

Such a ceremonial, then, may have taken place in the presence of the young 
Shakspere, as he has himself described with inimitable beauty in the contract of his 
Florizel and Perdita. But under the happy roof at Charlcote there is no for 
bidding father ; there is no inequality of rank in the parties contracted. They 
are near neighbours ; a walk from Hampton Lucy through the grounds of 
Charlcote House brings the lover to the door of his mistress. And now, the 
contract performed, they merrily go forth into those grounds, to sit, with 
happiness too deep for utterance, under the broad beech which shades them 
from the morning sun ; or they walk, not unwelcome visitors, upon the terrace 
of the new pleasure-garden which the good knight has constructed for the 
special solace of his lady. The relations between one in the social position of 
Sir Thomas Lucy and his humbler neighbours could not have been otherwise 
than kindly ones. The epitaph in which he speaks of his wife as "a great 
maintainer of hospitality" is tolerable evidence of his own disposition. Hos 
pitality, in those days, consisted not alone in giving mighty entertainments to 
the rich and noble, but it included the cherishing of the poor, and the welcome 
of tenants and dependents. The Squire's Hall was not, like the Baron's Castle, 
filled with a crowd of prodigal retainers, who devoured his substance, and 
kept him as a stranger amongst those who naturally looked up to him for 
protection. Yet was the Squire a man of great worship and authority. He 
was a Justice of the Peace ; the terror of all depredators ; the first to be ap 
pealed to in all matters of village litigation. " The halls of the justice of 
peace vere dreadful to behold ; the screen was garnished with corslets, ana 
helmets gaping with open mouths, with coats of mail, lances, pikes, halberds, 




( Charlcote Home, from 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

brown bills, bucklers."* The Justice had these weapons ready to arm his 
followers upon any sudden emergency ; but, proud of his ancestry, his fighting- 
gear was not altogether modern. The "old worshipful gentleman who had a 
great estate " is described 

" With an old hall, hung about with pikes, guns, and bows, 
With old swords, and bucklers, that had borne many shrewd blows." t 

There was the broad oak-table in the hall, and the arm-chair large enough for 
a throne. The shovel-board was once there; but Sir Thomas, although he 
would play a quiet game with the chaplain at tric-trac, thought the shovel- 
board an evil example, and it was removed. Upon ordinary occasions the 
Justice sat in his library, a large oaken room with a few cumbrous books, of 
which the only novelty was the last collection of the Statutes. The book 
upon which the knight bestowed much of his attention was the famous book of 
John Fox, 'Acts and Monuments of these latter and perillous Dayes, touching 
Matters of the Church, wherein are comprehended and described the great 
Persecutions, and horrible Troubles, that have been wrought and practised by 
the Romishe Prelates.' This book was next to his Bible. He hated Popery, 
as he was bound to do according to law ; and he somewhat dreaded the inroads 
of Popery in the shape of Church ceremonials. He was not quite clear that 
the good man to whom he had presented the living of Charlcote was perfectly 
right in maintaining the honour and propriety of the surplice ; but he did not 
altogether think that it was the "mark of abomination. "J He reprobated the 
persecution of certain ministers " for omitting small portions or some cere 
mony prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer." Those ministers were of 
the new opinions which men began to call puritanical. 

The good knight's visits to Stratford may be occasionally traced in the Chamber 
lain's accounts, especially upon solemn occasions, when he went thither with " my 
Lady and Mr. Sheriff," and left behind him such pleasant memorials as " paid at 
the Swan for a quart of sack and a quartern of sugar, burned for Sir Thomas Lucy." || 
The " sack and sugar" would, we think, indispose him to go along with the violent 
denouncers of old festivals ; and those who deprecated hunting and hawking were in 
his mind little better than fools. He had his falconer and his huntsman ; and never 
was he happier than when he rode out of his gates with his hounds about him, and 
graciously saluted the yeomen who rode with him to find a hare in Fulbrooke. If, 
then, on the day of the troth-plight, Sir Thomas met the merry party from the village, 
he would assuredly have his blandest smiles in store for them ; and as the affianced 
made their best bow and curtsey he would point merrily to the favour in the hat, the 
little folded handkerchief, with its delicate gold lace and its tassel in each corner, f 

* Aubrey. f The Old and Young Courtier. J See Hooker's ' Ecclesiastical Polity/ book v. 

When in Parliament, in 1584, Sir Thomas Lucy presented a petition against the interference of 
ecclesiastical courts in such matters, whereip these words are used. 

|| Chamberlain's Accounts. Halliwell, p. 101. 

II " And it was then the custom for maids, and gentlewomen, to give their favourites, as tokens of 
their love, little handkerchiefs of about three or four inches square, wrought round about, and with 
a button, or a tassel at each corner, and a little in the middle, with silk or thread. The best 
edged with a little small gold lace, or twist, which being folded up in four cross folds, BO as the 
middle might be seen, gentlemen and others did usually wear them in their hats, as favours of their 
loves and mistresses." Howes's Continuation of Stow, p. 1039. 

219 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKRE : 

There is an early and a frugal dinner in the yeoman's house at Charlcote. 
Gervase Markham, in his excellent 'English Housewife/ describes "a humble 
feast or an ordinary proportion which any good man may keep in his family 
for the entertainment of his true and worthy friend." We doubt if so luxurious 
a provision was made in our yeoman's house ; for Markham's " humble feast " 
consisted of three courses, the first of which comprised sixteen "dishes of meat 
that are of substance." Harrison, writing about forty years earlier, makes the 
yeoman contented with somewhat less abundance : " If they happen to stumble 
upon a piece of venison, and a cup of wine or very strong beer or ale (which 
latter they commonly provide against their appointed days), they think their 
cheer so great, and themselves to have fared so well, as the Lord Mayor or 
London."* But, whatever was the plainness or the delicacy of their dishes, 
there is no doubt of the hearty welcome which awaited all those who had 
claims to hospitality : " If the friends of the wealthier sort come to their houses 
from far, they are commonly so welcome till they depart as upon the first day 
of their coming."f Again: "Both the artificer and the husbandman are suffi 
ciently liberal and very friendly at their tables ; and when they meet they are 
so merry without malice, and plain without inward Italian or French craft or 
subtility, that it would do a man good to be in company among them."J 

Shakspere has himself painted, in one of his early days, the friendly inter 
course between the yeomen and their better educated neighbours. To the table 
where even Goodman Dull was welcome, the schoolmaster gives an invitation 
to the parson : " I do dine to-day at the father's of a certain pupil of mine ; 
where if, before repast, it shall please you to gratify the table with a grace, I 
will, on my privilege I have with the parents of the aforesaid child or pupil, 
undertake your ben venuto." And it was at this table that the schoolmaster 
won for himself this great praise : " Your reasons at dinner have been sharp 
and sententious, pleasant without scurrility, witty without affection, audacious 
without impudence, learned without opinion, and strange without heresy."]) 
England was at that day not cursed with class and coterie society. The dis 
tinctions of rank were sufficiently well defined to enable men to mix freely, as 
long as they conducted themselves decorously. The barriers of modern society 
belong to an age of pretension. 

The early dinner at Charlcote finished, the young visitors from Stratford 
take a circuitous road home over the Fulbrooke hills. The shooting season is 
approaching, and they have to breathe their dogs. But after they have crossed 
Black Hill they hear a loud shouting; and they know that the hurlers are 
abroad. Snitterfield is matched against Alveston ; and a crowd of players from 
each parish have, with vast exertion, been driving their ball "over hills, dales, 
hedges, ditches, yea, and thorough bushes, briars, mires, plashes, and rivers." 1 
The cottage at the entrance of Fulbrooke is the goal. The Stratford youths 
must see the game played out, and curfew has rung before they reach home. 

Description of England, 1586, p. 170 f Ibid., p. 168. Ibid. 

Love' Labour 'a Lost, Act IT., Scene 11. || Ibid., Act v., Scene I. 

\ Carew's ' Survey of Cornwall." 
2*) 




[Fulbrooke. Hurling.] 



A few weeks roll on, and the bells of Hampton Lucy are ringing for a wed 
ding. The out-door ceremonials are not quite so rude as those which Ben 
Jonson has delineated ; but they are founded on the same primitive customs. 
There are " ribands, rosemary, and bay for the bridemen;" and some one of 
the rustics may exclaim 

" Look ! an the wenches ha' not found 'un out, 
And do parzent 'un with a van of rosemary, 
And bays, to vill a bow-pot, trim the head 
Of my best v ore-horse ! we shall all ha' bride laces, 
Or points, I zee." * 

Like the father in Jonson's play, the happy yeoman of Charlcote might say to 
his dame 



but he will not add- 



" You 'd have your daughters and maids 
Dance o'er the fields like fays to church :" 



I '11 have no roundels." 



He will not be reproached that he resolved 



* Tale of a Tub, Act I., Scene 



221 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKM : 

" To let no music go afore hi* child 
To church, to cheer her heart up."* 

On the other hand, there are no court ceremonials here to be seen, 

" Aa running at the ring, plays, masks, and tilting." f 

There would be the bride-cup and the wheaten garlands ; the bride led by fair- 
haired boys, arid the bridegroom following with his chosen neighbours : 

' Qlide by the banks of virgins then, and pass 
The showers of roses, lucky four-leav'd grass ; 
The while the cloud of younglings sing, 
And drown ye with a flow'ry spring ; 

While some repeat 
Your praise, and bless you, sprinkling you with wheat, 

While that others do divine 
' Blest is the bride on whom the sun doth shine.' " J 

The procession enters the body of the church ; for, after the Reformation, the 
knot was no longer tied, as, at the five weddings of the Wife of Bath, at 
" church-door." The blessing is pronounced, the bride-cup is called for : the 
accustomed kiss is given to the bride. But neither custom is performed after 
the fashion of Petrucio : 



' He calls for wine : ' A health,' quoth ha ; as if 
He had been aboard, carousing to his mates 
After t. storm : quaff 'd off the muscadel, 
And threw the sops all in the sexton's face ; 
Having no other reason, 
But that his beard grew thin and hungerly, 
And seem'd to ask him sops as he was drinking. 
This done, he took the bride about the neck, 
And kiss'd her lips with such a clamorous smack, 
That, at the parting, all the church did echo." 

They drink out of the bride-cup with as much earnestness (however less the 
formality) as the great folks at the marriage of the Elector Palatine to the 
daughter of James I. : " In conclusion, a joy pronounced by the King and 
Queen, and seconded with congratulation of the lords there present, which 
crowned with draughts of Ippocras out of a great golden bowl, as an health to 
the prosperity of the marriage, began by the Prince Palatine, and answered by 
the Princess."| 

We will not think that " when they come home from church then beginneth 

* Tale of a Tub, Act n., Scene L 
+ A New Way to pay Old Debts, Act iv., Scene in. J Herrick's ' Hesperides.' 

Taming of the Shrew, Act in.. Scene n. 
|| Quoted in Reed's Shakspeare, from Finet's ' Philoxenis.' 
222 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



excess of eating and drinking, and as much is wasted in one day as were suf 
ficient for the two new-married folks half a year to live upon." * The dance 
follows the banquet : 

" Hark, hark, I hear the minstrels play." f 



* Christian State of Matrimony. 



t Taming of the Shrew, Act in., Scene it. 




[Hampton Lucy. The Ol<? Church.] 




[Daisy Hi)!.] 



III. FIELD SPORTS. 

THERE is a book with which William Shakspere would unquestionably be 
familiar, the delightful ' Scholemaster ' of Roger Ascham, first printed in 1570, 
which would sufficiently encourage him, if encouragement were wanting, in the 
common pursuit of serious study and manly exercises. " I do not mean," says 
this fine genial old scholar, " by all this my talk, that young gentlemen should 
always be poring on a book, and, by using good studies, should lose honest 
pleasure and haunt no good pastime ; I mean nothing less : for it is well known 
that I both like and love, and have always and do yet still use, all exercises 
and pastimes that be fit for my nature and ability. And beside natural dis 
position, in judgment also, I was never either stoic in doctrine, or Anabaptist 
in religion, to mislike a merry, pleasant, and playful nature, if no outrage be 

committed against law, measure, and good order Therefore to 

ride comely ; to run fair at the tilt or ring ; to play at all weapons ; to shoot 
fair in bow or surely in gun ; to vault lustily ; to run ; to leap ; to wrestle ; to 
swim ; to dance comely ; to sing, and play of instruments cunningly ; to hawk ; 
to hunt ; to play at tennis ; and all pastimes generally which be joined with 
.abour, used in open place, and in the daylight, containing either some fit 
exercise for war, or some pleasant pastime for peace, be not only comely and 
deceot, but also very necessary for a courtly gentleman to use." 
224 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

To "ride comely," to "shoot fairly in bow, or surely in gun," "to hawk, to 
hunt," were pastimes in which William Shakspere would heartily engage. 
His plays abound with the most exact descriptions of matters connected with 
field sports. In these exercises, " in open place and in the daylight," would he 
meet his neighbours ; and we may assume that those social qualities which 
won for him the love of the wisest and the wittiest in his mature years, would 
be prominent in the frankness and fearlessness of youth. Learned men had 
despised hunting and hawking had railed against these sports. Surely Sir 
Thomas More, he would think, never had hawk on fist, or chased the destruc 
tive vermin whose furs he wore, when he wrote, " What delight can there be, 
and not rather displeasure, in hearing the barking and howling of dogs?"* 
Erasmus, too, was a secluded scholar. Ascham appreciated these things, be 
cause he liked, and loved, and used them. With his " stone-bow" in hand 
would the boy go forth in search of quail or partridge. It was a difficult 
weapon a random shot might hit a man "in the eye," f but it was not so 
easy when the small bullet flew from the string to bring down the blackbird 
from the bush. There is abundant game in Fulbrooke. Ever since th 
attainder of John Dudley it had been disparked ; granted by the Crown to a 
favourite, and again seized upon. A lovely woodland scene was this in the 
days when Elizabeth took into her own hands the property which her sister 
had granted to Sir Henry Englefield, now a proscribed wanderer. The boy- 
sportsman is on Daisy Hill with his " birding-bow ; " but the birds are for 
a while unheeded. He stops to gaze upon that glorious view of Warwick 
which here is unfolded. There, bright in the sunshine, at the distance of four 
or five miles, are the noble towers of the Beauchamps ; and there is the lofty 
church beneath whose roof their pride and their ambition lie low. Behind 
him is his own Stratford, with its humbler spire. All around is laund and 
bush, a spot which might have furnished the scene of the Keepers in 
Henry VI. : 

" 1 Keep. Under this thick-growu brake we'll shroud ourselves ; 
For through this laund anon the deer will come ; 
And in this covert will we make our stand, 
Culling the principal of all the deer. 

2 Keep. I 'il stay above the hill, so both may shoot. 

1 Keep. That cannot be ; the noise of thy cross-bow 
Will scare the herd, and so my shoot is lost. 
Here stand we both, and aim we at the best ;" J 

a spot to which many a fair dame had been led by gallant forester, with bow 
bent, and " quarrel" fitted : 

" Prin. Then, forester, my friend, where is the bush 
That we must stand and play the murtherer in ? 

For. Here by, upon the edge of yonder coppice ; 
A stand, where you may make the fairest shoot." 



* Utopia, book ii. chap. 7. 

t " 0, for a stone-bow ! to hit him in the eye." Twelfth Night. 

I Henry VI., Part III,, Act m., Scene i. Love's Labour's Lost, Act iv., Scene i. 

LIFE. ' Q 225 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKi... , 

With the timid deer even the cross-bow scares the herd with its noise. But it 
was retained in "birding" long after the general use of fire-arms, that the 
covey might not be scattered. Its silent power of destruction was its principal 
merit. 

But as boyhood is thrown off there are nobler pastimes for William Shak- 
spere than those of gun and cross-bow. Like Gaston de Foix "he loved 
hounds, of all beasts, winter and summer."* He was skilled in the qualities 
of hounds : he delighted in those of the noblest breed, 

" So flew'd, so sanded ; and their heads are hung 
With ears that sweep away the morning dew ; 
Crook-kneed and dew-lapp'd, like Thessalian bulla ; 
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells, 
Each under each." t 

The chase in his day was not a tremendous burst for an hour or two, whose 
breathless speed shuts out all sense of beauty in the sport. There was har 
mony in every sound of the ancient hunt there was poetry in all its associa 
tions. Such lines as those which Hippolita utters were not the fancies of a 
cloistered student : 

" I was with Hercules and Cadmus once, 
When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear 
With hounds of Sparta : never did I hear 
Such gallant chiding ; for, besides the groves, 
The skies, the fountains, every region near 
Seem'd all one mutual cry : I never heard 
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder." $ 

The solemn huntings of princes and great lords, where large assemblies were 
convened to chase the deer in spaces enclosed by nets, but where the cook and 
the butler were as necessary as the hunter, were described in stately verse by 
George Gascoigne. "The noble art of Venerie" seems to have been an admir 
able excuse for ease and luxury " under the greenwood tree." But the open 
hunting with the country squire's beagles was a more stirring matter. By day 
break was the bugle sounded ; and from the spacious offices of the Hall came 
forth the keepers, leading their slow-hounds for finding the game, and the 
foresters with their greyhounds in leash. Many footmen are there in attend 
ance with their quarter-staffs and hangers. Slowly rides forth the master and 
his friends. ^ Neighbours join them on their way to the wood. There is merri 
ment in their progress, for, as they pass through the village, they stop before 
the door of the sluggard who ought to have been on foot, singing "Hunt's up 
to the day : " 

" The hunt is up, the hunt is up, 
Sing merrily we, the hunt is up ; 



* Lord Berners* ' Froissart,' book iiu chap. 26. 
t Midmimmer Night's Dream, Act iv., Scene L J Ibid. 

Romeo and Juliet, Act m. Scene v. 
226 



The birds they sing, 
The deer they fling : 

Hey nony, nony-no . 
The hounds they cry, 
The hunters they fly : 

Hey troli lo, trololilo. 
The hunt is up." * 

It is a cheering and inspiriting tune the reveillee awakening like the 
" singing " of the lark, or the " lively din " of the cock. Sounds like these 
were heard, half a century after the youth of Shakspere, by the student whose 
poetry scarcely descended to the common things which surrounded him ; for it 
was not the outgushing of the heart over all life and nature ; it was the reflec 
tion of his own individuality, and the echo of books beautiful indeed, but not 
all-comprehensive : 

" Oft list'ning how the hounds and horn 
Cheerly arouse the slumb'ring morn, 
From the side of some hoar hill, 
Through the high wood echoing shrill." f 

To the wood leads the chief huntsman. He has tracked the hart or doe to the 
covert on the previous night ; and now the game is to be roused by man and 
dog. Some of the company may sing the fine old song, as old as the time of 
Henry VIII. : 

'' Blow thy horn, hunter, 

Blow thy horn on high. 
In yonder wood there lieth a doe : 
In faith she woll not die. 

Then blow thy horn, hunter, 
Then blow thy horn, hunter, 
Then blow thy horn, jolly hunter." J 

The hart is roused. The hounds have burst out in " musical confusion." Soho 
is cried. The greyhounds are unleashed. And now rush horsemen and foot 
men over hill through dingle. A mile or two of sharp running, and he is 
again in cover. Again the keepers beat the thicket with their staves. He is 
again in the open field, crossing Ingon Hill. And so it is long before the treble- 
mort is sounded ; and the great mystery of " wood-craft," the anatomy of the 
venison, is gone through with the nicest art, even to the cutting off a bone for 
the raven. 

It is in his first poem " the first heir of my invention " that the sportsman 
is most clearly to be identified with the youthful Shakspere. Who ever painted 
a hare-hunt with such united spirit and exactness? We see the cranks, and 
crosses, and doubles, of the poor wretch ; the cunning with which he causes the 

* Douce, ' Illustrations of Shakspeare,' vol. ii. p. 192. t Milton, ' L' Allegro.' 

J The MS. of this fine song is in the British Museum. It has been published by Mr. Chappell. 

Ben Jonson's ' Sad Shepherd,' Act I., Scene vi. 
Q 2 227 







llngon HIU.J 



hounds to mistake the smell ; the listening upon a hill for his pursuers ; the 
turning and returning of poor Wat. Who ever described a horse with such a 
complete mastery of all the points of excellence ? In his plays, all the niceties 
of falconry are touched upon ; and the varieties of hawk " haggard," " tassel- 
gentle," "eyas musket," spoken of with a master's knowledge. Hawking was 
the universal passion of his age, especiallv for the wealthy. Coursing was for 
the yeomen such as Master Page.* The love of all field-sports lasted half a 
century longer ; and some of Shakspere's great dramatic successors have put 
out all their strength in their description. There are few things more spirited 
than the following passage from Massinger : 

" Dwr. I must have you 

To my country villa : rise before the sun, 
Then make a breakfast of the morning dew, 
Serv'd up by nature on some grassy hill. 

Cold. You talk of nothing. 

Dur. This ta'en as a preparative, to strengthen 
Your queasy stomach, vault into your saddle ; 
With all this flesh I can do it without a stirrup : 
My hounds uncoupled, and my huntsmen ready, 
You shall hear such music from their tunable mouth*. 
That you shall say the viol, harp, theorbo, 
Ne'er made such ravishing harmony ; from the grove* 



2-28 



* Merry Wives of Windsor, Act r., Scene T. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

And neighbouring woods with frequent iteration, 
Enamour'd of the cry, a thousand echoes 
Repeating it. 

*** 

DU.J In the afternoon, 

For we will have variety of delights, 

We '11 to the field again ; no game shall rise 

But we'll be ready for't : if a hare, my greyhounds 

Shall make a course ; for the pie or jay, a sparhawk 

This from the fist ; the crow so near pursued, 

Shall be compell'd to seek protection under 

Our horses' bellies ; a hearn put from her siege, 

And a pistol shot off in her breech, shall mount 

So high, that, to your view, she '11 seem to soar 

Above the middle region of the air : 

A cast of haggard falcons, by me mann'd, 

Eying the prey at first, appear as if 

They did turn tail; but with their labouring wings 

Getting above her, with a thought their pinions 

Cleaving the purer element, make in, 

And by turns bind with her ; the frighted fowl, 

Lying at her defence upon her back, 

With her dreadful beak awhile defers her death, 
But by degrees forced down, we part the fray, 
And feast upon her. 

Cold. This cannot be, I grant, 

But pretty pastime. 

Dur. Pretty pastime, nephew ! 

'Tis royal sport. Then, for an evening flight, 
A tiercel gentle, which I call, my masters, 
As he were sent a messenger to the moon, 
In such a place flies, as he seems to say, 
See me, or see me not ! the partridge sprung, 
He makes his stoop ; but, wanting breath, is forced 
To canceller ; then with such speed, as if 
He carried lightning in his wings, he strikes 
The tumbling bird, who even in death appears 
Proud to be made his quarry." * 

The passage in which Massinger thus describes what had been presented to 
his observation is one of the many examples of the rare power which the dra 
matists of Shakspere's age possessed, the power of seeing nature with their 
own eyes. But we may almost venture to say that this power scarcely existed 
in dramatic poetry before Shakspere taught his contemporary poets that there 
was something better in art than the conventional images of books the 
shadows of shadows. The wonderful superiority of Shakspere over all others, 
in stamping the minutest objects of creation, as well as the highest mysteries 
of the soul of man, with the impress of truth, must have been derived, in some 
degree, from his education, working with his genius. All his early experience 
must have been his education; and we therefore are not attempting mere fan- 



* The Guardian, Act i., Scene i. The speakers are Durazza and Caldoro. 

229 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

ciful combinations of the individual with the circumstances of his social position, 
when we surround him with the scenes which belong to his locality, his time, 
and his condition of life. 




[Snitterfield. 



230 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON THE SHAKSPERIAN LOCALITIES. 



WE have endeavoured to render the local descriptions and allusions in this chapter, and in preceding 
passages, more intelligible, by subjoining a map of the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this 
neighbourhood there is little of that scenery which we call romantic ; but the surpassing fertility, 
the undulating surfaces, the rich woodlands, the placid river, and the numerous and beautiful 
old churches, render it an interesting country to walk over, independent of its associations. Those 
associations impart to this neighbourhood an unequalled charm ; and the outline map here given 
may probably assist the lover of Shakspere in a ramble through hit 

" Daily walks, and ancient neighbourhood." 

The very beautiful sketches of Mr. Harvey, of which we can attest the fidelity, as far as regards 
their local accuracy, may also lend an interest to such a visit. The map has been constructed with 
reference to the insertion of places only which are either named in Shakspere's works, or with 
which he or his family were connected, or which have appeared to us demanding mention or allusion 
in his biography. The map is, of course, a map for the present day, but there are very few names 
inserted which are not found in Dugdale's Map of the hundreds which contain this neighbourhood. 
Many, of course, are omitted which are there found. 



231 



WILLIAM SII.\KSl'i:i:r. 



i 






o 

< 

H 



W 





[Hampton Lucy, from road near Alvesiou.J 

CHAPTER XV. 

SOLITAEY HOUES. 



THE poet who has described a man of savage wildness, cherishing " unshaped, 
Ualf-human thoughts " in his wanderings among vales and streams, green wood 
*nd hollow dell, has said that nature ne'er tould find the way into his heart : 

" A primrose by a river's brim 
A yellow primrose was to him, 
And it was nothing more." 

These are lines at which some of the worldly-wise and clever have been wont 
to laugh ; but they contain a deep and universal truth. Without some asso 
ciation, the most beautiful objects in nature have no charm ; with association, 
the commonest acquire a value. The very humblest power of observation is 

233 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE 

necessarily dependent upon some higher power of the mind. Those who ob 
serve differ from those who do not observe in the possession of acquired know 
ledge, or original reflection, which is to guide the observation. The observer 
who sees accurately, who knows what others have observed, and who applies 
this knowledge only to the humble purpose of adding a new flower or insect to 
his collection, we call a naturalist. But there are naturalists, worthy of the 
name, who, without bringing any very high powers of mind to their observation 
of nature, still show, not only by the minuteness and accuracy of their eye, but 
by their genial love and admiration of the works of the Creator, that with them 
nature has found the way into the heart. Such was White of Selborne. We 
delight to hear him describe the mouse's nest which he found suspended in the 
head of a thistle ; or how a gentleman had two milk-white rooks in one nest : 
we partake in his happiness when he writes of what was to him an event : 
" This morning I saw the golden-crowned wren whose crown glitters like bur 
nished gold ; " and we half suspect that the good old gentleman had the spirit 
of poetry in him when he says of the goat-sucker, " This bird is most punctual 
in beginning its song exactly at the close of day ; so exactly that I have known 
it strike up more than once or twice just at the report of the Portsmouth even 
ing gun." He wrote verses ; but they are not so poetical as his prose. A na 
turalist endowed with higher powers of association has taught us how philosophy 
looks upon the common aspects of the outer world. Davy was a scientific 
observer. He shows us the reason of the familiar prognostications of the wea 
ther the coppery sunset, the halo round the moon, the rainbow at night, the 
flight of the swallow. Even omens have a touch of science in them ; and there 
is a philosophical difference in the luck of seeing one magpie or two. But 
there is an observer of nature who looks upon all animate and inanimate exist 
ence with a higher power of association even than these. It is the poetical 
naturalist. Of this rare class our Shakspere is decidedly the head. Let us 
endeavour to understand what his knowledge of external nature was, how it was 
applied, and how it was acquired. 

Some one is reported to have said that he could affirm from the evidence of 
his ' Seasons ' that Thomson was an early riser. Thomson, it is well known, 
duly slept till noon. Bearing in mind this practical rebuke of what is held to 
be internal evidence, we still shall not hesitate to affirm our strong conviction 
that the Shakspere of the country was an early riser. Thomson, professedly a 
descriptive poet, assuredly described many things that he never saw. He 
looked at nature very often with the eyes of others. To our mind his cele 
brated description of morning offers not the slightest proof that he ever saw the 
sun rise.* In this description we have the meek-eyed morn, the dappled east, 
brown night, young day, the dripping rock, the misty mountain : the hare 
limps from the field ; the wild deer trip from the glade ; music awakes in 
woodland hymns ; the shepherd drives his flock from the fold ; the sluggard 
sleeps : 



Summer. Line 43 to 96. 
234 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" But yonder cornea the powerful king of day, 
Rejoicing in the east ! The lessening cloud, 
The kindling azure, and the mountain's brow, 
Illum'd with fluid gold, his near approach 
Betoken glad. Lo, now apparent all, 
Aslant the dew-bright earth and colour'd air, 
He looks in boundless majesty abroad, 
And sheds the shining day, that burnish'd plays 
On rocks, and hills, and towers, and wandering streams. 
High-gleaming from afar." 

This is conventional poetry, the reflection of books ; excellent of its kind, but. 
still not the production of a poet-naturalist. Compare it with Chaucer: 

" The besy larke, the messager of day, 
Saleweth in hire song the morwe gray ; 
And firy Phebus riseth up so bright, 
That all the orient laugheth of the sight, 
And with his stremes drieth in the greves 
The silver dropes, hanging on the leves." * 

The sun drying the dewdrops on the leaves is not a book image. The bril 
liancy, the freshness, are as true as they are beautiful. Of such stuff are the 
natural descriptions of Shakspere always made. He is as minute and accurate 
as White ; he is more philosophical than Davy. The carrier in the inn-yard 
at Rochester exclaims, "An't be not four by the day, I'll be hanged: Charles' 
wain is over the new chimney." f Here is the very commonest remark of a 
common man ; and yet the principle of ascertaining the time of the night by 
the positiorl of a star in relation to a fixed object must have been the result of 
observation in him who dramatized the scene. The variation of the quarter 
in which the sun rises according to the time of the year may be a trite problem 
to scientific readers ; but it must have been a familiar fact to him who, with 
marvellous art, threw in a dialogue upon the incident, to diversify and give 
repose to the pause in a scene of overwhelming interest : 

" Decius. Here lies the east: Doth not the day break here? 

Casca. No. 

Cinna. 0, pardon, sir, it doth ; and yon gray lines, 
That fret the clouds, are messengers of day. 

Casca. You shall confess that you are both deceiv'd. 
Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises ; 
Which is a great way growing on the south, 
Weighing the youthful season of the year. 
Some two months hence, up higher toward the north 
He first presents his fire ; and the high east 
Stands, as the Capitol, directly here." 

It was in his native fields that Shakspere had seen morning under every aspect ; 

* The Knight's Tale. Line 1493. t Henry IV., Part I., Act ir., Scene I. 

I Julius Caesar, Act u.. Scene i. 

235 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKKK : 

now, "in russet mantle clad;" now, opening her "golden gates." A mighty 
battle is compared to the morning's war : 

" When dying clouds contend with growing light" 

Perhaps this might have been copied, or imagined ; but the poet throws in 
reality, which leaves no doubt that it had been seen : 

" What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails, 
Can neither call it perfect day, nor night." * 

What but actual observation could have told the poet that the thin flakes of ice 
which he calls "flaws" are suddenly produced by the coldness of the morning 
just before sunrise ? The fact abided in his mind till it shaped it itself into a 
comparison with the peculiarities in the character of his Prince Henry : 

" As humorous as winter, and as sudden 
As flaws congealed in the spring of day." 

He has painted his own Romeo, when under the influence of a fleeting first 
love, stealing " into the covert of the wood," 

" An hour before the worshipp'd sun 
Peer'd forth the golden window of the east."t 

A melancholy and joyous spirit would equally have tempted the young poet 
to court the solitudes that were around him. Whether his " affections " were 
to be " most busied when most alone ;" J or, objectless, 

" Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy ;" 

or intent upon a favourite book ; or yielding to the imagination which " bodies 
forth the forms of things unknown/' many of the vacant hours of the young 
man would be solitary hours in his own fields. Yet, whatever was the pervading 
train of thought, he would still be an observer. In the vast storehouse of his 
mind would all that he observed be laid up, not labelled and classified after the 
fashion of some poetical manufacturers, but to be called into use at a near or a 
distant day, by that wonderful power of assimilation which perceives all the 
subtile and delicate relations between the moral and the physical worlds, and 
thus raises the objects of sense into a companionship with the loftiest things 
that belong to the fancy and the reason. Who ever painted with such marvel 
lous power we use the word advisedly the changing forms of an evening 
sky, " black vesper's pageants"? 

" Sometime we see a cloud that 's dragonish ; 
A vapour, sometime, like a bear, or lion, 
A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock, 
A forked mountain, or blue promontory 
With trees upon 't, that nod unto the world, 
And mock our eyes with air." || 



Henry VI., Part III., Act n., Scene v. t Romeo and Juliet, Act I., Scene L 

J Ibid. As You Like It, Act rv., Scene m. 

|| Antony and Cleopatra, Act iv., Scene xn. 
236 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

This is noble painting, but it is something higher. When Antony goes on to 
compare himself to the cloud which " even with a thought the rack dislimns/' 
we learn how the great poet uses his observation of nature. Not only do such 
magnificent objects as these receive an elevation from the poet's moral appli 
cation of them, but the commonest things, even the vulgarest things, ludicrous 
but for their management, become in the highest degree poetical. Many a time 
in the low meadows of the Avon would Shakspere have seen the irritation of the 
herd under the torments of the gad-fly. The poet takes this common thing to 
describe an event which changed the destinies of the world : 

" Yon ribald nag of Egypt, 

Whom leprosy o'ertake ! i' the midst o' the fight, 
When vantage like a pair of twins appear'd, 
Both as the same, or rather ours the elder, 
The brize upon her, like a cow in June, 
Hoists sails, and flies." * 

When Hector is in the field, 

" The strawy Greeks, ripe for his edge, 
Fall down before him, like the mower's swath." t 

Brutus, speculating upon the probable consequences of Csesar becoming king, 
exclaims : 

" It is the bright day that brings forth the adder, 
And that craves wary walking." J 



* Antony and Cleopatra, Act m., Scene vni. 
f Troilus and Cressida, Act v., Scene v. t Julius Caesar, Act n.. Scene i. 




WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

The same object had been seen and described in an earlier play, without its grand 
association : 

" The snake lies rolled in the cheerful BUD." 

The snake seems a liege subject of the domain of poetry. Her enamel skin is 
a weed for a fairy ; f the green and gilded snake wreathed around the sleeping 
man J is a picture. But what ordinary writer would not shrink from the poet 
ical handling of a snail? It is the surpassing accuracy of the naturalist that 
has introduced the snail into one of the noblest passages of the poet, in juxta 
position with the Hesperides and Apollo's lute : 

" Love's feeling is more soft and sensible 
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails." 

One of the grandest scenes of a tragedy of the mature poet is full of the most 
familiar images derived from an accurate observation of the natural world. The 
images seem to rise up spontaneously out of the minute recollections of a life 
spent in watching the movements of the lower creation. " A deed of dreadful 
note " is to be done before nightfall. The bat, the beetle, and the crow are the 
common, and therefore the most appronriate, instruments which are used to 
mark the approach of night. The simplest thing of life is thus raised into 
sublimity at a touch : 

" Ere the bat hath flown 
His cloister'd flight ;" 

ere 

" The shard-borne beetle, with his drowsy hums, 
Hath rung night's yawning peal j" 

the murder of Banquo is to be done. The very time is at hand : 

" Light thickens ; and the crow 
Makes wing to the rooky wood." || 

The naturalist has not only heard the " drowsy hums " of the beetle as he wan- 
dered in the evening twilight, but he has traced the insect to its hiding-place. 
The poet associates the fact with a great lesson, to be content in obscure 
safety : 

" Often, to our comfort, shall we find 
The sharded beetle in a safer hold 
Thau is the full-wing'd eagle." ^ 

Let it not be forgotten that the young Shakspere had to make himself a na 
turalist. Books of accurate observation there were none to guide him ; for the 
popular works of natural . history, of which there were very few, were full of 
extravagant fables and vague descriptions. Mr. Douce has told us that Shak 
spere was extremely well acquainted with one of these works' Batman uppon 

Titus Andronicus, Act n, Scene m. 

bummer-Night's Dream, Act n., Scene n. j As You Like It, Act iv., Scene m. 

| Love's Labour 'a Lost, Act rv., Scene t- || Macbeth, Act m., Scene n. 

U Cymbeline, Act in., Scene IIL 
238 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Bartholome his booke De proprietatibus rerum, 1582;' and he has ascertained 
that the original price of this volume was eight shillings. But Shakspere did 
not go to Bartholomeus, or to Batman (who made large additions to the ori 
ginal work from Gesner), for his truths in natural history. Mr. Douce has cited 
many passages in his ' Illustrations/ in which he traces Shakspere to Bartho 
lomeus. We have gone carefully through the volumes where these are scat 
tered up and down, and we find a remarkable circumstance unnoticed by Mr. 
Douce, that these passages, with scarcely an exception, refer to the vulgar 
errors of natural history which Shakspere has transmuted into never-dying 
poetry. It is here that we find the origin of the toad which wears " a precious 
jewel in his head;"* of the phoenix of Arabia ;f of the basilisk that kills the 
innocent gazer ;J of the unlicked bear-whelp. But the truths of natural his 
tory which we constantly light upon in Shakspere were all essentially derived 
from his own observation. There is a remarkable instance in his discri 
mination between the popular belief and the scientific truth in his notice of 
the habits of the cuckoo. The Fool in Lear expresses the popular belief in 
a proverbial sentence : 

" For you trow, nuncle, 
The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long 
That it had its head bit off by its young." 

Worcester in his address to Henry IV., expresses the scientific fact without 
the vulgar exaggeration, -^a fact unnoticed till the time of Dr. Jenner by any 

O OO 

writer but the naturalist William Shakspere : 

" Being fed by us, you used us so 
As that ungentle gull the cuckoo's bird 
Useth the sparrow : did oppress owr nest ; 
Grew by our feeding to so great a-bulk, 
That even our love durst not come near your sight." H 

The noble description of the commonwealth of bees in Henry V. was sug 
gested, in all probability, by a similar description in Lyly's Euphues.' But 
Shakspere's description not only displays the wonderful accuracy of his obser 
vation, in subservience to the poetical art, but the unerring discrimination of 
his philosophy. Lyly makes his bees exercise the reasoning faculty choose 
a king, call a parliament, consult for laws, elect officers ; Shakspere says " they 
have a king and officers ; " and he refers their operations to " a rule in nature.* 
The same accuracy that he brought to the observation of the workings of nature 
in the fields, he bestows upon the assistant labours of art in the garden, 
dialogue between the old gardener at Langley and the servants, is full of tech 
nical information. The great principles of horticultural economy, pruning and 
weeding, are there as clearly displayed as in the most anti-poetical of treatises. 
We have the crab-tree slip grafted upon noble stock (the reverse of the gar 
dener's practice) in one play :f in another we have the luxurious 

* As You Like It, Act n., Scene i. t Tempest, Act m., Scene n. 

J Henry VI., Part II., Act in., Scene n. Ibid., Part III, Act in., Scene n. 

|| See our Illustration of this passage, Henry IV., Part I., Act v., Scene I. 
K Henry VI., Part II., Act ill., Scene n. . 

239 



WILLIAM SHAKSPF-U: : 

in wild and savage stock."* A writer in a technical periodical work seriously 
maintains that Shakspere was a professional gardener, f This is better evi 
dence of the poet's horticultural acquirements than Steevens's pert remark, 
" Shakspeare seems to have had little knowledge in gardening.''^ Shak- 
spere's philosophy of the gardener's art is true of all art. It is the great 
Platonic belief which raises art into something much higher than a thing of 
mere imitation, showing the great informing spirit of the universe working 
through man, as through any other agency of his will : 

"Per. Sir, the year growing ancient, 

Nor yet ou summer's death, nor on the birth 
Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season 
Are our carnations, and streak'cl gilly 'vors, 
Which some call nature's bastards : of that kind 
Our rustic garden 'B barren ; and I care not 
To get slips of them. 

Pot. Wherefore, gentle maiden, 

Do you neglect them ? 

Per. For I have heard it said, 

There is an art which, in their piedness, shares 
With great creating nature. 

Pol. Say, there be ; 

Yet nature is made better by no mean, 
But nature makes that mean : so, over that art, 
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art, 
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry 
A gentler scion to the wildest stock ; 
And make conceive a bark of baser kind 
By bud of nobler race : This is an art 
Which does mend nature, change it rather : but 
The art itself is nature." 

Perdita's flowers ! who can mention them, and not think of the wonderful 
union of the accuracy of the naturalist with the loveliest images of the poet? 
It his been well remarked that in Milton's ' Lycidas ' we have "among vernal 
flowers many of those which are the offspring of Midsummer;" but Shakspere 
distinguishes his groups, assorting those of the several seasons. || Perhaps in 
the whole compass of poetry there is no such perfect combination of elegance 
and truth as the passage in which Perdita bestows her gifts parts of which 
are of such surpassing loveliness, that the sense aches at them : 

" 0, Proserpina, 

For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou lett'st fall 
From Dis's waggon ! daffodils, 
That come before the swallow dares, and take 
The winds of March with beauty ; violets, dim, 
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, 
Or Cytherea's breath." "I 



Henry V., Act in., Scene v. f The Gardener's Chronicle, May 29, 1841. 

* Note on As You Like It, Act in., Scene n. Winters Tale, Act iv., Scene in. 

II Patterson's ' Natural History of the Insects mentioned in Shakspeare's Plays.' 

^[ Winter's Tale, Act iv., Scene lit 

240 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Of all the objects of creation it is in flowers that Shakspere's genius appears 
most to revel and luxuriate ; but the precision with which he seizes upon their 
characteristics distinguishes him from all other poets. A word is a description. 
The "pale primrose," the " azur'd harebell," are the flowers to be 'strewn upon 
Fidele's grave ; but how is their beauty elevated when the one is compared to 
her face, and the other to her veins ! Shakspere perhaps caught the sweetest 
image of his sweetest song from the lines of Chaucer which we have recently 
quoted ; where we have the lark, and the fiery Phoebus drying the silver drops 
on the leaves. But it was impossible to have translated this fine passage, as 
Shakspere has done, without the minute observation of the naturalist working 
with the invention of the poet : 

" Hark ! hark ! the lark at heaven's gate sings, 

And Phoebus 'gins arise, 
His steeds to water at those springs 
On chalic'd flowers that lies." * 

The rosebud shrivels and dies, and the cause is disregarded by a common ob 
server. The poetical naturalist points out " the bud bit by an envious worm."f 
Again, the microscope of the poet sees " the crimson drops i' the bottom of a 
cowslip," and the observation lies in the cells of his memory till it becomes a 
comparison of exquisite delicacy in reference to the " cinque-spotted " mark of 
the sleeping Imogen. But the eye which observes everything is not only an eye 
for beauty, as it looks upon the produce of the fields ; it has the sense of utility 
as strong as that which exists in the calculations of the most anti-poetical. 
The mad Lear's garland is a catalogue of the husbandman's too luxuriant 
enemies : 

" Crown'd with rank fumiter, and furrow weeds, 
With harlocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, 
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow 
In our sustaining corn." J 

Who could have conceived the noble picture in Henry V. of a country wasted 
by war, but one who from his youth upward had been familiar, even to the 
minutest practice, with all that is achieved by cultivation, and all that is lost 
by neglect ; who had seen the wild powers of nature held in subjection to the 
same producing power under the guidance of art; who had himself assisted 
in this best conquest of man ? 

" Her vine, the merry cheerer of the heart, 
Unpruned dies : her hedges even-pleach* d, 
Like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair 
Put forth disorder'd twigs : her fallow leas 
The darnel, hemlock, and rank fumitory, 
Doth root upon; while that the coulter rusts, 
That should deracinate such savagery : 
The even mead, that erct brought sweetly forth 



* Cymbeline, Act n., Scene in. t Romeo and Juliet, Act i., Scene I. 

J King Lear, Act iv., Scene iv. 
LIFE. li 2n 



WILLIAM >IIAKSPKRK: 

The freckled cowslip, burnet, and green clover, 
Wonting the scythe, all uncorrccted, rank, 
Conceives by idleness ; and nothing teems 
But hateful docks, rough thistles, keckaies, burs, 
Losing both beauty and utility." * 

Even the technical words of agriculture find their place in his language of 
poetry : 

" Lake to the Bummer's corn by tempest lodtfd." f 

He goes into the woods of his own Arden, and he associates her oaks with the 
sublimest imagery ; but still the oak loses nothing of its characteristics. " The 
thing of courage, as roused with rage, with rage doth sympathise," 

" When splitting winds 
Make flexible the knees of knotted oaks." 

Again : 

" Merciful Heaven ! 

Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt 
Splitt'st the unwcdyeable and gnarled oak 
Than the soft myrtle." 

Even the woodman's economy, who is careful not to exhaust the tree that 
furnishes him fuel, becomes an image to show, by contrast, the impolicy of 
excessive taxation : 

" Why, we take 

From every tree, lop, bark, and part o' the timber ; 

And, though we leave it with a root, thus hack'd 

The air will drink the sap." || 

It is in these woods that he has studied the habits of the "joiner squirrel," 
who makes Mab's chariot out of an " empty hazel-nut."^[ Here the active boy 
was no doubt the " venturous fairy " that would seek the " squirrel's hoard, 
and fetch new nuts."** Here he has watched the stock-dove sitting upon her 
nest, and has stored the fact in his mind till it becomes one of the loveliest of 
poetical comparisons : 

" Anon as patient as the female dove 
When that her golden couplets are disclos'd, 
His silence will sit drooping." JJ 

What book- fed poet could have chosen a homely incident of country life as the 
aptest illustration of an assembly suddenly scattered by their fears ? 

" Russet-painted choughs, many in sort, 
Rising and cawing at the gun's report^ 
Sever themselves, and madly sweep the sky." ft 



I Henry V., Act v., Scene n. t Henry VI., Part II., Act in., Scene i. 

J Troilus and Cressida, Act t, Scene in. Measure for Measure, Act n., Scene n. 

II Henry VIII., Act i., Scene n. 1 Romeo and Juliet, Act i., Scene rv. 

A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act rv., Scene i. ft Hamlet, Act v., Scene t 

A. Midsummer-Night's Droam, Act HI., Scene II. 
242 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

The poet tells usand we believe him as much as if a Pliny or a Gesner had 
written it that 

" The poor wreu, 

The most diminutive of birds, will fight, 
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl." * 

The boy has climbed to the kite's nest, and there perchance has found some of 
the gear that " maidens bleach ; " the discovery becomes a saying for Autolycus : 
' When the kite builds, look to lesser linen." f In all this practical part 
of Shakspere's education it is emphatically true that the boy " is father of the 
man." j 

Shakspere, in an early play, has described his native river : 

" The current, that with gentle murmur glides, 
Thou know'st, being stopp'd, impatiently doth rage ; 
But, when his fair course is not hindered, 
He makes sweet music with the enamell'd stones, 
Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge 
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage ; 
And so by many winding nooks he strays, 
With willing sport, to the wild ocean." 




[Near Alveston.j 



The solitary boat of the young poet may be fancied floating down this " current." 
There is not a sound to disturb his quiet, but the gentle murmur when "the 
waving sedges play with wind."|| As the boat glides unsteered into some 
winding nook, the swan ruffles his proud crest; and the quick eye of the 
naturalist sees his mate deep hidden in the reeds and osiers : 



' So doth the swan her downy cygnets save, 
Keeping them prisoner underneath her wings." U 



* Macbeth, Act IV., Scene u. t Winter's Tale, Act iv., Scene n. J Wordsworth. 

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act n., Scene vii. I] Induction to Taming of the Shrew 

IT Henry VI., Part I., Act v., Scene m. 
R 2 



WILLIAM SIIAKSI'KKE : 

Very lovely is this Avon for some miles above Stratford ; a poet's river in its 
beauty and its peacefulness. It is disturbed with no sound of traffic ; it holds 
its course unvexed by man through broad meadows and wooded acclivities, 
which for generations seem to have been dedicated to solitude. All the great 
natural features of the river must have suffered little change since the time of 
Shakspere. Inundations in some places may have widened the channel ; osier 
islands may have grown up where there was once a broad stream. But we 
here look upon the same scenery upon which he looked, as truly as we gaze 
upon the same blue sky, and see its image in the same glassy water. As we 
unmoor our boat from the fields near Bishop's Hampton,* we look back upon 
the church embosomed in lofty trees. The church is new ; but it stands upon 




told Church of Hampton Lucy.] 

the same spot as the ancient church : its associations are the same. We glide 

by Charlcote. The house has been enlarged; its antique features somewhat 

improved ; but it is essentially the same as the Charlcote of Shakspere. We 

pass its sunny lawns, and are soon amidst the unchanging features of nature. 

We are between deep wooded banks. Even the deer, who swim from shore to 

$ where the river is wide and open, are prevented invading these quiet 

The old turrets rising amidst the trees alone tell us that human habita- 

hand. A little onward, and we lose all trace of that culture which is 

the face of nature. There is a high bank called Old Town, 

2 perhaps men and women, with their joys and sorrows, once abided. It 



214 



* The old name for Hampton Lucy. 




I.A Peep at Charlcote.] 



is colonized by rabbits. The elder-tree drops its white blossoms luxuriantly 
over their brown burrows. The golden cups of the yellow water-lilies lie 
brilliantly beneath on their green couches. The reed-sparrow and the willow- 
wren sing their small songs around us : a stately heron flaps his heavy wing 
above. The tranquillity of the place is almost solemn ; and a broad cloud 
deepens the solemnity, by throwing for a while the whole scene into shadow. 
We have a book with us that Shakspere might have looked upon in the same 
spot two hundred and sixty years ago ; a new book then, but even then seeking 
to go back into the past, in the antique phraseology adopted by the young 
author. It is the first work of Spenser, ' The Shepherd's Calendar,' originally 




Town, 1 



245 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEKE : 

printed in 1579. Let us pause a little upon its pages ; and thence look back also 
with a brief glance, at the poetical models in his own language which were open 
to the study of one who, without models, was destined to found the greatest school 
of poetry which the world had seen. 

Spenser, displeased with the artificial character of the literature of his own 
early time, its mydiological affectations, its mincing and foreign phraseology, 
thought to infuse into it a more healthy tone by familiarizing the court ot 
Elizabeth with the diction of the age of Edward III. The attempt was not 
successful. His friend and editor, E. K., indeed says, " In my opinion it is 
one especial praise, of many which are due to this poet, that he hath laboured 
to restore, as to their rightful heritage, such good and natural English words 
as have been long time out of use, and almost clean disherited. Which is the 
only cause that our mother tongue, which truly of itself is both full enough of 
prose, and stately enough for verse, hath long time been counted most bare and 
barren of both."* But even Sidney, to whom the work was dedicated, will not 
admit the principle which Spenser was endeavouring to establish : " ' The 




[Spenser. J 

Shepherd's Calendar' hath much poetry in his eclogues worthy the. reading, if 
I be not deceived. That same framing of his style to an old rustic language i 
dare not allow ; since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sanna- 
zarius in Italian, did affect it."f Yet we can well imagine that ' The Shepherd's 
Calendar,' dropping in the way of the young recluse of Stratford, must have 
been exceedingly welcome. " Colin Clout, the new poet," as his editor calls 
him, had the stamp of originality upon him ; and therefore our Shakspere would 

Epistle to Master Gabriel Harvey, prefixed to ' The Shepherd's Calendar,' edition 1 579. 

t Defence of Poesy. 
246 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

agree that " his name shall come into the knowledge of men, and his worthiness 
be sounded in the trump of fame."* The images and the music of the despairing 
shepherd would rest upon his ear : 

" You naked trees, whose shadie leaves are lost, 
Wherein the birds were wont to build their bowre, 
And now are clothd with mosse and hoarie frost, 
In steede of blossomes, wherewith your buds did floure ; 

I. see your teares that from your boughes do raine, 

Whose drops in drerie ysicles remaine. 

All so my lustfull leafe is drie and sere, 
My timely buds with wayling all are wasted ; 
The blossome which my braunch of youth did beare, 
With breathed sighes is blowne away and blasted ; 

And from mine eyes the drizling teares descend, 

As on your boughes the ysicles depend." f 

We read the passage, and our memory involuntarily turns to the noble commence 
ment of one of Shakspere's own Sonnets : 

^" That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang." J 

But here we also see the difference between the two poets. Shakspere's com 
parison of his declining energies with the "bare ruin'd choirs" of the woods of 
autumn has all the power of reality. The love-sick shepherd who "compareth 
his careful case to the sad season of the year, to the frosty ground, to the frozen 
trees, and to his own winterbeaten flock," is an affectation. The pastoral poetry 
of all ages and nations is open in some degree to this objection ; but Spenser, who 
makes his shepherds bitter controversialists in theology, has carried the falsetto 
style a degree too far even for those who can best appreciate the real poetical 
power which is to be discovered in these early productions. One passage in these 
Eclogues sounded, as we think, a note that must have sunk deeply into the 
ambition of him who must very early have looked upon the thoughts and habits 
of real life as the proper staple of poetry : 

" Who ever castes to compasse wightie prise, 
And thinkes to throwe out thundring words of threat, 
Set powre in lavish cups and thriftie bittes of meate, 
For Bacchus fruite is friend to Phoebus wise ; 
And, when with wine the braine begins to sweat, 
The numbers flow as fast as spring doth rise. 

Thou kenst not, Percie, how the rime should rage ; 
O, if my temples were distain'd with wine, 
And girt in girlonds of wilde yvie twine, 
How could I reare the muse on stately stage, 
And teach her tread aloft in buskin fine, 
With queint Bellona in her equipage ?" [| 



* Epistle, &c. + Eclogue 1 . 

t Sonnet 73. Argument to the Eclogue. II Eclogue 10. 

247 



WILLIAM SHAXSI'F.I.T. : 

These verses sound to us exceedingly like a sarcasm upon the " huft, puft, 
braggart " vein of the drama which preceded Shakspere by a few years, and 
which fixed its character even upon the first efforts of the great masters whose 
light soon gleamed out of this dun smoke. It was no doubt a drunken drama. 
But there was one in whom we believe the desire was early planted to raise 
dramatic composition into a high art. The shepherd who speaks these lines in 
the ' Calendar ' is represented in the argument as " the perfect pattern of a poet, 
which, finding no maintenance of his state and studies, complaineth of the con 
tempt of poetry, and the causes thereof." The cause of the contempt was the 
want of true poets. The same argument says of poetry, that it is " a divine 
gift, and heavenly instinct, not to be gotten by labour and learning, but adorned 
with both, and poured into the wit by a certain Enthousiasmos and celestial 
inspiration." In the case of Shakspere the Enthousiasmos must have come early ; 
-or, in our minds, were the labour and learning wanted to direct it. The 
great model of Spenser, in his early efforts, was Chaucer. Chaucer too was 
his later veneration : 

" Dan Cliaucer, well of English undefyled." * 
In ' The Shepherd's Calendar ' Chaucer is " Tityrus, god of shepherds :" 

" Qoe, little Calender ! them hast a free passeporte ; 
Goe but a lowly gate amongst the meaner sorte : 
Dare not to match thy pype with Tityrus his stile." f 

The greatest minds at the period of which we are writing reverenced Chaucer. 
Sidney says of him, " I know not whether to marvel more either that he in 
that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age go so stumblingly 
after him."J Passing over the minor poetry with which Shakspere must have 
been familiar, the elegance of Wyatt, the tenderness of Surrey, the dignity of 
Sackville, the broad humour of Skelton, we have little hesitation in believing 
that the poetical master of Shakspere was Chaucer. But whilst Spenser imi 
tated his style, Shakspere penetrated into the secret of that excellence which is 
almost independent of style. The natural and moral world was displayed 
before each ; and they became its interpreters, each after his own peculiar 
genius. 

And yet. whilst we believe that Shakspere was the pupil of Chaucer; whilst 
we imagine that the tine bright folio of 1542, whose bold black letter seems 
the proper dress for the rich antique thought, was the closet companion of the 
young poet ; that in his solitary walks unbidden tears came into his eyes when 
he recollected some passage of matchless pathos, or irrepressible laughter arose 
at those touches of genial humour which glance like sunbeams over the page 
comparing, too, Chaucer's fresh descriptions with the freshest things under the 
sky, and seeing how the true painter of Nature makes even her loveliness more 
lovely ; believing all this, we yet reverentially own that this wondrous 

* Fairy Queen, book iv., canto 2. f Epilogue to the ' Calender.' 

J Defence of Poesy. 
248 



A BIOGEAPHY. 



excellence was incommunicable, was not to be imitated. But nevertheless the 
early familiarity with such a poet as Chaucer must have been a loadstar to one 
like Shakspere, who was launched into the great ocean of thought without a 
chart. The narrow seas of poetry had been navigated by others, and their track 
might be followed by the common adventurer. Chaucer would disclose to him 
the possibility of delineating individual character with the minutest accuracy, 
without separating the individual from the permanent and the universal. 
Chaucer would show him how a high morality might still consist with freedom 
of thought and even laxity of expression, and how all that is holy and beau- 
tiful might be loved without such scorn or hatred of the impure and the evil 
as would exclude them from human sympathy. Chaucer, working as an artist, 
would inform him what stores lay hidden of old traditions and fables, legends 
that had travelled from one nation to another, gathering new circumstances as 
they became clothed in new language, the property of every people, related 
in the peasant's cabin, studied in the scholar's cell; and he would teach him 
that these were the best materials for a poet to work upon, for their universality 
proved that they were akin to man's inmost nature and feelings. In these, 
arid in many more things, Chaucer would be the teacher of Shakspere. The 
pupil became greater than the master, partly through the greater comprehen 
siveness of his genius, and partly through its dramatic direction. The form of 
their art was essentially different, but yet the spirit was very much the same. 
These two poets, England's two greatest poets, have so much in common, that 
we scarcely regard the different modes in which they worked when we think 
of their mutual characteristics. Each is equally unapproachable in his humour 
as in his pathos ; each is so masterly a delineator of character that we converse 
with the beings of their creation as if they had moved and breathed around 
us ; each is the closest and the clearest painter of external nature ; each has 
the profoundest skill in the management of language, so as to send his thoughts 
with the greatest effect, and with the least apparent effort, into the depths of 
the understanding ; each, according to his own theory, is a perfect master of 
harmonious numbers. What was superadded in Shakspere sets him above all 
comparison with any other poet. But with Chaucer he may be compared ; 
and having so much in common with him, it is impossible not to feel that the 
writings of Chaucer must have had an incalculable influence on the formation 
of the mind of Shakspere. 

Such were the speculations that came across us in that silent reach of the 
Avon below Charlcote. But the silence is broken. The old fisherman of 
Alveston paddles up the stream to look for his eel-pots. We drop down the 
current. Nothing can be more interesting than the constant variety which 
this beautiful river here exhibits. Now it passes under a high bank clothed 
with wood ; now a hill waving with corn gently rises from the water's edge. 
Sometimes a flat meadow presents its grassy margin to the current which 
threatens to inundate it upon the slightest rise ; sometimes long lines of willow 
or alder shut out the land, and throw their deep shadows over the placid stream. 
Islands of sedge here and there render the channel unnavigable, except to 

249 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKl:n : 

the smallest boat. A willow thrusting its trunk over the stream reminds us of 
Ophelia : 

" There ia a willow grows askaunt the brook 
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream." * 

A gust of wind raises the underside of the leaves to view, and we then perceive 
the exquisite correctness of the epithet " hoar." Hawthorns, here and there, 
grow upon the water's edge ; and the dog-rose spots the green bank with its 
faint red. That deformity, the pollard-willow, is not so frequent as in most 
rivers ; but the unlopped trees wear their feathery branches, as graceful as 
ostrich-plumes. The gust which sings through that long colonnade of willows 
is blowing up a rain-storm. The wood- pigeons, who have been feeding on the 
banks, wing their way homewards. The old fisherman is hurrying down the 
current to the shelter of his cottage. He invites us to partake that shelter. 
His family are busy at their trade of basket-making; and the humble roof, 
with its cheerful fire, is a welcome retreat out of the driving storm. It is a long 
as well as furious rain. We open the volume of Shakspere's own poems ; and 
we bethink us what of these he may have composed, or partly shadowed out, 
wandering on this river-side, or drifting under its green banks, when his happy 
and genial nature instinctively shaped itself into song, as the expression of his 
sympathy with the beautiful world around him. 

* Hamlet, Act iv.. Scene vir. 




f Below CharleooU.] 



250 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

"The first heir of my invention." This may be literally true of the Venus 
and Adonis, but it does not imply that the young poet had not been a diligent 
cultivator of fragmentary verse long before he had attempted so sustained a 
composition as this most original and remarkable poem. We must carry back 
our minds to the published poetry of 1593, when the Venus and Adonis ap 
peared, fully to understand the originality of this production. Spenser had 
indeed then arisen to claim the highest rank in his own proper walk. Six 
books of 'The Fairy Queen 'had been published two or three years. But, 
rejoicing as Shakspere must have done in ' The Fairy Queen,' in his own poems 
we cannot trace the slightest imitation of that wonderful performance; and it 
is especially remarkable how steadily he resists the temptation to imitate the 
archaisms which Spenser's popularity must have rendered fashionable. If we 
go back eight or ten years, and suppose, which we have fairly a right to do, 
-that Shakspere was a writer of verse before he was twenty, the absence of any 
recent models upon which he could found a style will be almost as remarkable, 
in the case of his narrative compositions, as in that of his dramas. In William 
Webbe's 'Discourse of English Poetrie,' published in 1586, Chaucer, Gower, 
Lydgate, and Skelton are the old poets whom he commends. His immediate 
predecessors, or contemporaries, are " Master George Gascoigne, a witty 
gentleman, and the very chief of our late rhymers," Surrey, Vaux, Norton, 
Bristow, Edwards, Tusser, Churchyard, Hunnis, Heywood, Hill, the Earl of 
Oxford (who "may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent " among 
" noble lords and gentlemen in her Majesty's court, which in the rare devices 
of poetry have been and yet are most excellent skilful ") ; Phaer, Twyne, Gold- 
ing, Googe, and Fleming the translators ; Whetstone, Munday. The eminence 
of Spenser, even before the publication of ' The Fairy Queen,' is thus acknow 
ledged : " This place have I purposely reserved for one, who, if not only, yet 
in my judgment principally, deserveth the title of the rightest English poet 
that ever I read: that is, the author of 'The Shepherd's Calendar.'" George 
Puttenham, whose 'Arte of English Poesie' was published in 1589, though 
probably written somewhat earlier, mentions with commendation among the 
later sort " For eclogue and pastoral poesy, Sir Philip Sidney and Master 
Challenner, and that "other gentleman who wrate the late ' Shepherd's Calendar.' 
For ditty and amorous ode I find Sir Walter Raleigh's vein most lofty, insolent, 
and passionate. Master Edward Dyer for elegy most sweet, solemn, and of 
high conceit. Gascoigne for a good metre and for a plentiful vein." The 
expression "that other gentleman who wrate the late 'Shepherd's Calendar" 1 
would fix the date of this passage of Puttenham almost immediately subse 
quent to the publication of Spenser's poem in 1579, the author being still 
unknown. Shakspere, then, had very few examples amongst his contemporaries, 
even of the first and most obvious excellence of the Venus and Adonis " the 
perfect sweetness of the versification."* To continue the. thought of the same 
critic, this power of versification was " evidently original, and not the result of 



* Coleridge Biographia Literaria.' 

251 



WILLIAM BHAK8PEEE: 

an easily imitable mechanism." But, at the same time, he could not have 
attained the perfection displayed in the Venus and Adonis without a long and 
habitual practice, which could alone have bestowed the mechanical facility. It 
is not difficult to trace in that poem itself portions which might have been 
written as the desultory exercises of a young poet, and afterwards worked up 
so as to be imbedded in the narrative. Such is the description of the steed ; 
such of the hare-hunt. Upon the principle upon which we have regarded the 
Sonnets, that they are fragmentary compositions, arbitrarily strung together, 
there can be no difficulty in assigning several of these, and especially those 
which are addressed to a mistress, to that period of the poet's life of which his 
own recollection would naturally suggest the second stage in his Seven Ages. 
"The lover sighing like furnace" would have poured himself out in juvenile 
conceits, such as characterize the Sonnets numbered 135, 136, 143 ; or in play 
ful tokens of affection, such as the 128th, the 130th, the 145th ; or in complain 
ing stanzas, " a woeful ballad," such as the 131st and 132nd. The little poems 
of The Passionate Pilgrim which can properly be ascribed to Shakspere have 
the decided character of early fragments. The beautiful elegiac stanzas 01 
Love's Labour's Lost have the same stamp upon them; as well as similar pas 
sages in The Comedy of Errors. The noble scene of the death of Talbot and his 
son, forming the 5th. 6th, and 7th scenes of the 4th act of Henry VI., Part I., 
are so different in the structure of their versification from the other portions of 
the play that we may fairly regard them as forming a considerable part of some 
separate poem, and that perhaps not originally dramatic. "The period," says 
Malone, "at which Shakspeare began to write for the stage will, I fear, never 
be precisely ascertained."* Probably not. But in the absence of this precise 
information it is a far more reasonable theory that he was educating himself in 
dramatic as well as poetical composition generally at an early period of his life, 
when such a mind could not have existed without strong poetical aspirations, 
than the prevailing belief that the first publication of the Venus and Adonis, 
and his production of an original drama, were nearly contemporaneous. This 
theory assumes that his poetical capacity was suddenly developed, very nearly 
in its perfection, at the mature age of twenty-eight, in the midst of the laborious 
occupation of an actor, who had no claim for reward amongst his fellows but as 
an actor. We, on the contrary, consider that we adopt not only a more reason 
able view, but one which is supported by all existing evidence, external and 
internal, when we regard his native fields as Shakspere's poetical school. 
Believing that, in the necessary leisure of a country life, encumbered as we 
think with no cares of wool-stapling or glove-making, neither educating youth 
at the charge -house like his own Holofernes, nor even collecting his knowledge 
of legal terms at an attorney's desk, but a free and happy agriculturist, the 
young Shakspere not exactly " lisped in numbers," but cherished and cultivated 
the faculty when "the numbers came;" we yield ourselves up to the poetical 
notion, because it is at the same time the more rational and consistent one. 



* Posthumous Life, p. 1(37. 



A BIOGRAPHY, 

that the genius of verse cherished her young favourite on these "willow's 
banks :" 

" Here, as with hoiiey gather'a from the rock, 

She fed the little prattler, and with songs 

Oft sooth'd his wondering ears; with deep deliglit 

On her soft lap he sat, and caught the sounds." 



Joseph Warton. 




Aiveston.] 




[Near Ludington.] 



NOTE ON THE SCENERY OF THE AVON. 



THB Avon of Warwickshire, called the Upper Avon, necessarily derives its chief interest from ita 
associations with Shakspere. His contemporaries connected his fame with his native river : 

" Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were, 
To see thee in our waters yet appear, 
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames 
That so did take Eliza and our James !" 



So wrote Jonson in his manly lines, ' To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author Mr. William 
Shakespeare, and what he hath left us.' After him came Davenant, with a pretty conceit that 
the river had lost its beauty when the great poet no longer dwelt upon its banks : 

" Beware, delighted poets, when you sing, 
To welcome nature in the early spring, 

Your numerous feet not tread 
The banks of Avon ; for each flow'r, 
As it ne'er knew a sun or show'r, 

Hangs there the pensive head. 
254 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Each tree, whose thick and spreading growth hath made 
Rather a night beneath the boughs than shade, 

Unwilling now to grow, 
Looks like the plume a captain wears, 
Whose rifled falls are steep'd i' the tears 

Which from his last rage flow. 

The piteous river wept itself away 
Long since, alas ! to such a swift decay, 

That, reach the map, and look 
If you a river there can spy, 
And, for a river, your mock'd eye 

Will find a shallow brook." * 

Joseph Warton describes fair Fancy discovering the infant Shakspere "on the winding Avon's 
willowed banks." Thomas Warton has painted the scenery of the Avon and its associations with a 
bright pencil : 

" Avon, thy rural views, thy pastures wild, 
The willows that o'erhang thy twilight edge, 
Their boughs entangling with the embattled sedge . 
Thy brink with watery foliage quaintly fringed, 
Thy surface with reflected verdure tinged ; 
Soothe me with many a pensive pleasure mild. 
But while I muse, that here the Bard Divine, 
Whose sacred dust yon high-arch'd aisles enclose, 
Where the tall windows rise in stately rows, 
Above th" embowering shade, 
Here first, at Fancy's fairy-circled shrine, 
Of daisies pied his infant offering made ; 
Here playful yet, in stripling years unripe, 
Framed of thy reeds a shrill and artless pipe 
Sudden thy beauties, Avon, all are fled, 
As at the waving of some magic wand ; 
An holy trance my charmed spirit wings, 
And awful shapes of leaders and of kings, 
People the busy mead, 
Like spectres swarming to the wizard's hall ; 
And slowly pace, and point with trembling hand 
The wounds ill-cover'd by the purple pall. 
Before me Pity seems to stand, 
A weeping mourner, smote with anguish sore 
To see Misfortune rend in frantic mood 
His robe, with regal woes embroider'd o'er. 
Pale Terror leads the visionary band, 
And sternly shakes his sceptre, dropping blood." t 

The well-known lines of Gray are amongst his happiest efforts : 

" Far from the sun and summer gale, 
In thy green lap was Nature's Darling laid, 
What time, where lucid Avon stray'd, 
To him the mighty mother did unveil 
Her awful face : the dauntless child 
Stretch'd forth his little arms, and smiled. 
' This pencil take,' she said, ' whose colours clear 
Richly paint the vernal year : 
Thine too these golden keys, immortal boy I 
This can unlock the gates of joy ; 
Of horror that, and thrilling fears, 
Or ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.' '' J 

These quotations sufficiently show that the presiding genius of the Avon is Shakspere. But even 
without this paramount association, the river, although little visited, abounds with picturesque 
scenery and interesting objects. A big, dull book has been written upon it, by one who could 

In Remembrance of Master William Shakspeare. Ode. 
t Monody, written near Stratford-upon-Avon. J The Progress of Poesy. 



\VII.UAM SIIAKSN.IM: : 

neither put down with exactness what he saw, nor impart any lifo to his meagre descriptions, 
i From the first section of his book, which tells us that " The river Avon derives its sourco from a 
spring called Avon Well in the village of Naseby," to the last, in which lie informs us that "Avon's 
friendly streams with Severn join," the 'Picturesque Views' of Mr. Samuel Ireland appear to us 
the production of the moat spiritless of delineators. We would not recommend the tourist to en 
cumber himself with this heavy book. The associations of the Avon with Shakspere may be consi 
dered to begin in the neighbourhood of Kenilworth. The river is not navigable above Stratford, 
and therefore the traveller will find it no very easy matter to trace its course; but still a pedestrian 
can overcome many difficulties. The beautiful grounds of Guy's Cliff are shown to visitors. A 
little below, a boat will convey the wayfarer through somewhat tame scenery to Warwick Bridge. 
The noble castle is an object never to be forgotten ; and perhaps there is no pile of similar interest 
in England which in so high a degree unites the beautiful with the magnificent. The Avon flows 
for a considerable distance through the domain of the castle. Below, the left bank is bold and 
well-wooded, especially near Barford. The reader may now trace the river by the little map (p- 
232). The course of the stream is generally through flat meadows from Barford to Hampton Lucy ; 
but the high ground of Fulbrooke offers a great variety of picturesque scenery, and occasionally 
one or the other bank is lofty and precipitous, as at Hampton Wood. The reader is already familiar 
with the characteristics of the river from Hampton Lucy to Stratford. The most romantic spot is 
Hatton Rock ; a bank of considerable height, where the current, narrow and rapid, washes the 
base of the cliff, which is luxuriantly wooded. The river view of Stratford, as we approach the 
bridge, is exceedingly picturesque. When we have passed the church and the mill we may follow 
the river, by the tow-path on .the right bank, the whole way to Bidford. The views are not very 
picturesque till we have passed the confluence of the Stour. Near Ludington we meet at every turn 
with subjects for the sketch-book. Opposite Welford, on the pathway to Hilborough, the landscape 
5s very lovely. A mill is always a picturesque object ; and here is one that seems to have held it* 
place for many a century. Of the Grange and of Bidford we have often spoken. Below the little 




11 lie Mill; Welford.] 



A IHOGRArilY. 

town the river becomes a much more important stream ; and the left bank for several miles will 
appear bold and romantic even to those who are familiar with the Wye. This is especially the 
case under the Marl Cliff Hill. Here the Arrow contributes its rapid waters to swell the stream. 
We have now quitted Warwickshire. As we approach Evesham the town with its noble tower and 
ancient spires forms a most interesting termination to such a walk of three days as we have now 
briefly t>-aoed. 




257 




[\Vorcester.J 



CHAPTER XVI. 



A DAY AT WOECESTEll. 



THE hospitality of our ancestors was founded upon their sympathies with 
each other's joys and sorrows. The festivals of the church, the celebrations of 
sheep-shearing and harvest-home, the Mayings, were occasions of general glad 
ness. But upon the marriage of a son or of a daughter, at the christening of a 
child, the humblest assembled their neighbours to partake of their particular 
rejoicing. So was it also with their sorrows. Death visited a family, and its 
neighbours came to mourn. To be absent from the house of mourning would 
have seemed as if there was not a fellowship in sorrow as well as in joy. Chris 
tian neighbours in those times looked upon each other as members of the same 
family. Their intimacy was much more constant and complete than in days 
that are thought more refined. Privacy was not looked upon as a desirable 
thing. The latch of every door was lifted without knocking, and the dance in 
258 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

the hall was arranged the instant some young taborer struck a note ; or the 
gossip's bowl was passed around the winter fire-side, to jest and song : 

" And then the whole quire hold their hips and loffe, 
And waxen in their mirth, arid neeze, and swear 
A merrier hour was never wasted there." * 

Young men married early. In the middle ranks there was little outfit required 
to begin housekeeping. A few articles of useful furniture satisfied their simple 
tastes ; and we doubt not there was as much happiness seated on the wooden 
bench as now on the silken ottoman, and as light hearts tripped over the green 
rushes as upon the Persian carpet. A silver bowl or two, a few spoons, con 
stituted the display of the more ambitious ; but for use the treen platter was 
at once clean and substantial, though the pewter dish sometimes graced a 
solemn merry-making. Employment, especially agricultural, was easily ob 
tained by the industrious ; and the sons of the yeomen, whose ambition did not 
drive them into the towns to pursue commerce, or to the universities to try for 
the prizes of professions, walked humbly and contentedly in the same road as 
their fathers had walked before them. They tilled a little land with indiffer 
ent skill, and their herds and flocks gave food and raiment to their household. 
Surrounded by the cordial intimacies of the class to which he belonged, it is 
not difficult to understand how William Shakspere married early ; and the very 
circumstance of his so marrying is tolerably clear evidence of the course of life 
in which he was brought up. 

It has been a sort of fashion of late years to consider that Shakspere was 
clerk to an attorney. Thomas Nash in 1589 published this sentence: "It is 
a common practice now-a-days, among a sort of shifting companions, that run 
through every art and thrive by none, to leave the trade of Noverint, whereto 
they were born, and busy themselves with the endeavours of art, that could 
scarcely latinize their neck-verse if they should have need ; yet English Seneca, 
read by candlelight, yields many good sentences, as Bloud is a Beggar, and so 
forth : and, if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole 
Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.! This quotation is held 
to furnish the external evidence that Shakspere had been an attorney, by the 
connection here implied of "the trade of Noverint" and "whole Hamlets.' 
Noverint was the technical beginning of a bond.J It is imputed, then, by 
Nash, to a sort of shifting companions, that, running through every art and 
thriving by none, they attempt dramatic composition, drawing their tragical 
speeches from English Seneca. Does this description apply to Shakspere? 
Was he thriving by no art? In 1589 he was established in life as a sharer in 
the Blackfriars Theatre. Does the use of the term " whole Hamlets " fix the 
allusion upon him? It appears to us only to show that some tragedy called 
Hamlet/ it may be Shakspere's was then in existence ; and that it was a play 

* A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act n., Scene I. 

f Epistle prefixed to Greene's 'Arcadia,' by Thomas Nash. 

t See Shakspere's Marriage-Bond : Note to this Chapter. 

2S2 



WILMAM 

also at which Nash might sneer as abounding with tragical speeches. But it 
does not seem to us that there is any absolute connection between the Noverint 
and the Hamlet. Suppose, for example, that the Hamlet alluded to was 
written by Marlowe, who was educated at Cambridge, and was certainly not a 
lawyer's clerk. The sentence will read as well ; the sarcasm upon the tragical 
speeches of the Hamlet will be as pointed ; the shifting companion who has 
thriven by no art, and has left the calling to which he was born, may study 
English Seneca till he produces " whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, oi 
tragical speeches." In the same way Nash might have said whole Tamburlaines 
of tragical speeches, without attempting to infer that the author of ' Tamburlaine 
had left the trade of Noverint. We believe that the allusion was to Shak- 
spere's Hamlet, but that the first part of the sentence had no allusion to Shak- 
spere's occupation. The context of the passage renders the matter even 
clearer. Nash begins, " I will turn back to my first text of studies of delight, 
and talk a little in friendship with a few of our trivial translators." Nash 
aspired to the reputation of a scholar ; and he directs his satire against those 
who attempted the labours of scholarship without the requisite qualifications. 
The trivial translators could scarcely latinize their neck-verse they could 
scarcely repeat the verse of Scripture which was the ancient form of praying 
the benefit of clergy. Seneca, however, might be read in English. We have 
then to ask was Hamlet a translation or an adaptation from Seneca? Did 
Shakspere ever attempt to found a play upon the model of Seneca ; to be a 
trivial translator of him ; even to transfuse his sentences into a dramatic com 
position ? If this imputation does not hold good against Shakspere, the mention 
of Hamlet has no connection with the shifting companion who is thus talked to 
as a trivial translator. Nash does not impute these qualities to Hamlet, but to 
those who busy themselves with the endeavours of art in adapting sentences 
from Seneca which should rival whole Hamlets in tragical speeches. And theii 
he immediately says, "But, O grief! Tempus edax rerum; what is it that 
will last always ? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry ; and 
Seneca, let blood line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to 
our stage." 

The external evidence of this passage (and it is the only evidence of such a 
character that has been found) wholly fails, we think, in showing that Shakspere 
was in 1589 reputed to have been an attorney. But had he pursued this occu 
pation, either at Stratford or in London, it is tolerably clear that there would 
have been ample external evidence for the establishment of the fact. In those 
times an attorney was employed in almost every transaction between man and 
man of any importance. Deeds, bonds, indentures, were much more common 
when legal documents were untaxed, and legal assistance was comparatively 
cheap. To every document attesting witnesses were numerous ; and the attor 
ney's clerk, as a matter of course, was amongst the number. Such papers and 
parchments are better secured against the ravages of time than any other ma 
nuscripts. It is scarcely possible that, if Shakspere had been an attorney's clerk, 
his name would not have appeared in some such document, as a subscribing 

2l50 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

witness.* No such signature has ever been found. This fact appears to us 
to dispose of Malone's confident belief that upon Shakspere leaving school he 
was placed for two or three years in the office of one of the seven attorneys who 
practised in the Court of Record in Stratford. Malone adds, " The compre 
hensive mind of our poet, it must be owned, embraced almost every object of 
nature, every trade, and every art, the manners of every description of men, 
and the general language of almost every profession : but his knowledge and 
application of legal terms seem to me not merely such as might have been 
acquired by the casual observation of his all -comprehending mind; it has the 
appearance of technical skill ; and he is so fond of displaying it on all occasions, 
that there is, I think, some ground for supposing that he was early initiated 
in at least the forms of la\v."f Malone then cites a number of passages exem 
plifying Shakspere's knowledge and application of legal terms. The theory 
was originally propounded by Malone in his edition of 1790; and it gave rise 
to many subsequent notes of the commentators, pointing out these technical 
allusions. The frequency of their occurrence, and the accuracy of their use, 
are, however, no proof to us that Shaksypere was professionally a lawyer. There 
is every reason to believe that the principles of law, especially the law of real 
property, were much more generally understood in those days than in our 
own. Educated men, especially those who possessed property, looked upon law 
as a science instead of a mystery ; and its terms were used in familiar speech 
instead of being regarded as a technical jargon. When Hamlet says, " This 
fellow might be in his time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recog- 
nizancies his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries," he employs terms with 
which every gentleman was familiar, because the owner of property was often 
engaged in a practical acquaintance with them. This is one of the examples 
given by Malone. " No writer," again says Malone, " but one who had beer* 
conversant with the technical language of leases and other conveyances, would 
have used determination as synonymous to end." He refers to a passage in the 
13th Sonnet, 

" So should that beauty which you hold in lease 
Find 110 determination." 

We may add that Coriolanus uses the verb in the same way : 

" Shall I be charg'd no further than this present 
Must all determine here ?" 

The word is used as a term of law, with a full knowledge of its primary mean 
ing ; and so Shakspere uses it. The chroniclers use it in the same way. Upon 
the passage in the Sonnets to which we have just referred, Malone has a note, 
with a parallel passage from Daniel : 



* Mr. Wheler, of Stratford, having taken up the opinion many years ago, upon the suggestion of 
Malone, that Shakspere might have been in an attorney's office, has availed himself of his opportu 
nities as a solicitor to examine hundreds of documents of Shakspere's time, in the hope of discover 
ing his signature. The examination was altogether fruitless. 

f- Posthumous ' Life.' 



2G1 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

" In beauty's lease expir'd appears 
The date of age, the caleada of our death." 

Haniel was not a lawyer, but a scholar and a courtier. Upon the passage in 
Richard III., 

" Tall me, what state, what dignity, what honour, 
Canst thou demise to any child of mine ?" 

Malone asks what poet but Shakspere has used the word demise in this sense ; 
observing that "hath demised, granted, and to farm let" is the constant 
language of leases. Being the constant language, a man of the world would be 
familiar with it. A quotation from a theologian may show this familiarity as 
well as one from a poet : " I conceive it ridiculous to make the condition of an 
indenture something that is necessarily annexed to the possession . of the demise." 
If "Warburton had used law-terms in this logical manner, we might have recol 
lected his early career ; but we do not learn that Hammond, the great divine 
from whom we quote, had any other than a theological education. We are 
further told, when Shallow says to Davy, in Henry IV., " Are those precepts 
served?" that precepts, in this sense, is a word only known in the office of a 
justice of peace. Very different would it have been indeed from Shakspere's 
usual precision, had he put any word in the mouth of a justice of peace that 
was not known in his office. When the Boatswain, in The Tempest, roars out 
"Take in the topsail," he uses a phrase that is known only on shipboard. In 
the passage of Henry IV., Part II., 

" For what in me was purchat'd, 
Palls upon thee in a more fairer sort," 

it is held that purchase, being used in its strict legal sense, could be known only 
to a lawyer. An educated man could scarcely avoid knowing the great distinc 
tion of purchase as opposed to descent, the only two modes of acquiring real 
estate. This general knowledge, which it would be very remarkable if Shak- 
spere had not acquired, involves the use of the familiar law-terms of his day, 
fee simple, fine and recovery, entail, remainder, escheat, mortgage. The com 
monest practice of the law, such as a sharp boy would have learnt in two or 
three casual attendances upon the Bailiff's Court at Stratford, would have 
familiarized Shakspere very early with the words which are held to imply con 
siderable technical knowledge action, bond, warrant, bill, suit, plea, arrest. It 
must not be forgotten that the terms of law, however they may be technically 
applied, belong to the habitual commerce of mankind ; they are no abstract 
terms, but essentially deal with human acts, and interests, and thoughts : and 
it is thus that, without any fanciful analogies, they more readily express the 
feelings of those who use them with a general significancy, than any other 
words that the poet could apply. A writer who has carried the theory of 
Shakspere's professional occupation farther even than Malone, holds that the 
Poems are especially full of these technical terms ; and he gives many instances 
from the Venus and Adonis, the Lucrece, and the Sonnets, saying, " they 

2(32 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

swarm in his poems even to deformity."* Surely, when we read those exquisite 
lines, 

" When to the sessions of sweet silent thought 
I summon up remembrance of things past,"- 

we think of anything else than the judge and the crier of the court ; and yet 
this is one of the examples produced in proof of this theory. Dryden's 
noble use of "the last assizes" is no evidence that he was a lawyer, f Many 
similar instances are' given, equally founded, we think, upon the mistake of 
believing that the technical language has no relation to the general language. 
Metaphorical, no doubt, are some of these expressions, such as 

" But be contented when that fell arrest 
Without all bail shall carry me away ; " 

but the metaphors are as familiar to the reader as to the poet himself. They 
present a clear and forcible image to the mind; and, looking at the habits of 
society, they can scarcely be called technical. Dekker describes the conversa 
tion at the third-rate London ordinary : " There is another ordinary, at whfch 
your London usurer, your stale bachelor, and your thrifty attorney do resort ; 
the price three-pence; the rooms as full of company as a jail; and indeed 
divided into several wards, like the beds of an hospital. The compliment 
between these is not much, their words few ; for the belly hath no ears : every 
man's eye here is upon the other man's trencher, to note whether his fellow 
lurch him, or no : if they chance to discourse, it is of nothing but of statutes, 
bonds, recognizances, fines, recoveries, audits, rents, subsidies, sureties, enclo 
sures, liveries, indictments, outlawries, feoffments, judgments, commissions, 
bankrupts, amercements, and of such horrible matter." J Here is pretty good 
evidence of the general acquaintance with the law's jargon ; and Dekker, who 
is himself a dramatic poet, has put together in a few lines as many technical 
terms as we may find in Shakspere. It has been maintained, as we have men 
tioned, that our poet was brought up as a gardener, as proved by his familiarity 
with the terms and practice of the horticultural art. Malone, after citing his 
legal examples, says, " Whenever as large a number of instances of his eccle 
siastical or medicinal knowledge shall be produced, what has now been statec- 
will certainly not be entitled to any weight." We shall not argue that none 
but an apothecary could have written the description of the vendor of drugs, 
and the culler of simples, in whose 

" needy shop a tortoise hung, 
An alligator stuff' d, and other skins 
Of ill-shap'd fishes ; and about his shelves 
A beggarly account of empty boxes, 
Green earthen pots, bladders, and musty seeds." 

Nor do we hold, because he has mentioned the ague about a dozen times, he 
was familiar with the remedies for that disorder; nor that, when Falstaff 
describes the causes of apoplexy to the Chief Justice, and says that he has read 

Brown's Autobiographical Poems, &c. t Ode on Mrs. Killigrew. 

i Dekker's ' Gull's Hornbook : ' 1609. Homeo and Juliet, Act v., Scene i. 

263 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE: 

of the effects in Galen, Shakspere had gone through a course of study in that 
author to qualify himself for a diploma. He does not use medical terms as 
frequently as legal, because they are not as apposite to the thoughts and situations 
of his speakers. It is the same with the terms of divinity, which Malone 
cannot find in such abundance as the terms of law. But if the terms be not 
there, assuredly the spirit lives in his pure teaching; and his philosophy is 
lighted up with something much higher than the moral irradiations of the 
unassisted understanding. Of his manifold knowledge it may be truly said, as 
he said of his own Henry V., 



" Hear him but reaspa in divinity, 
And, all-admiring, with an inward wish 
You would desire the king were made a prelate : 
Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs, 
You would say, it hath been all-in-all, his study : 
List his discourse of war, and you shall hear 
A fearful battle reuder'd you in music : 
Turn him to any cause of .policy, 
The Gordiau knot of it he will unloose, 
Familiar as his garter ; that, when he speaks, 
The air, a charter' d libertine, is still, 
And the mute wonder lurketh in meu's ears, 
To steal his sweet and houey'd sentences ; 
So that the art and practick part of life 
Must be the mistress to this theoiic." 



We should have thought it unnecessary to have added anything to the viewt 
which we thus entertained in 1843 (when the original edition of this Biography was 
published), had the subject not been invested with a new importance, in its treat 
ment by the late Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench. In 1859 
Lord Campbell published a volume, entitled ' Shakespeare's Legal Acquirements 
considered.' The subject is approached by the learned Judge in a just and liberal 
spirit, essentially different from that of the Shaksperian critics of the last age. He 
holds " that there has been a great deal of misrepresentation and delusion as to 
Shakespeare's opportunities when a youth of acquiring knowledge, and as to the 
knowledge he had acquired. From a love of the incredible, and a wish to make 
what he afterwards accomplished actually miraculous, a band of critics have con 
spired to lower the condition of his father, and to represent the son, when approach 
ing man's estate, as still almost wholly illiterate." We are gratified, that in re 
capitulating the various facts which militate against the vague traditions, and ignorant 
assumptions, some of which prevailed only a quarter of a century ago, Lord Campbell 
refers " to that most elaborate and entertaining book, Knight's ' Life of Shakspere,' 
1st edit. p. 16." But, of the general argument comprised in our preceding five 
pages, Lord Campbell does not take the slightest notice. He no doubt weighed 
well all the points in which, with my own imperfect legal knowledge, I ventured to 

* Henry V., Act i. Scene L 
264 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

doubt whether Shakspere was bred an attorney. He does not overlook the words 
of Nashe about " the trade of Noverint," and " whole Hamlets," but he thus 
judicially decides : " Now, if the innuendo which would have been introduced 

into the declaration in an action, ' Shakespeare v. Nash,' for this libel ( ' thereby 

then and there meaning the said William Shakespeare ' ) be made out, there can 
be no doubt as to the remaining innuendo ' thereby then and there meaning that the 
said William Shakespeare had been an attorney's clerk, or bred an attorney." With 
the most laudable industry Lord Campbell has made a selection from the Plays and 
Poems, occupying more than two-thirds of his book, to exhibit " expressions and 
allusions, that must be supposed to come from one that has been a professional 
lawyer." He also holds that Shakspere's will was in all probability composed by 
himself, and that "a testator without professional experience, could hardly have 
used language so appropriate as we find in this will to express his meaning." We 
should have thought that Lord Campbell, following up his own argument, that in 
this will, when Shakspere leaves his second best bed to his wife, he showed his 
technical skill by omitting the word devise, which he had used in disposing of his 
realty, might have stated that in this bequest Shakspere was aware that his wife was 
entitled to dower ; and yet he does not hesitate to repeat the ' misrepresentation 
and delusion " which had been attached to this fact before we had the good fortune 
to discover that Shakspere on his death-bed did not exhibit a contemptuous neglect 
of his wife. Our argument is, we venture to hope, not affected by Lord Campbell's 
judicial sneers and exaggerated inferences : " The idolatrous worshippers of Shake 
speare, who think it necessary to make his moral qualities as exalted as his poetical 
genius, account for this sorry bequest, and for no other notice being taken of poor 
Mrs. Shakespeare in the will, by saying that he knew she was sufficiently provided 
for by her right of dower out of his landed property, which the law would give her ; 
and they add that he must have been tenderly attached to her, because (they take 
upon themselves to say) she was exquisitely beautiful as well as strictly virtuous. 
But she was left by her husband without house or furniture (except the second best 
bed), or a kind word, or any other token of his love ; and I sadly fear that between 
William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway the course of true love never did run 
smooth." Lord Campbell's plural " idolatrous worshippers " is a gentle form of 
referring to the one worshipper who originated this new view with regard to dower. 
That worshipper, in his idolatry, never held up Ann Hathaway as "exquisitely 
beautiful;" " strictly virtuous " he believed her to have been according to the custom 
of betrothment which existed in Shakspere's youth. With Lord Campbell's well-known 
habit of literary appropriation " convey the wise it call " did he forbear to adopt 
this interpretation because it was not discovered by a lawyer ? The Chief Justice 
knew perfectly well that the right to dower totally upset all the inferences about the 
second best bed, which the Commentators lawyers as some of them were set 
forth, and which were currently accepted up to the time when I presumed to say 
that lawyers had shut their eyes to the fact 



WILLIAM SHAK8PERE' 

We hold, then, that William Shakspere, the son of a possessor and cultivatoi 
of land, a gentleman by descent, married to the heiress of a good family, com 
fortable in his worldly circumstances, married the daughter of one in a similar 
rank of life, and in all probability did not quit his native place when he so 
married. The marriage-bond, which was discovered a few years since, has set 
at rest all doubt as to the name and residence of his wife. She is there described 
as Anne Hathwey, of Stratford, in the diocese of Worcester, maiden. Rowe, in 
his ' Life,' says, " Upon his leaving school he seems to have given entirely 
into that way of living which his father proposed to him : and in order to settle 
in the world, after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet 
very young. His wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a 
substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." At the hamlet of 
Shottery, which is in the parish of Stratford, the Hathaways had been settled 
forty years before the period of Shakspere's marriage ; for in the Warwickshire 
Surveys, in the time of Philip and Mary, it is recited that John Hathaway 
held property at Shottery, by copy of court-roll, dated 20th of April, 34th of 
Henry VIII. (1543).* The Hathaway of Shakspere's time was named Richard; 
and the intimacy between him and John Shakspere is shown by a precept in an 
action against Richard Hathaway, dated 1576, in which John Shakspere is his 
oondman. Before the discovery of the marriage-bond Malone had found a con 
firmation of the traditional account that the maiden name of JSaakspere's wife 
was Hathaway ; for Lady Barnard, the grand-daughter of Shakspere, makes 
bequests in her will to the children of Thomas Hathaway, "her kinsman." 
But Malone doubts whether there were not other Hathaways than those of 
Shottery, residents in the town of Stratford, and not in the hamlet included in 
the parish. This is possible. But, on the other hand, the description in the 
marriage-bond of Anne Hathaway, as of Stratford, is no proof that she was not 
of Shottery ; for such a document would necessarily have regard only to the 
parish of the person described. Tradition, always valuable when it is not 
opposed to evidence, has associated for many years the cottage of the Hathaways 
at Shottery with the wife of Shakspere. Garrick purchased relics out of it at 
the time of the Stratford Jubilee ; Samuel Ireland afterwards carried off what 
was called Shakspere's courting-chair ; and there is still in the house a very 
ancient carved bedstead, which has been handed down from descendant to 
descendant as an heirloom. The house was no doubt once adequate to form a 
comfortable residence for a substantial and even wealthy yeornan. It is still a 
pretty cottage, embosomed by trees, and surrounded by pleasant pastures ; and 



* The Shottery property, which was called Hewland, remained with the descendant* of 
Hathaways till 1838. 
2CG 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

here the young poet might have surrendered his prudence to his affections : 

" As in the sweetest buds 
The eating canker dwells, so eating love 
Inhabits in the finest wits of all." * 

The very early marriage of the young man, with one more than seven years his 
elder, has been supposed to have been a rash and passionate proceeding. Upon 




l-Sliottery Cottage.] 



the face of it, it appears an act that might at least be reproved in the words 
which follow those we have just quoted : 

"As the most forward bud 
Is eaten by the canker ere it blow, 
Even so by love the young and tender wit 
Is turn'd to folly; blasting in the bud, 
Losing his verdure even in the prime, 
And all the fair effects of future hopes." 

This is the common consequence of precocious marriages; but we are not 
therefore to conclude that "the young and tender. wit" of our Shakspere was 
"turned to folly" that his "forward bud" was "eaten by the canker 



* Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act r., Scene L 



267 



WILLIAM SHAKSI'Klii: : 

his verdure" was lost, "even in the prime," by his marriage with Anne 
Hathaway before he was nineteen. The influence which this marriage must 
have had upon his destinies was no doubt considerable ; but it is too much to 
assume, as it has been assumed, that it was an unhappy influence. All that 
we really know of Shakspere's family life warrants the contrary supposition. 
We believe, to go no farther at present, that the marriage of Shakspere was 
one of affection ; that there was no disparity in the worldly condition of 
himself and the object of his choice ; that it was with the consent of friends ; 
that there were no circumstances connected with it which indicate that it was 
either forced or clandestine, or urged on by an artful woman to cover her 
apprehended loss of character. Taking up, as little as possible, a controversial 
attitude in a matter of such a nature, we shall shape our course according to 
this belief. 

In the last week of November, in the year 1582, let us look upon a cheerful 
family scene in the pretty village of Clifford. The day is like a green old age, 
"frosty but kindly." The sun shines brightly upon the hills, over which a 
happy party have tripped from Stratford. It is a short walk of some mile and 
a half. The village stands very near the confluence of the Stour with the 
Avon. It is Sunday ; and after the service there is to be a christening. The 
visitors assemble at a substantial house, and proceed reverently to church. 
The age is not yet arrived when the cold formalities of a listless congregation 
have usurped the place of real devotion. The responses are made with the 
earnest voice which indicates the full heart ; and the young, especially, join in 
the choral parts of the service, so as to preserve one of the best characters of 
adoration, in offering a tribute of gladness to Him who has filled the world 
with beauty and joy. During the service the sacrament of baptism is admi 
nistered with a reverential solemnity. William Shakspere had often been so 
present at its administration, and the ceremonial has appeared to him full of 
truth and holiness. But the opinions which were earnestly disseminated 
amongst the people, by teachers pretending to superior sanctity and wisdom, 
would be also familiar to him ; and he would have learnt, from those who 
were opposed to most ancient ceremonial observances, that the signing with 
the Cross in baptism was a superstitious relic of Rome a thing rejected by 
the understanding, and only preserved as a delusion of the imagination. A 
book with which he was familiar in after-life was not then written ; but on 
such occasions of controversy it would occur to him that " the holy sign,' 
" imprinted on the gates of the palace of man's fancy," would suggest associa 
tions which to Christian men would be " a most effectual though a silent 
teacher to avoid whatsoever may deservedly procure shame." Through the 
imagination would this holy sign work ; for " the mind, while we are in this 
present life, whether it contemplate, meditate, deliberate, or howsoever exercise 
itself, worketh nothing without continual recourse unto imagination, the only 
storehouse of wit, and peculiar chair of memory. On this anvil it ceaseth not 
day and night to strike, by means whereof, as the pulse declareth how the 
268 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

heart doth work, so the very thoughts and cogitations of man's mind, be they 
good or bad, do nowhere sooner bewray themselves than through the crevicea 
of that wall wherewith Nature hath compassed the cells and closets of fancy."* 
Such was the way in which the young Shakspere would, we think, religiously 
and philosophically, regard this ceremony ; it would be so impressed upon his 
" imagination." But the service is ended ; the gossips are assembled in the 
churchyard. A merry peal rings out from the old tower. Cordial welcome is 




there within the yeoman's house, to whose family such an occasion as this is a 
joyful festival. The chief sponsors duly present the apostle -spoons to 
child ; but one old lady, who looks upon this practice as a luxurious mnovat.c 
of modern times, is content to offer a christening shirt, f The refection c 
guests aspires to daintiness as much as plenty ; and the comely dames upoi 
their departure do not hesitate to put the sweet biscuits and comfit 



Hooker's ' Ecclesiastical Polity,' book v. 



Sec Note to tins Chapter. 
2C9 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

pockets. There is cordial salutation, at this meeting, of William Shakspcre 
and his fair companion. He and Anne Hathaway are bound together by the 
trothplight. There is no secret as to this union ; there is no affectation in 
concealing their attachment. He speaks of her as his wife ; she of him as he: 
husband. He is tall and finely formed, with a face radiant with intellect, and 
capable of expressing the most cheerful and most tender emotions ; she is in 
the full beauty of womanhood, glowing with health and conscious happiness. 
Some of the gossips whisper that she is too old for him ; but his frank and 
manly bearing, and her beauty "and buoyant spirits, would not suggest this, if 
some tattle about age was not connected with the whisper. No one of that 
company, except an envious rival, would hold that they were " misgraffed in 
respect of years." The Church is in a few days to cement the union, which, 
some weeks ago, was fixed by the public trothplight. They are hand-fasted, and 
they are happy. 

There is every reason to believe that Shakspere was remarkable for manly 
beauty : " He was a handsome, well-shaped man/' says Aubrey. According to 
tradition, he played Adam in As You Like It, and the Ghost in Hamlet. Adam 
says, 

" Though I look old, yet I am strong and histy." 

Upon his personation of the Ghost, Mr. Campbell has the following judicious 
remarks : " It has been alleged, in proof of his mediocrity, that he enacted the 
part of his own Ghost, in Hamlet. But is the Ghost in Hamlet a very mean 
character ? No : though its movements are few, they must be awfully graceful ; 
and the spectral voice, though subdued and half-monotonous, must be solemn 
and full of feeling. It gives us an imposing idea of Shakspere's stature and 
mien to conceive him in this part. The English public, accustomed to see their 
lofty nobles, their Essexes, and their Raleighs, clad in complete armour, and 
moving under it with a majestic air, would not have tolerated the actor Shak- 
speare, unless he had presented an appearance worthy of the buried majesty of 
Denmark."* That he performed kingly parts is indicated by these lines, writ 
ten, in 1611, by John Davics, in a poem inscribed 'To our English Terence, 
Mr. William Shakspeare :' 

" Some say, good Will, which I in sport do sing, 

Hadst thou not play'd some Tcingly parts in sport, 
Thou hadst been a companion for a king, 
And been a king among the meaner sort." 

The portrait by Martin Droeshout, prefixed to the edition of 1623, when Shak 
spere would be well remembered by his friends, gives a notion of a man of 
remarkably fine features, independent of the wonderful development of fore 
head. The lines accompanying it, which bear the signature B. I. (most likely 
Ben, Jonson), attest the accuracy of the likeness. The bust at Stratford bears 
the same character. The sculptor was Gerard Johnson. It was probably erected 
soon after the poet's death ; for it is mentioned by Leonard Digges, in his 

* Remarks prefixed to Moxon'i edition of the Dramatic Works. 
2-0 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

verses upon the publication of Shakspere's collected works by his " pious fellows.' 
All the circumstances of which we have any knowledge imply that Shakspere, 
at the time of his marriage, was such a person as might well have won the heart 
of a mistress whom tradition has described as eminently beautiful. Anne 
Hathaway at this time was of mature beauty. The inscription over her grave 
in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon states that she died on " the 6th day of 
August, 1623, being of the age of 67 years." In November 1582, therefore, 
she would be of the age of twenty-six. This disparity of years between Shak 
spere and his wife has been, we think, somewhat too much dwelt upon, Malone 
holds that " such a disproportion of age seldom fails at a subsequent period of 
life to be productive of unhappiness." Malone had, no doubt, in his mind the 
belief that Shakspere left his wife wholly dependent upon her children, a belief 
of which we have intimated the utter groundlessness, and to which we shall advert 
when we have to notice his Will. He suggests that in the Midsummer Night's 
Dream this disproportion is alluded to, and he quotes a speech of Lysander in Act i. 
Scene I., of that play, not however giving the comment of Hermia upon it. The 
lines in the original stand thus : 

" Lys. Ah me ! for aught that ever I could read, 
Could ever hear by tale or history, 
The course of true love never did run smooth : 
But either it was different in blood ; 

Her. cross ! too high to be enthrall' d to low ! 

Lys. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years ; 

Her. spite ! too old to be engag'd to young ! 

Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends j 

Her. hell ! to choose love by another's eye ! 

Lys. Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, 
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it." 

Difference in blood, disparity of years, the choosing of friends, are opposed 
to sympathy in choice. But was Shakspere's own case such as he would bear 
in mind in making Hermia exclaim, " O spite ! too old to be engag'd to young ! " ? 
The passage was in all probability written about ten years after his marriage, 
when his wife would still be in the prime of womanhood. When Mr. de 
Quincey, therefore, connects the saying of Parson Evans with Shakspere's early 
love," I like not when a woman has a great peard," he scarcely does justice 
to his own powers of observation and his book-experience. The history of the 
most imaginative minds, probably of most men of great ability, would show 
that in the first loves, and in the early marriages, of this class, the choice has 
generally fallen upon women older than themselves, and this without any refer 
ence to interested motives. But Mr. de Quincey holds that Shakspere, " looking 
back on this part of his youthful history from his maturest years, breathes forth 
pathetic counsels against the errors into which his own inexperience had been 
ensnared. The disparity of years between himself and his wife he notices in a 
beautiful scene of the Twelfth Night."* In this scene Viola, disguised as a 
page, a very boy, one of whom it is said 

* Life of Shakspeare in the 'Encyclopaedia Britunnica." 



WII.I.IA.M sii \KSIT.KI: : 

r they shall yet belie thy happy years 
That say thou art a man," 

is pressed by the Duke to own that his eye "hath stay'd upon some favour." 
Viola, who is enamoured of the Duke, punningly replies, " A little, by your 
favour;" and being still pressed to describe the "kind of woman," she says, of 
the Duke's " complexion " and the Duke's " years." Any one who in the stage 
representation of the Duke should do otherwise than make him a grave man of 
thirty-five or fcrty, a staid and dignified man, would not present Shakspere's 
whole conception of the character. There would be a difference of twenty 
years between him and Viola. No wonder, then, that the poet should make 
the Duke dramatically exclaim, 

" 7*oo old, by Heaven ! Let still the woman take 
An elder than herself; so wears she to him, 
So sways she level in her husband's heart." 

And wherefore? 

" For, boy, however wo do praise ourselves, 
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, 
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, 
Than women's are." 

The pathetic counsels, therefore, which Shakspere is here supposed to breathe 
in his maturer years, have reference only to his own giddy and unfirm fancies. 
We are of opinion, as we have before stated with regard to this matter, that, 
upon the general principle upon which Shakspere subjects his conception ot 
what is individually true to what is universally true, he would have rejected 
instead of adopted whatever was peculiar in his own experience, if it had been 
emphatically recommended to his adoption through the medium of his self- 
consciousness. Shakspere wrote these lines at a time of life (about 1602) when 
a slight disparity of years between himself and his wife would have been a very 
poor apology to his own conscience that his affection could not hold the bent ; 
and it certainly does happen, as a singular contradiction to his supposed " earnest 
ness in pressing the point as to the inverted disparity of years, which indicates 
pretty clearly an appeal to the lessons of his personal experience,"* that at this 
precise period he should have retired from his constant attendance upon the 
stage, purchasing land in his native place, and thus seeking in all probability 
the more constant companionship of that object of his early choice of whom 
he is thus supposed to have expressed his distaste. It appears to us that this 
is a tolerably convincing proof that his affections could hold the bent, however 
he might .dramatically and poetically have said, 

" Then let thy love be younger than thyself, 
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent : 
For women are as roses ; whose fair flower, 
Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour." 

The season is nol the most inviting for a journey on horseback of more iliac 

* Life in ' Encyclopaedia Britonnica.' 
272 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

thirty miles, and yet William Shakspere, with two youthful friends, must ride to 
Worcester. The families of Shakspere and of Hathaway are naturally desirous 
that the sanction of the Church should be given within the customary period to 
the alliance which their children have formed. They are reverential observers 
of old customs ; and their recollections of the practice of all who went before 
them show that the marriage, commenced by the trothplight, ought not to be 
postponed too long. Convenience ought to yield to propriety; and Christmas 
must see the young housekeepers well settled. A licence must be procured 
from the Bishop's Court at Worcester. Fulk Sandells and John Rychardson, 
the companions of young Shakspere, substantial yeomen, will cheerfully be his 
bondsmen. Though he is a minor, and cannot join in the bond, they know that 
he will faithfully perform what he undertakes ; and that their forty pounds are 
in no peril. They all well know the condition of such a bond. There is no 
pre-contract ; no affinity between the betrothed ; William has the consent of 
Anne's friends. They desire to be married with once asking of the banns; not 
an uncommon case, or the court would not grant such a licence. They desire 
not to avoid the publicity of banns ; but they seek a licence for one publication, 
for their happiness has made them forget the lapse of time : the betrothment was 
binding indeed for ever upon true hearts, but the marriage will bless the contract, 
and make it irrevocable in its sanctity. And thus the three friends, after tender 
adieus, and many lingerings upon the threshold of the cottage at Shottery, mount 
their horses, and take the way to Worcester. 

Fulk Sandells and John Rychardson (as the marks to the marriage-bond 
testify) were not lettered persons. But, nevertheless, they might have been 
very welcome companions to William Shakspere. The non-ability to write 
did not necessarily imply that their minds had not received a certain degree 
of cultivation. To him, who drew his wondrous knowledge out of every source 
books, conversation, observation of character no society could be wholly 
uninteresting. His genial nature would find objects of sympathy in the com 
monest mind. That he was a favourite amongst his own class it is impossible 
to doubt. His mental superiority would be too great to be displayed in any 
assumption"; his kindliness of nature would knit him to every heart that was 
capable of affection and what heart is not ? Unintelligible would he be, no 
doubt, to many ; but, as far as it is possible to conceive of his character, he would 
.be wholly remote from that waywardness which has been considered the attribute 
of genius neither moping, nor shy, nor petulant, nor proud ; affecting no mis 
anthropy, no indifference to the joys and sorrows of those around him ; and 
certainly despising the fashion through which 

" Young gentlemen would be as sad as night, 
Only for wantonness." * 

Assuredly the -intellect of Shakspere was the most healthful ever bestowed upon 
man; and that was one cause of its unapproachable greatness. The soundest 

* King John, Act IV., Scene I. 
LIFE. 2 T 273 



WILLIAM SIIAKSIT.IM: : 

judgment was in combination with the highest fancy. With such friends, then, 
as Fulk Sandells and John Rychardson, would this y<>un_' man be as free and 
as gladsome as if they were as equal in their minds as in tht-ir worldly circum 
stances. To a certain extent he would doubtless take the lead ; he must of 
necessity have been the readiest in all discourse in his own circle ; the uncon 
scious instructor of his companions ; one that even age would listen to with 
reverence. To the young he would have been as a spirit of gladness lighted 
upon the earth, to make everything more bright and beautiful amidst which 
he walked. A sharp gallop over Bardon Hill shakes off the cold of the grey 
morning ; and as the sun shoots a sudden gleam over a reach of the Avon, the 
young poet warms up into a burst of merriment which brings his friends in a 
moment to his side. He is full of animation. All the natural objects around 
Burnish him with a theme. The lapwing screams, and he has a story to tell 
which is not the less enjoyed by his hearers because Ovid had told it before 
him ; a hare runs towards them on the road, and he has a laugh for the super 
stition that ill-luck is boded mingled with a remark, which is more for him 
self than his listeners, that " there is more in this world than is known to our 
philosophy." They hold their course gallantly on through Bidford and Sal- 
ford ; pausing a moment to look upon that fine old monastic house, which has 
become deserted since the dissolution of the abbevs. There were once state and 







I Nunnery at Salford.l 



wealth within its walls. Its tenants are scattered or perished : and if some 
solitary nun shall still endure, she will at last find a resting-place amongst the 
poorest no requiem will be sung for her, such as she has heard sung for her 
sisters. 

274 




IPeraiiore.j 

They rest for &n hour or two at Evesham. Well known h that interesting 
town to William Shakspere ; and he has many traditions connected with its 
ruined abbey, which have a deep interest even for those who look not upon 
such matters with the spirit of poetical reverence. Onwards again they ride 
through the beautiful vale, unequalled in its picturesque fertility. As they 
catch the first glimpse of the bold Malvern hills the young poet's eye is lighted 
up with many thoughts of the vast and wonderful of nature ; for, to the inhabit 
ants of a level and cultivated country even the slightest character of mountain 
ous scenery brings a sense of the sublime. Nearer and nearer they approach 
these hills, and still they are indistinct, though apparently lifted to the clouds ; 
and he watches that blue haze which hangs around them, as if in their solitudes 
there was something to be found more satisfying than in the pent-up plains. 
Pershore is reached; a magnificent work, like Evesham, made desolate by 
changes of opinion, urged on by violence and rapacity. The spires and towers 
of Worcester are soon in view.- An hospitable inn there receives them. They 
are weary ; and their business is deferred to the morrow. The morning comes ; 
and the young men are "surprised at the readiness of the official persons to pro 
mote their object. The requisite formalities are soon accomplished. The 
morning is passed in looking over the wonders of that interesting city rich in 
monuments of the past which time and policy have spared. The evening sees 
the travellers on their way homeward. Sunday comes; and the banns are 
once asked. On Monday is the wedding. 
2 T2 



275 



WILLIAM BBAEBPERB : 

ft is scarcely necessary to point out to our readers that the view we have 
taken presupposes that the licence for matrimony, obtained from the Consis- 
torial Court at Worcester, was a permission sought for under no extraordinary 
circumstances ; still less that the young man who was about to marry was 
compelled to urge on the marriage as a consequence of previous imprudence. 
We believe, on the contrary, that the course pursued was strictly in accordance 
with the customs of the time, and of the class, to which Shakspere belonged. 
The espousals before witnesses, we have no doubt, were then considered as con 
stituting a valid marriage, if followed up within a limited time by the marriage 
of the Church. However the Reformed Church might have endeavoured to 
abrogate this practice, it was unquestionably the ancient habit of the people. 
It was derived from the Roman law, the foundation of many of our institutions. 
It prevailed for a long period without offence. It still prevails in the Lutheran 
Church. We are not to judge of the customs of those days by our own, espe 
cially if our inferences have the effect of imputing criminality where the most 
perfect innocence existed.* 

* See Note on tbe Marriage-Licence. 




[Worcener Cathedral.) 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON CHRISTENING CUSTOMS. 



HOWES, in his ' Continuation of Stow'a Chronicle,' has this passage : <( At this time (the first 
year of Queen Elizabeth), and for many years before, it was not the use and custom, as now it is 
(1631), for godfathers and godmothers generally to give plate at the baptism of children (as spoons, 
cups, and such like), but only to give christening shirts, with little bands and cuffs wrought either 
with silk or blue thread ; the best of them for chief persons were edged with a small lace of black 
silk and gold, the highest price of which for great men's children was seldom above a noble, and 
the common sort two, three, or four and five shillings a-piece." Most of our readers are probably 
familiar with the story of Shakspere's own present as a godfather to the son of Ben Jonson. It is 
found in a manuscript in the British Museum, bearing the title of ' Merry Passages and Jests,' 
compiled by Sir Nicholas Lestrange. Such parts of this manuscript as are fit for publication, with 
other selections, have been published by the Camden Society in a little volume entitled ' Anecdotes 
and Traditions.' We would give this story if it were only to show our respect to Mr. Thorns, the 
editor of the volume, who has our sympathy when in his I' envoy he pleasantly says, " Go forth, my 
little book. Thou wilt, I know, find some friendly hands ovitstretched to give thee welcome. Yet, 
peradventure thou mayest meet also with unfriendly frowns kindly meant, but hard to bear withal 
signs of disapproval from good men and true, amongst whom it is the orthodox opinion that, as 
antiquarian matters are as old as the desert, they should be made as dry." The anecdote, in the 
orthography of the original, is as follows : " Shake-speare was god-father to one of Ben Jonson's 
children, and after the christ'ning, being in a deepe study, Jonson came to cheere him up, and ask't 
him why he was so melancholy ? ' No, faith, Ben ' (says he), ' not I, but I have been considering a 
great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my god-child, and I have resolv'd 
at last.' ' I pr'y the, what ? ' sayes he. ' I' faith, Ben, I'le e'en give him a douzen good Lattin 
Spoones, and thou shalt translate them.' " 



NOTE ON SHAKSPERE'S MARRIAGE-LICENCE. 



THE following is a copy of the document in the Consistorial Court of Worcester, which was first 
published by Mr. Wheler in 1836, having been previously discovered by Sir R. Phillips. : 
sists of a bond to the officers of the Ecclesiastical Court, in which Fulk Sandells, of the county oi 
Warwick, farmer, and John Rychardson, of the same place, farmer, are bound in the sum of forty 
pounds, &c. It is dated the 28th day of November, in the 25th year of Elizabeth (15 

"No^int univsi p psentes nos Fulcone Sandells de Stratford in Comit Warwic_agricolam et 
Johem Rychardson Tbm agricola teneri et firmiter obligari Rico Cosin gnoso e^ Rob to Warmstry 
notario p"uo in quadraginta libris bone et legalis monete Anglic solvend eisdem Rico^et Robto hered 
execut vel assignat suis ad quam quidem soluconem bene et fidelr faciend obligam nos < 
nrm p se pro toto et in solid hrcred executor et administrator nros firmiter p pntes_sig- 
sigillat. Dat 28 die No~ve Anno Regni Dn^ nre Eliz Dei gratia Anglirc Franc et Hibni* 

Fidei Dcfensor &c. 25". 

"The condi'on of this obliga^on ys suche, that if hereafter there shall not appere any lawfu, 
lett or impediment by reason of any p" contract or affinitie, or by any other lawful meanes what- 
BO,; but that Willm Shagspere on tlione ptie, and Anne Hathwey, of Stratford, in the Du 



WILLIAM SlIAKSI-l 

Worcester, maiden, may lawfully solemnize mriony, and in the sune afterwards reiuaine and 
eontinew like man and wife, according unto the laws in that case provided ; and moreov, if there be 
not at this psent time any action, suit, quarrel, or demand, moved or depending before any iudge 
ecclesiastical or temporall for and concerning any suche lawfull lett or impediment. And moreov, 
if the said Willm Shagspere do not pceed to solemnizncon of marriadg with the said Ann Hathwey 
without the consent of hir frinds. And also if the said Willm do upon his own pper costs and ex- 
pences defend and save harmles the Right Revend Father in God Lord John Bushop of Worcester 
and his offycers, for licensing them, the said Willm and Anne, to be maried together wth once 
asking of the bannes of mriony betwene them and for alle other causes wch may ensue by reason 
or occasion thereof, that then the said obligacon to be voyd and of none effect, or else to stand and 
abide in fulle force and vertue." 





In the ' Life of Shakspeara ' by Mr. de Quiucey the following observations are appended to an 
abridgment of the Marriage-Licence. The view thus taken is entirely opposed to our own, prin 
cipally because it goes on to assume that the marriage of the young poet was uuhappy that his 
wife had not his respect and this unhappiness drove him from Stratford. All this appears to 
us to be gratuitous assumption, and altogether inconsistent with this undeniable fact, that Shak- 
spere is especially the poet who has done justice to the purity and innocence of the female cha 
racter. It is not, we think, to be lightly inferred that his own peculiar experience would have 
offered him an example throughout his life of the opposite qualities. It would be unfair, however, 
not to give the opinion which is thus opposed to our own : 

"What are we to think of this document? Trepidation and anxiety are written upon its face. 
The parties are not to be married by a special licence, not even by an ordinary licence ; in that case 
no proclamation of banns, no public asking at all, would have been requisite. Economical scruples 
are consulted, and yet the regular movement of the marriage 'through the bell-ropes' is disturbed. 
Economy, which retards the marriage, is heie evidently in collision with some opposite principle 
which precipitates it. How is all this to be explained ? Much light is afforded by the date when 
illustrated by another document. The bond bears date on the 28th day of November, in the 25th 
year of our lady the queen, that is, in 1582. Now, the baptism of Shakspeare's eldest child, Su 
sanna, is registered on the 26th of May in the year following. * * * * Strange it is, that, whilst 
all biographers have worked with so much zeal upon the most barren dates or most baseless tra 
ditions in the great poet's life, realising in a manner the chimeras of Laputa, and endeavouring ' to 
extract sunbeams from cucumbers," such a story with regard to such an event, no fiction of Tillage 
scandal, but involved in legal documents, a story so significant and so eloquent to the intelligent, 
should formerly have been dismissed without notice of any kind ; and even now, after the discovery 
of 1836, with nothing beyond a slight conjectural insinuation. For our parts, we should have 
been the last among the biographers to unearth any forgotten scandal. * * * * But in this case 
there seems to have been something more in motion than passion or the ardour of youth. ' I like 
not,' says Parson Evans (alluding to Falstaff in masquerade), ' I like not when a woman has a 
great peard ; I spy a great peard under her muffler.' Neither do we like the spectacle of a mature 
young woman, five years past her majority, wearing the semblance of having been led astray by a 
boy who had still two years and a half to run of his minority." 



278 




[Palace of Woodstock.] 



CHAPTER XVII. 

THE EIEST EIDE TO LONDON. 



" THIS William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, 
I guess about eighteen, and was an actor at one of the playhouses, and did act 
exceedingly well. Now Ben Jonson was never a good actor, but an excellent 
instructor. He began early to make Essays at Dramatic Poetry, which at that 
time was very low, and his plays took well." So writes honest Aubrey, in the 
year 1680, in his 'Minutes of Lives' addressed to his "worthy friend, Mr. 
Anthony a Wood, Antiquary of Oxford." Of the value of Aubrey's evidence 
we may form some opinion from his own statement to his friend : " T is a 
task that I never thought to have undertaken till you imposed it upon me, 
saying that I was fit for it by reason of my general acquaintance, having now 
not only lived above half a century of years in the world, but have also been 
much tumbled up and down in it ; which hath made me so well known. Besides 
the modern advantage of coffeehouses in this great city, before which men 
knew not how to be acquainted but with their own relations or societies, J[ 

279 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

might add that 1 come of a longaevous race, by which means I have wiped some 
feathers off the wings of time for several generations, which does reach high."* 
It must not be forgotten that Aubrey's account of Shakspere, brief and imperfect 
as it is, is the earliest known to -exist. Rowe's ' Life ' was not published till 
1707 ; and although he states that he must own a particular obligation to Better- 
ton, the actor, for the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life 
"his veneration for the memory of Shakspeare having engaged him to make 
a journey into Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could of 
a name for which he had so great a veneration" we have no assistance in 
fixing the date of Betterton's inquiries. Betterton was born in 1635. From 
the Restoration, until his retirement from the stage, about 1700, he was the 
most deservedly popular actor of his time ; " such an actor," says ' The Tatler,' 
" as ought to be recorded with the same respect as Roscius among the 
Romans." He died in 1710; and, looking at his busy life, it is probable that 
he did not make this journey into Warwickshire until after his retirement 
from the theatre. Had he set about these inquiries earlier, there can be 
little doubt that the ' Life ' by Rowe would have contained more precise and 
satisfactory information, if not fewer idle tales. Shakspere's sister was alive in 
1646 ; his eldest daughter, Mrs. Hall, in 1649 ; his second daughter, Mrs. 
Quiney, in 1662 ; and his grand -daughter, Lady Barnard, in 1670. The 
information which might be collected in Warwickshire, after the death of 
Shakspere's lineal descendants, would necessarily be mixed up with traditions, 
having for the most part some foundation, but coloured and distorted by that 
general love of the marvellous which too often hides the fact itself in the in 
ference from it. Thus, Shakspere's father might have sold his own meat, as the 
landowners of his time are reproached by Harrison for doing, and yet in no 
proper sense of the word have been a butcher. Thus, the supposition that the 
poet had intended to satirize the Lucy family, in an allusion to their arms, 
might have suggested that there was a grudge between him and the knight ; 
and what so likely a subject of dispute as the killing of venison ? the tradition 
raight have been exact as to the dispute ; but the laws of another century could 
alone have suggested that the quarrel would compel the poet to fly the country. 
Aubrey's story of Shakspere's coming to London is a simple and natural one, 
without a single marvellous circumstance about it :- "This William, being 
inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London." This, the elder 
story, appears to us to have much greater verisimilitude than the later : " He 
was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some time, and 
shelter himself in London." Aubrey who has picked up all the gossip " of 
coffeehouses in this great city," hears no word of Rowe's story which would 
certainly have been handed down amongst the traditions of the theatre to 
Davenant and Shadwell, from whom he does hear something : " I have heard 
Sir William Davenant and Mr. Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best 
comedian we have now) say, that he had a most prodigious wit." Neither doe? 
l^e say, nor indeed any one else till two centuries and a quarter after Shakspere is 

This letter, \vhich. f^cppmpanies the 'Lives,' is dated London, June 15, 1680. 
280 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

dead, that, "after four years' conjugal discord, he 
would resolve upon that plan of solitary emigration J:o 
the metropolis, which, at the same time that it released 
him from the humiliation of domestic feuds, succeeded 
so splendidly for his worldly prosperity, and with a 
train of circumstances so vast for all future ages." * It 
is certainly a singular vocation for a writer of genius to 
bury the legendary scandals of the days of Rowe, for 
the sake of exhuming a new scandal, which cannot be 
received at all without the belief that the circumstance 
must have had a permanent and most evil influence 
upon the mind of the unhappy man who thus cowardly 
and ignominiously is held to have severed himself from 
his duty as a husband and a father. We cannot trace the 
evil influence, and therefore we reject the scandal. It 
has not even the slightest support from the weakest tra- 
ditton. It is founded upon an imperfect comparison 
of two documents,- judging of the habits of that period 
by those of our own day ; supported by quotations from 
a dramatist of whom it would be difficult to affirm that 
he ever wrote a line which had strict reference to his 
own feelings and circumstances, and whose intellect in 
his dramas went so completely out of itself that it 
almost realizes the description of the soul in its first 
and pure nature that it "hath no idiosyncrasies; that 
is, hath no proper natural inclinations which are not 
competent to others of the same kind and condition. "f 

VQ In the baptismal register of the parish of Stratford. 

N for the year 1583 is the entry of the birth of Susanna. 

*^. This record necessarily implies the residence of the 

tJ wife of William Shakspere in the parish of Stratford 

5 Did he himself continue to reside in this parish? 
There is no evidence of his residence. His name ap 
pears in no suit in the Bailiff's Court at this period. 
He fills no municipal office such as his father had filled before him. 
But his wife continues to reside in the native place of her hus 
band, surrounded by his relations and her own. His father and 
his mother no doubt watch with anxious solicitude over the fortunes 
of their first son. He has a brother, Gilbert, seventeen years of 
age, and a sister of fourteen. His brother Richard is nine years of 
age ; but Edmund is young enough to be the playmate of his little 
Susanna. In 1585 there is another entry in the parochial register, the birth .of a 
son and a daughter : 

* En cyclopaedia Britannica. 

t Enquiry into the Opinion of the Eastern Sages concerning the Prae-exi 

Rev. Joseph Glanvil. 

^ i 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'KU 

William Shakspere has now nearly attained his majority. While he is yet 
a minor he is the father of three children. The circumstance of his minority 
may perhaps account for the absence of his name from all records of court-leet, 
or bailiff's court, or common-hall. He was' neither a constable, nor an ale-conner, 
nor an overseer, nor a jury-man, because he was a minor. We cannot affirm that 
he did not leave Stratford before his minority expired ; but it is to be inferred, 
that, if he had continued to reside at Stratford after he was legally of age, we 
should have found traces of his residence in the records of the town. If his 
residence were out of the borough, as we have supposed his father's to have been 
at this period, some trace would yet have been found of him, in all likelihood, 
within the parish. Just before the termination of his minority we have an undeniable 
record that he was a second time a father within the parish. It is at this period, 
then, that we would place his removal from Stratford ; his flight, according to the 
old legend ; his solitary emigration, his unamiable separation from his family, accord 
ing to the new discovery. That his emigration was even solitary we have not a 
tittle of evidence. The one fact we know with reference to Shakspere's domestic 
arrangements in London is this: that as early as 1596 he was the occupier of a 
house in Southwark. " From a paper now before nje, which formerly belonged to 
Edward Alleyn, the player, our poet appears to have lived in Southwark near the 
Bear-garden, in 1596."* Malone does not describe this paper; but Mr. Collier 
found it at Dulwich College, and it thence appears that the name of "Mr. Shaksper" 
was in a list of " Inhabitants of Sowtherk as have complaned, this of Jully, 1596." 
It is immaterial to know of what Shakspere complained, in company with " Wilson 
the piper," and sundry others. The neighbourhood does not seem to have been a 
very select one, if we may judge from another name in this list. We cannot affirm 
that Shakspere was the solitary occupier of this house in Southwark. Chalmers 
says, " it can admit of neither controversy nor doubt, that Shakspere in very early 
life settled in a family way where he was bred. Where he thus settled, he probably 
resolved that his wife and family should remain through life ; although he himself 
made frequent excursions to London, the scene of his profit, and the theatre of his 
fame." Mr. Hunter has discovered a document which shews that " William 
Shakespeare was, in 1598, assessed in a large sum to a subsidy upon the parish of 
St. Helen's, Bishopsgate. He was assessed, also, in the Liberty of the Clink, 
Southwark, in 1609 ; but whether for a dwelling-house, or for his property in the 
Globe, is not evident. His occupation as an actor both at the Blackfriars and the 
Globe, the one a winter, the other a summer theatre, continued till 1603 or 1604. 
His interest as a proprietor of both theatres existed in all probability till 1612. In 
1597 Shakspere became the purchaser of the largest house in Stratford, and he 
resided there with his family till the time of his death in 1616. Many circum 
stances show that his interests and affections were always connected with the place 
of his birth. 

William Shakspere, " being inclined naturally to poetry and acting," natu 
rally became a poet and an actor. He would become a poet, without any 



* Maloue, Inquiry. &c., p. 215. 
282 



A BIOGRAPIIV. 

impelling circumstances not necessarily arising out of his own condition. " He 
began early to make essays at dramatic poetry, which at that time was very 
low." Aubrey's account of his early poetical efforts is an intelligible and con 
sistent account. Shakspere was familiar with the existing state of dramatic 
poetry, through his acquaintance with the stage in the visits or various com 
panies of actors to Stratford. We have shown what that condition was in 
1580. It was not much improved in 1585. In the previous year there had 
been three sets of players at Stratford, remunerated for their performances out 
of the public purse of the borough. These were the players of "my Lord of 
Oxford," the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Essex. In 1585 we have no 
record of players in the borough. In 1586 there is only one performance paid 
for by the Corporation. But in 1587 the Queen's players, for the first time, 
make their appearance in that town ; and their performances are rewarded at 
a much higher rate than those of any previous company. Two years after 
this, that is in 1589, we have undeniable evidence that Shakspere had not only 
a casual engagement, was not only a salaried servant, as many players were, 
but was a shareholder in this very Queen's company, with other shareholders 
below him in the list. The fair inference is, that he did not at once jump 
into his position ; and even that two years before, when the Queen's players 
visited Stratford for the first time, there was some especial cause for their 
visit ; and that the cause is easily found in the circumstance that one of their 
company was a native of Stratford, with influential friends and connexions 
there, and that he was not ashamed to exhibit his vocation amongst the com 
panions of his youth. Rowe says that, after having settled in the world in a 
family manner, and continued in this kind of settlement for some time, the 
extravagance of which he was guilty in robbing Sir Thomas Lucy's park 
obliged him to leave his business and family. He could not have so left, even 
according to the circumstances which were known to Rowe, till after the birth 
of his son and daughter in 1585. But the story goes on : " It is at this time, 
and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in 
the playhouse. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a 
very mean rank ; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, 
soon distinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent 
writer." Six years after the time of Rowe the story assumed a more cir 
cumstantial shape, as far as regards the mean rank which Shakspere filled in 
his early connexion with the theatre. Dr. Johnson adds one passage to the 
'Life,' which he says "Mr. Pope related, as communicated to him by Mr. 
Rowe." It is so remarkable an anecdote that it is somewhat surprising that 
Rowe did not himself add it to his own meagre account : 

"In the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches 
not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, 
went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horse 
back to the play ; and when Shakspere fled to London from the terror of a 
criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play 
house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be 

283 



ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for 
his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for 
Will Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while 
Will Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. 
Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired 
boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakspeare was summoned, 
were immediately to present themselves, ' I am Shakspeare's boy, Sir.' In 
time, Shakspeare found higher employment ; but as long as the practice of 
riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the 
appellation of Shakspeare's boys." 

Steevens has attempted to impugn the credibility of this anecdote by saying, 
" That it was once the general custom to ride on horseback to the play I am 
yet to learn. The most popular of the theatres were on the Bankside ; and we 
are told by the satirical pamphleteers of that time that the usual mode of 
conveyance to these places of amusement was by water, but not a single writer 
so much as hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the practice of having 
horses held during the hours of exhibition." Steevens is here in error; he 
has a vague notion which is still persevered in with singular obstinacy, even 
by those who have now the means of knowing that Shakspere had acquired 
property in the chief theatre in 1589 that the great dramatic poet had felt 
no inspiration till he was about eight-and-twenty, and that, therefore, his con 
nexion with the theatre began in the palmy days of the Globe on the Bankside 
a theatre not built till 1593. To the earlier theatres, if they were frequented 
by the gallants of the Court, they would have gone on horses. They did so 
go, as we learn from Dekker, long after the Bankside theatres were established. 
The story first appeared in a book entitled ' The Lives of the Poets,' considered 
to be the work of Theophilus Gibber, but said to be written by a Scotchman 
of the name of Shiels, who was an amanuensis of Dr. Johnson. Shiels had 
certainly some hand in the book ; and there we find that Davenant told the 
anecdote to Betterton, who communicated it to Rowe, who told it to Pope, who 
told it to Dr. Newton. Improbable as the story is as it now stands, there 
may be a scintillation of truth in it, as in most traditions. It is by no means 
impossible that the Blackfriars Theatre might have had Shakspere's boys to 
hold horses, but not Shakspere himself. As a proprietor of the theatre, Shakspere 
might sagaciously perceive that its interest would be promoted by the readiest 
accommodation being offered to its visitors ; and further, with that worldly 
adroitness which, in him, was not incompatible with the exercise of the highest 
genius, he might have derived an individual profit by employing servants to 
perform this office. In an age when horse-stealing wa? one of the commonest 
occurrences, it would be a guarantee for the safe charge of the horses that they 
were committed to the care of the agents of one then well known in the world, 
an actor, a writer, a proprietor of the theatre. Such an association with the 
author of Hamlet must sound most anti-poetical ; but the fact is scarcely 
less prosaic that the same wondrous man, about the period when he wrote 
184 



WILLIAM SITAKSPERE : 

Macbeth, had an action for debt in the Bailiffs Court at Stratford, to recover 
thirty-five shillings and tenpence for corn by him sold and delivered. 

Familiar, then, with theatrical exhibitions, such as they, were, from his ear- 
liest youth, and with a genius so essentially dramatic that all other writers that 
the world has seen have never approached him in his power of going out of 
himself, it is inconsistent with probability that he should not have attempted 
some dramatic composition at an early age. The theory that he was first em 
ployed in repairing the plays of others we hold to be altogether untenable ; 
supported only by a very narrow view of the great essentials to a dramatic 
work, and by verbal criticism, which, when carefully examined, utterly fails 
even in its own petty assumptions.* There can be no doubt that the three 
Parts of Henry VI. belong to the early stage. We believe them to be wholly 
and absolutely the early work of Shakspere. But we do not necessarily hold that 
they were his earliest work ; for the proof is so absolute of the continual im 
provements and elaborations which he made in his best productions, that it 
would be difficult to say that some of the plays which have the most finished 
air, but of which there were no early editions, may not be founded upon very 
youthful compositions. Others may have wholly perished ; thrown aside after 
a season ; never printed ; and neglected by their author, to whom new inven 
tions would be easier than remodellings of pieces probably composed upon a 
false theory of art. For it is too much to imagine that his first productions 
would be wholly untainted by the taste of the period. Some might have been 
weak delineations of life and character, overloaded with mythological conceits 
and pastoral affectations, like the plays of Lyly, which were the Court fashion 
before 1590. Others might have been prompted by the false ambition to pro 
duce effect, which is the characteristic of Locrine, and partially so of Titus 
Andronicus. But of one thing we may be sure that there would be no want 
of power even in his first productions ; that real poetry would have gushed out 
of the bombast, and true wit sparkled amidst the conceits. His first plays 
would, we think, fall in with the prevailing desire of the people to learn the 
history of their country through the stage. If so, they would certainly not 
exhibit the feebleness of some of these performances which were popular about 
the period of which we are now speaking, and which continued to be popular 
even after he had most successfully undertaken 

To raise our ancient sovereigns from their hearse." 

The door of the theatre was not a difficult one for him to enter. It is a sin 
gular fact, that several of the most eminent actors of this very period are held 
to have been his immediate neighbours. The petition to the Privy Council, 
which has proved that Shakspere was a sharer in the Blackfriars playhouse in 
1 589, contains the names of sixteen shareholders, he being the twelfth on the 
list. The head of the Company was James Burbage ; the second, Richard 
Barbage his son. Malone suspected that both John Heminge, one of the 



See our Easay on the Three Parts of Itenry VI. and Richnrd III. 

285 



WII.UAM SIIAKSI'KRK: 

editors of Shakspere's Collected Works, and Richard Burbage, " were Shak- 
spere's countrymen, and that Heminge was born at Shottery." His conjecture 
with regard to Heminge was founded upon entries in the baptismal register of 
Stratford, which show that there was a John Heminge at Shottery in 15G7, 
and a Richard Heminge in 1570. Mr. Collier has shewn that a John Burbadge 
was bailiff of Stratford in 1555 ; and that many of the same name were residents 
in Warwickshire. But Mr. Hunter believes that Richard Burbage was a native of 
London. A letter addressed by Lord Southampton to Lord Ellesmere in 1608, 
introducing Burbage and Shakspere to ask protection of that nobleman, then Lord 
Chancellor, against some threatened molestation from the Lord Mayor and alder 
men of London, says, " they are both of one county, and indeed almost of one 
town." This would be decisive, had some doubts not been thrown upon the au 
thenticity of this document. We do not therefore rely upon the assumption that 
William Shakspere and Richard Burbage were originally neighbours. But from the 
visits of the Queen's players to Stratford, Shakspere might have made friends with 
Burbage and Heminge, and have seen that the profession of an actor, however dis 
graced by some men of vicious manners, performing in the inn-yards and smaller 
theatres of London, numbered amongst its members men of correct lives and 
honourable character, Even the enemy of plays and players, Stephen Gosson, had 
been compelled to acknowledge this : " It is well known that some of them are 
sober, discreet, properly learned, honest householders, and citizens well thought on 
among their neighbours at home." * It was a lucrative profession, too ; especially 
to those who had the honour of being the Queen's Servants. Their theatre was 
frequented by persons of rank and fortune ; the prices of admission were high ; 
they were called upon not unfrequently to present their performances before the 
Queen herself, and their reward was a royal one. The object thus offered to the 
ambition of a young man, conscious of his own powers, would be glittering enough 
to induce him, not very unwillingly, to quit the tranquil security of his native home. 
But we inverse the usual belief in this matter. We think that Shakspere became 
an actor because he was a dramatic writer, and not a dramatic writer because he was 
an actor. He very quickly made his way to wealth and reputation, not so much by 
a handsome person and pleasing manners, as by that genius which left all other 
competitors far behind him in the race of dramatic composition ; and by that pru 
dence which taught him to combine the exercise of his extraordinary powers with 
a constant reference to the course of life he had chosen, not lowering his srt for 
the advancement of his fortune, but achieving his fortune in showing what mighty 
things might be accomplished by his art. 

There is a subject, however, which we are now called upon to examine, which 
may have had a material influence upon the determination of Shakspere to throw 
himself upon the wide and perilous sea of London dramatic society. We have 
uniformly contended against the assertion that the poverty of John Shakspere pre 
vented him giving his son a grammar-school education. We believe that all the 
supposed evidences of that poverty, at the period of Shakspere's boyhood, are 

* ' School of Abuse,' 1673. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

extremely vague and contradictory.* But, on the other hand, it appears to us more 
than probable that after William Shakspere had the expenses of a family to meet, 
there were changes, and very natural ones, in the worldly position of his father, and 
consequently of his own, which might have rendered it necessary that the son 
should abandon the tranquil course of a rural life which he probably contemplated 
when he married, and make a strenuous and a noble exertion for independence, in 
a career which his peculiar genius opened to him. We will first state the facts 
which appear to bear upon the supposed difficulties of John Shakspere, about the 
period when William may be held to have joined Burbage's company in London 
facts which are far from indicating any thing like ruin, but which exhibit some 
involvements and uneasiness. 

In 1578 John Shakspere mortgaged his property of Asbies, acquired by marriage. 
Four years before this he purchased two freehold houses in Stratford, which he 
always retained. In 1578, therefore, he wanted capital. In 1579 he sold an in 
terest in some property at Snitterfield. But then, in 1580, he tendered the mort 
gage money to the mortgagee of the Asbies' estate, which was illegally refused, on 
the pretence that other money was owing. A Chancery suit was the consequence, 
which was undetermined in 1597. In an action for debt in the bailiff's court in 
1586, the return of the serjeants-at-mace upon a warrant of distress against John 
Shakspere is, that he had nothing to distrain upon. It is held, therefore, that all 
the household gear was then gone. Is it not more credible that the family lived else 
where ? Mr. Hunter has discovered that a John Shakspere lived at Clifford, a pretty 
village near Stratford, in 1579, he being described in a will of 1583 as indebted to 
the estate of John Ashwell, of Stratford. His removal from Stratford borough as a 
resident, is corroborated by the fact that he was irregular in his attendance at the 
halls of the corporation, after 1578; and was finally, in 1586, removed from the 
body, for that he " doth not come to the halls when they be warned." And yet, as 
there were fines for non-attendance, as pointed out by Mr. Halliwell, there is some 
proof that he clung to the civic honours, even at a personal cost ; though, from 
some cause, and that probably non-residence, he did not perform the civic duties. 
Lastly, he is returned in 1592, with other persons, as not attending church, and 
this remark is appended to a list of nine persons, in which is the name of " Mr. 
John Shackespere," " It is said that these last nine come not to church for fear of 
process for debt." If he had been residing in the borough it would have been quite 
unnecessary to execute the process in the sacred precincts ; he evidently lived and 
was occupied out of the borough. It is tolerably clear that the traffic of Henley 
Street, whether of wool, or skins, or carcases, was at an end. John Shakspere, the 
yeoman, was farming; and, like many other agriculturists, in all districts, and all 
times, was a sufferer from causes over which he had no control. There were pecu 
liar circumstances at that period which, temporarily, would have materially affected 

his property. 

In 1580 John Shakspere tendered the mortgage money for his wife s mhentanc 
at Asbies. The property was rising in value ; the mortgagee would not give it up. 

See Book II. Chap. I. 

887 



WILLIAM SIIAKSH:I:I: : 

He had taken possession, and had leased it, as we learn from the Chancery proceed 
ings. He alleges, in 1597, that John Shakspere wanted to obtain possession, because 
the lease was expiring, " whereby a greater value is to be yearly raised." Other 
property was sold to obtain the means of making this tender. John Shaken n- 
would probably have occupied his estate of Asbies, could he have obtained posses 
sion. But he was unlawfully kept out : and he became a tenant of some other land, 
in addition to what he held of his own. There was, at this particular period, a 
remarkable pressure upon proprietors and tenants who did not watchfully mark the 
effects of an increased abundance of money a prodigious rise in the value of 'all 
commodities, through the greater supply of the precious metals. In " A Briefe 
Conceipte touching the Commonweale," already quoted,* there is, in the dialogue 
between the landowner, the husbandman, the merchant, the manufacturer, and the 
doctor of divinity, a complaint on the part of the landowner, which appears to offer 
a parallel case to that of John Shakspere ; " All of my sort I mean all gentlemen 
have great cause to complain, now that the prices of things are so risen of all 
hands, that you may better live after your degree than we ; for you may and do 
raise the price of your wares as the prices of victuals and other necessaries do rise, 
and so cannot we so much ; for though it be true, that of such lands as come to 
hands either by purchase or by determination and ending of such terms of years 
that I or my ancestors had granted them in time past, I do receive a better fine 
than of old was used, or enhance the rent thereof, being forced thereto for the charge 
of my household, that is so encreased over that it was ; yet in all my lifetime I look 
not that the third part of my land shall come to my disposition, that I may enhance 
the rent of the same, but it shall be in men's holding either by leases or by copy 
granted before my time, and still continuing, and yet like to continue in the same 
state for the most part during my life, and percase my sons. ****** 
We are forced therefore to ininish the third part of our household, or to raise the 
third part of our revenues, and for that we cannot so do of our own lands that 
is already in the hands of other men, many of us are enforced to keep pieces of 
our own lands when they fall in our own possession, or to purchase some farm of 
other men's lands, and to store them with sheep or some other cattle, to help make 
up the decay of our revenues, and to maintain our old estate withal, and yet all is 
little enough." 

In such a transition state, we may readily imagine John Shakspere to have been 
a sufferer. But his struggle was a short one. He may have owed debts he was 
unable to pay and have gone through some seasons of difficulty, deriving small rents 
from his own lands, "in the hands of other men," and enforced to hold " some farm 
of other men's lands " at an advanced rent. Yet this is not ruin and degradation. 
He maintained his social position ; and it is pleasant to imagine that his illustrious 
son devoted some portion of the first rewards of his labour to make the condition 
of his father easier in that time of general uneasiness and difficulty. In ten years 
prosperity brightened the homes of that family. The poet bought the best house 
in Stratford ; the yeoman applied to the College of Arms for bearings that would 



283 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

exhibit his gentle lineage, and asserted that he was a man of landed substance, 
sufficient to uphold the pretension. But in the period of rapid changes in the value 
of property, a transition which, from the time of Latimer, was producing the most 
remarkable effects on the social condition of all the people of England, pressing 
severely upon many, although it was affording the sure means of national progress, 
--it is more than probable that Shakspere's father gradually found himself' in 
straitened circumstances. This change in his condition might have directed his son 
to a new course of life which might be entered upon without any large pecuniary 
means, and which offered to his ambition a fair field for the exercise of his peculiar 
genius. There was probably a combination of necessity and of choice which gave 
us " Hamlet " and " Lear." If William Shakspere had remained at Stratford he 
would have been a poet a greater, perhaps, than the author of " The Faery Queen ; " 
but that species of literature which it was for him to build up, almost out of chaos, 
and to carry onward to a perfection beyond the excellence of any other age, might 
have been for him an " unweeded garden." 

The two young men, Richard Burbage and William Shakspere, " both of one 
county, and indeed almost of one town," may be assumed, without any improba 
bility, to have taken their way together towards London, on the occasion when 
one of them went forth for the first time from his native home, depressed at 
parting, but looking hopefully towards the issue of his adventure. There would 
be little said till long after the friends had crossed the great bridge at Stratford. 
The eyes of one would be frequently turned back to look upon the old spire. 
Thoughts which unquestionably have grown out of some such separation as this 
would involuntarily possess his soul : 

" How heavy do I journey on the way, 
When what I seek, my weary travel's end, 
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say, 
' Thus far the miles are nieasur'd from thy friend ! ' 
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe, 
Plods dully on to bear that weight in me, 
As if by some instinct the wretch did know 
His rider lov'd not speed, being made from thee." * 

The first stages of this journey would offer little interest to the travellers. 
Having passed Long Compton, and climbed the steep range of hills that divide 
Warwickshire from Oxfordshire, weary stretches of barren downs would pre 
sent a novel contrast to the fertility of Shakspere's own county. But after a 
few miles the scene would change. A noble park would stretch out as far as 
the eye could reach rich with venerable oaks and beeches, planted in the reign 
of Henry I -the famous park of Woodstock. The poet would be familiar with 
all the interesting associations of this place. Here was Rosamond Clifford secluded 
from the eyes of the world by her bold and accomplished royal lover, 
dwelt Edward III. Here, more interesting than either fact, Chaucer wro 
some of his early poems 

* Sonnet 50. 

289 
LIFE. U 



WILLIAM sil LK8PEB1 : 

" Within a lodge out of the way, 
Beside a well in a forest." * 

\nd here, when he retired from active life, he composed his immortal ' Canter 
bury Tales.' Here was the Lady Elizabeth a prisoner, almost dreading death, 
only a year or two before she ascended the throne. Here, " hearing upon a time 
out of her garden a certain milkmaid singing pleasantly, she wished herself 
to be a milkmaid, as she was ; saying that her case was better, and life more 
merrier, than was hers in that state as she was."f The travellers assuredly 
visited the palace which a few years after Hentzner described as abounding in 
magnificence ; and near a spring of the brightest water they would have viewed 
all that was left of the tomb of Rosamond, with her rhyming epitaph, the pro 
duction, probably, of a later age : 

" Hio jacet in tumb.1 Rosamundi non Rosamunda, 
Non redolet sed olet, quae redolere solet." 

The earliest light of the next morning would see the companions on their 
way to Oxford ; and an hour's riding would lodge them in the famous hostelry 
of the Corn Market, the Crown. Aubrey tells us that " Mr. William Shake 
speare was wont to go into Warwickshire once a-year, and did commonly in 
his journey lie at this house in Oxon, where he was exceedingly respected. "J 
The poet's first journey may have determined his subsequent habit of resting 
at this house. It is no longer an inn. But one who possessed a true enthu 
siasm, Thomas Warton, described it in the last century in the belief " that 
Shakspeare's old hostelry at Oxford deserves no less respect than Chaucer's 
Tabard in Southwark." He says, " As to the Crown Inn, it still remains an 
inn, and is an old decayed house, but probably was once a principal inn in Ox 
ford. It is directly in the road from Stratford to London. In a large upper 
room, which seems to have been a sort of hall for entertaining a large company, 
or for accommodating (as was the custom) different parties at once, there was 
a bow-window, with three pieces of excellent painted glass." We have ample 
materials for ascertaining what aspect Oxford presented for the first time to 
the eye of Shakspere. The ancient castle, according to Hentzner, was in ruins ; 
but the elegance of its private buildings, and the magnificence of its public 
ones, filled this traveller with admiration. So noble a place, raised up entirely 
for the encouragement of learning, would excite in the young poet feelings that 
were strange and new. He had wept over the ruins of religious houses ; but 
here was something left to give the assurance that there was a real barrier 
against the desolations of force and ignorance. A deep regret might pass 
through his mind that he had not availed himself of the opening which was 
presented to the humblest in the land, here to make himself a ripe and good 
scholar. Oxford was the patrimony of the people ; and he, one of the people, 
had not claimed his birthright. He was set out upon a doubtful adventure ; 
the persons with whom he was to be associated had no rank in society; they 

* Chaucer's ' Dream. f Holiushed. J Life of Davenant 

290 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

were to a certain extent despised ; they were the servants of a luxurious court, 
and, what was sometimes worse, of a tasteless public. But, on the other hand, 
as he paused before Balliol College, he must have recollected what a fearful 
tragedy was there acted some thirty years before. Was he sure that the 
day of persecution for opinions was altogether past? Men were still disputing 
everywhere around him ; and the slighter the differences between them the 
more violent their zeal. They were furious for or against certain ceremonial 
observances ; so that they appeared to forget that the object of all devotional 
forms was to make the soul approach nearer to the Fountain of wisdom and 




[Balliol College, in the sixteenth century-] 

goodness, and that He could not be approached without love and charity. 
The spirit of love dwelt in the inmost heart of this young man. 
in after-time to diffuse itself over writings which entered the minds of 
loftiest and the humblest, as an auxiliary to that higher teaching whicl 
is too often forgotten in the turmoil of the world. His intellect would 
any rate be free in the course which was before him. Much of the know 
ledge that he had acquired up to this period was self-taught; but it was not 
the less full and accurate. He had ranged at his will over a multitude of 
books-idle -reading, no doubt, to the systematic and professional student ; I 
if weeds, weeds out of which he could extract honey. The subtile disputations 
U2 291 







I Divinity Schools, in the sixteenth century. J 



of the schools, as they were then conducted, were more calculated, as he haa 
heard, to call forth a talent for sophistry than a love of truth. Falsehood 
might rest upon logic, for the perfect soundness of the conclusion might hide 
the rottenness of the premises. He entered the beautiful Divinity Schools ; 
and there, too, he found that the understanding was more trained to dispute, 
than the whole intellectual being of man to reverence. He would pursue his 
own course with a cheerful spirit ; nothing doubting that, whilst he worked out 
his individual happiness, he might still become an instrument of good to his 
fellow-men. And yet did the young man reverence Oxford ; because he re 
verenced letters as opposed to illiteracy. He gave his testimony to the worth 
of Oxford at a distant day, when he held that the great glory of Wolsey was to 
have founded Christchurch : 

" He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one : 
Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading : 
Lofty and sour to them that lov'd him not ; 
But to those men that sought him, sweet HB summer. 
And though he were unsatisfied in getting, 
(Which was a sin), yet in bestowing, madam, 
He was most princely : Ever witness for him 
Those twins of learning that he rais'd in you, 
Ipswich and Oxford ! one of which fell with hitn, 
Unwilling to outlive the good he did it ; 
The other, though uufinish'd, yet so famous, 
292 



A BIOGEAPHY. 

So excellent in art, and still so rising, 

That Christendom shall ever speak his virtue." * 

The journey from Oxford to London must have occupied two days, in that 
age of bad roads and long miles. Harrison, in his ' Chapter on Thoroughfares ' 
(1586), gives us the distances from town to town: Oxford to Whatleie, 4 
miles ; "Whatleie to Thetisford, 6 ; Thetisford to Stockingchurch, 5 ; Stocking- 
church to East Wickham, 5 ; East Wickham to Baccansfield, 5 ; Baccansfield to 
Oxbridge, 7 ; Uxbridge to London, 15. Total, 47 miles. Our modern admea 
surements give 54. Over this road, then, in many parts a picturesque one, 
would the two friends from Stratford take their course. They would fare well 
and cheaply on the road. Harrison tells us, " Each comer is sure to lie in 
clean sheets, wherein no man hath been lodged since they came from the 
laundress, or out of the water wherein they were last washed. If the traveller 
have a horse his bed doth cost him nothing, but if he go on foot he is sure to 
pay a penny for the same. But whether he be horseman or footman, if his 
chamber be once appointed he may carry the key with him, as of his own house, 
so long as he lodgeth there. If he lose aught whilst he abideth in the inn, the 
host is bound by a general custom to restore the damage, so that there is no 
greater security anywhere for travellers than in the greatest inns of England." 

* Henry VITI., Act iv., Scene u. 




tCUristcliurcn, m tUe sixteenth century.] 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

On the evening of the fourth day after their departure from home would the 
young wayfarers, accustomed to fatigue, reach London. They would see only 
fields and hedge-rows, leading to the hills of Hampstead and Highgate on the 
north of the road, and to Westminster on the south. They would be wholly in 
the country ; with a long line of road before them, without a house, at the spot 
which now, although bearing the name of a lane Park Lane is one of the 
chosen seats of fashion. Here Burbage would point out to his companion the 
distant roofs of the Abbey and the Hall of Westminster ; and nearer would 
stand St. James's Palace, a solitary and somewhat gloomy building. They 




[Ancient View of St. James's and Westminster.] 



would ride on through fields, till they came very near the village of St. Giles's. 
Here, turning from their easterly direction to the south, they would pass through 
meadows ; with the herd quietly grazing under the evening sun in one enclosure, 
and the laundress collecting her bleached linen in another. They are now in 
St. Martin's Lane ; and the hum of population begins to be heard. The inn in 
the Strand receives their horses, and they take a boat at Somerset Place. Then 
bursts upon the young stranger a full conception of the wealth and greatness of 
that city of which he has heard so much, and imagined so much more. Hundreds 
of boats are upon the river. Here and there a stately barge is rowed along, 
gay with streamers and rich liveries ; and the sound of music is heard from its 
decks, and the sound is repeated from many a beauteous garden that skirts the 
water's edge. He looks back upon the cluster of noble buildings that form the 

294 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Palace of Westminster. York Place, and the spacious Savoy, bring their 
historical recollections to his mind. He looks eastward, and there is the famous 
Temple, and the Palace of Bridewell, and Baynard's Castle. Above all these 
rises up the majestic spire of Paul's. London Bridge, that wonder of the 
world, now shows its picturesque turrets and multitudinous arches ; and in the 
distance is seen the Tower of London, full of grand and solemn associations. 
The boat rests at the Blackfriars. In a few minutes they are threading the narrow 
streets of the precinct ; and a comfortable house affords the weary youths a 
cheerful welcome. 




WILLIAM SHAKSPEliE : A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON AUBREY'S LIFE OF SHAKSPERE. 



AUBREY'S ' Life," as we have mentioned, is the earliest connected account of Shakspere Brief an 
it is, it is full of curious and characteristic matter; made up of gossip, indeed, and evidently 
inaccurate in one or two particulars, but still valuable as reflecting the general notion of Shak- 
spere's career entertained by his immediate successors, with whom Aubrey was familiar. Howe's 
' Life ' comes later ; and the facts are so mixed up with the critical opinions of his age, which 
uniformly desire to represent Shakspere as an uneducated man, that we cannot regard it as so 
genuine a production as Aubrey's tattle, in which he told what he had heard without much regard 
to the inferences to be drawn from his tale. It ought to be read entire, properly to judge of its 
credibility ; and therefore we so present it to our readers : 

" Mr. William Shakespear was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick ; bis 
father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was 
a boy he exercised his father's trade, but when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style, and 
make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this town that was held not at all 
inferior to him for a natural wit, his acquaintance and coetanean, but died young. This William, 
being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London, I guess, about 18, and was an actor 
at one of the playhouses, and did act exceedingly well. Now B. Jonson was never a good actor, 
but an excellent instructor. He began early to make essays at dramatic poetry, which at that 
time was very low, and his plays took welL He was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good 

company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit. The humour of the constable, in 

A Midsummer-Night's Dream, he happened to take at Qrendon,* in Bucks, which is the road from 
London to Stratford, and there was living that constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxon. 
Mr. Jos. Howe is of that parish, and knew him. Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of meu 
daily wherever they came. One time as he was at the tavern at Stratford-upon-Avon, one Combes, 
an old rich usurer, was to be buried ; he makes there this extemporary epitaph : 

' Ten in the hundred the devil allows, 
But Combes will have twelve, he swears and vows : 
If any one asks who lies in this tomb, 
"Hoi" quoth the devil, " 'tis my John o' Combe."' 

He was wont to go to his native country once a-year. I think I have been told that he left 2 or 
300J. per annum there and thereabout to a sister. I have heard Sir William Davenant and Mr. 
Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best comedian we have now) say that he had a most prodi 
gious wit, and did admire his natural parts beyond all other dramatical writers. He was wont to 
say that he never blotted out a line in his life ; said Ben Jonson, ' I wish he had blotted out a 
thousand.' His comedies will remain wit as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he 
handles mores homitvum ; now our present writers reflect so much upon particular persons and cox - 
combities, that twenty years hence they will not be understood. 

" Though, as Ben Jonson says of him, that he had but little Latin and less Greek, he understood 
Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country." t 

" I think it wa Midsummer night that he happened to lie there," 
t From Mr. Beeston. 



KND OF BOOK I. 



290 






A BIOGRAPHY 



^ 




D 








[A Play at the Blackfrlars.] 



BOOK II. 



CHAPTER I. 

A NEW PLAY. 



AMONGST those innumerable by-ways in London which are familiar to the 
hurried pedestrian, there is a well-known line of streets, or rather lanes, leading 
from the hill on which St. Paul's stands to the great thoroughfare of Black- 
friars Bridge. The pavement is narrow, the carriage-way is often blocked up 
by contending carmen, the houses are mean ; yet the whole district is full of 
interesting associations. We have scarcely turned out of Ludgate Street, under 
a narrow archway, when the antiquary may descry a large lump of the ancient 

299 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

city wall embedded in the lath and plaster of a modern dwelling. A littl^ 
farther, and we pass the Hall of the Apothecaries who have here, by dint of 
long and earnest struggle, raised their original shopkeeping vocation into a 
science. A little onward, and the name Printing-house Yard indicates another 
aspect of civilization. Here was the King's printing-house in the days of the 
Stuarts ; and here, in our own days, is the office of the ' Times ' Newspaper, the 
organ of a greater power than that of prerogative. Between Apothecaries' 
Hall and Printing-house Yard is a short lane, leading into an open space called 
Playhouse Yard. It is one of those shabby places of which so many in London 
lie close to the glittering thoroughfares ; but which are known only to their 
own inhabitants, and have at all times an air of quiet which seems like desola 
tion. The houses of this little square, or yard, are neither ancient nor modern. 
Some of them were probably built soon after the great fire of London ; for a 
few present their gable fronts to the streets, and the wide casements of others 
have evidently been filled up and modern sashes inserted. But there is nothing 
here, nor indeed in the whole precinct, with the exception of the few yards of the 
ancient wall, that has any pretension to belong to what may be called the anti 
quities of London. Yet here, three centuries ago, stood the great religious 
house of the Dominicans, or Black Friars, who were the lords of the precinct ; 
shutting out all civic authority, and enclosing within their four gates a busy 
community of shopkeepers and artificers. Here, in the hallowed dust of the 
ancient church, were the royal and the noble buried ; and their gilded tombs 
proclaimed their virtues to the latest posterity. Where shall we look for a 
fragment of these records now? Here parliaments have sat and pulled down 
odious favourites ; here kings have required exorbitant aids from their com 
plaining subjects ; here Wolsey pronounced the sentence of divorce on the per 
secuted Katharine. In a few years the house of the Black Friars ceased to 
exist ; their halls were pulled down ; their church fell into ruin. The precinct 
of the Blackfriars then became a place of fashionable residence. Elizabeth, at 
the age of sixty, here danced at a wedding which united the houses of Worcester 
and Bedford. In the heart of this precinct, close by the church of the sup 
pressed monastery, surrounded by the new houses of the nobility, in the very 
spot which is now known as Playhouse Yard, was built, in 1575, the Blackfriars 
Theatre. 

The history of the early stage, as it is to be deduced from statutes, and pro. 
clamations, and orders of council, exhibits a constant succession of conflicts 
between the civic authorities and the performers of plays. The act of the 
14th of Elizabeth, "for the punishment of vagabonds, and for relief of the poor 
and impotent," was essentially an act of protection for the established companies 
of players. We have here, for the first time, a definition of rogues and vaga 
bonds ; and it includes not only those who can " give no reckoning how he or 
she doth lawfully get his or her living," but " all fencers, bearwards, common 
players in interludes, and minstrels, not belonging to any baron of this realm or 
towards any other honourable personage of greater degree ; all jugglers, pedlers 
tinkers, and petty chapmen ; which said fencers, bearwards, common players 

800 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

in interludes, minstrels, jugglers, pedlers, tinkers, and petty chapmen, shall 
wander abroad, and have not licence of two justices of the peace at the least* 
whereof one to be of the quorum, where and in what shire they shall happen 
to wander." The circumstance of belonging to any baron, or person of greater 
degree, was in itself a pretty large exception ; and if in those times of rising 
puritanism the licence of two justices of the peace was not always to be procured, 
the large number of companies enrolled as the servants of the nobility offers 
sufficient evidence that the profession of a player was not a persecuted one, but 
one expressly sanctioned by the ruling powers. The very same statute throws 
by implication as much odium upon scholars as upon players ; for amongst its 
vagabonds are included " all scholars of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge 
that go about begging, not being authorised under the seal of the said Uni 
versities."* There was one company of players, the Earl of Leicester's, which 
within two years after the legislative protection of this act received a more 
important privilege from the Queen herself. In 1574 a writ of privy zeal was 
issued to the keeper of the great seal, commanding him to set forth letters 
patent addressed to all justices, &c., licensing and authorizing James Burbage, 
and four other persons, servants to the Earl of Leicester, " to use, exercise, and 
occupy the art and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, interludes, stage- 
plays, and such other like as they have already used and studied, or hereafter 
shall use and study, as well for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our 
solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to see them." And they were to 
exhibit their performances " as well within our city of London and liberties of 
the same," as " throughout our realm of England." Without knowing how 
far tLe servants of the Earl of Leicester might have been molested by the 
authorities of the city of London, in defiance of this patent, it is clear that the 
patent was of itself insufficient to insure their kind reception within the city; 
for it appears that, within three months after the date of the patent, a letter 
was written from the Privy Council to the Lord Mayor, directing him " to 
admit the comedy-players within the city of London, and to be otherwise 
favourably used." This mandate was probably obeyed; but in 1575 the Court 
of Common Council, without any exception for the objects of the patent of 
1574, made certain orders, in the city language termed an act, which assumed 
that the whole authority for the regulation of plays was in the Lord Mayor and 
Court of Aldermen ; that they only could license theatrical exhibitions within 
the city; and that the players whom they did license should contribute half 
their receipts to charitable purposes. The civic authorities appear to have 
stretched their power somewhat too far ; for in that very year James Burbage, 
and the other servants of the Earl of Leicester, erected their theatre amidst the 
houses of the great in the Blackfriars, within a stone's throw of the city walls, 
but absolutely out of the control of the city officers. The immediate neighbours 

It is curious that the act against vagabonds of the 39th of Elizabeth somewhat softens this 
matter; for in its definition of vagabonds it includes "all persons catting themselves scholars, going 
about begging." It says nothing, with regard to players, about the licence of two justices ; and 
requires that the nobleman's licence shall be under his hand and seal. 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

of the players were the Lord Chamberlain and Lord Hunsdon, as we learn from 
a petition against the players from the inhabitants of the precinct.* The peti 
tion was unavailing. The rooms which it states " one Burbadge hath lately 
bought " were converted " into a common playhouse ; " and within fourteen 
years from the period of its erection William Shakspere was one of its pro 
prietors. 

The royal patent of 1574 authorised in the exercise of their art and faculty 
" James Burbadge, John Perkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert 
Wylson," who are described as the servants of the Earl of Leicester. Although 
on the early stage the characters were frequently doubled, we can scarcely 
imagine that these five persons were of themselves sufficient to form a company 
of comedians. They had, no doubt, subordinate actors in their pay ; they being 
the proprietors or shareholders in the general adventure. Of these five original 
patentees four remained as the "sharers in the Blackfriars Playhouse "in 1589, 
the name only of John Perkyn being absent from the subscribers to a certificate 
to the Privy Council that the company acting at the Blackfriars "have never 
given cause of displeasure in that they have brought into their plays matters of 
state and religion." This certificate which bears the date of November, 1589 
exhibits to us the list of the professional companions of Shakspere in an early stage 
of his career, though certainly not in the very earliest. The subject-matter of 
this document will require to be noticed in another chapter. The certificate 
describes the persons subscribing it as " her Majesty's poor players," and sets forth 
that they are " all of them sharers in the Blackfriars Playhouse." Their names 
are presented in the following order : 

1. James Burbadge. 

2. Richard Burbadge. 

3. John Laneham. 

4. Thomas Greene. 

5. Robert Wilson. 

6. John Taylor. 

7. Anth. Wadeson. 

8. Thomas Pope. 

9. George Peele. 

10. Augustine Phillipps. 

1 1 . Nicholas Towley. 

12. William Shakespeare. 

13. William Kempe. 

14. William Johnson. 

15. Baptiste Goodale. 

16. Robert Armyn. 

The position of James Burbage at the head of the list is a natural one. He 
was no doubt the founder of this theatrical company. The petition of 1576 



Lord Hunsdon's name appears to this petition, but the Lord Chauaberlaiu's does not appear. 
302 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

against the Blackfriars Theatre mentions " one Burbadge" as having lately 
bought certain rooms in the precinct. This distinction was long preserved to 
his more celebrated son Richard, the second in the list. He died in 1619; and 
he probably continued at the head of the sharers until his decease gave occasion 
to the briefest epitaph ever written "Exit Burbidge."* It would appear, 
from Jonson's masque of 'Christmas,' presented at Court in 1616, that Bur- 
bage and Heminge were joint managers; for Venus, who appears as "a deaf 
tire -woman," says she could have let out Cupid by the week to the King's 
players : " Master Burbage has been about and about with me, and so has old 
Master Heminge too ; they have need of him." The early companionship of 
Shakspere with Richard Burbage became unquestionably a friendship which 
lasted through life ; for he was one of the three professional friends " fellows " 
mentioned in the poet's will. Richard Burbage, by universal consent, was 
the greatest actor of his time. Sir Richard Baker calls him "such an actor 
as no age must ever look to see the like." William Shakspere and Richard 
Burbage were, in all probability, nearly of the same age. At the date of the 
certificate before us Shakspere was twenty-five. The third and fifth shares in 
this list were of the original patentees in 1574. But the fourth amongst those 
patentees stands the fourteenth in the list. If the order in the list be evidence 
of the rank which each person held in the company and such a deduction is 
reasonable from the fact of the Burbages being at the head of the list it is 
clear that the order was determined upon another principle than that of seni 
ority. Of John Laneham, whose name follows that of the Burbages, we know 
nothing. 

Thomas Greene, the fourth name attached to this certificate, is the person who 
has been conjectured to have been a native of Stratford-upon-Avon, and to have ^ 
introduced Shakspere to the theatre. He was a comic actor, of great and 
original powers ; and so celebrated was he as the representative of a particular 
part in one comedy, that the play was called after his name, ' Greene's Tu 
Quoque,' and bears his portrait in the title-page. This comedy, which long 
continued to be popular, was written by John Cook. Although the title-page 
of this play states that it " hath been divers times acted by the Queen's Majesty's 
servants," it is probable that Greene did not long continue a member of the 
company to which Shakspere belonged. He is mentioned by name in the 
' Tu Quoque ' as the clown at the Red Bull. His name does not appear in a 
petition to the Privy Council from the Blackfriars company in 1596; and he is 
not included in the" list of the " names of the principal actors " of all Shak- 
spere's plays, which is prefixed to the folio of 1623. Greene, as well as others 
of higher eminence, was a poet as well as an actor. In the lines which have 
been ascribed to him upon somewhat doubtful anthority, he is made to say 

" I prattled poesy in my nurse's arms." 
But his ambition was not powerful enough to induce him to claim the honours 

* Philipot's additions to Camden's ' Remains concerning Britain.' 

303 




['i'hcmaa Greene.] 



of a poet till a very ripened age ; for upon the accession of James I. he ad 
dressed to the king ' A Poet's Vision, and a Prince's Glory,' in which he is 
thus spoken to in the vision : 

" What though the world saw never line of thine, 
Ne'er can the muse ha"vo a birth more divine." 

Robert Wilson, the fifth on the list, was a person of great celebrity. He 
was amongst the first of the Queen's sworn servants in 1583. His reputation 
was long enduring as an actor in a very peculiar vein. Howes describes him as 
of "a quick, delicate, refined, extemporal wit." This was a traditional reputa 
tion. But Meres, writing in 1598, after mentioning Antipater Sidonius as 
" famous for extemporal verse in Greek," and alluding to a similar power in 
Tarleton, adds "And so is now our witty Wilson, who for learning and ex- 
temporal wit, in this faculty is without compare or compeer, as to his great and 
eternal commendations he manifested in his challenge at the Swan on the Bank- 
side." Wilson, as we have seen, belonged to the very earliest period of our 
regular drama ; and there can be little doubt that originally a great deal of the 
comedy was improvised by men of real talent, such as Tarleton and himself. 
But Wilson was also a dramatic writer. Prior to 1580 he had written a play 
304 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

on the subject of Catiline, which is mentioned in Lodge's ' Reply to Gosson.'* 
Of his poetical capacity we may form some judgment from one of his plays 
The Cobbler's Prophecy,' printed as early as 1594. It probably belongs to an 
earlier period; for allegorical characters are introduced in company with the 
Heathen gods, and with a cobbler, by name Ralph, upon whom rests the burthen 
of the merriment, the character being probably sustained by Wilson himself. He 
was one of the authors also of ' Sir John Oldcastle, Part I.'f It appears from 
Henslowe's papers that Wilson was not only associated with three dramatic 
friends in writing this play, but that he, in the production of other pieces for 
Henslowe's theatre, repeatedly co-operated with Drayton, Chettle, Dekker, 
Anthony Munday, and others. We find entries of his name amongst Henslowe's 
authors from 1597 to 1600. His name is not amongst the petitioners of the 
Blackfriars company in 1596. We may therefore conclude that he had then 
quitted the company, and had become permanently associated with that of Hen- 
slowe, as a dramatic writer, and probably as a performer. 

The sixth on the list, John Taylor, was probably an old actor ; and might be 
the father of the famous Joseph Taylor, of whom tradition says that Shakspere 
taught him to play Hamlet. Anthony Wadeson, the seventh on the list, was a 
dramatic writer as well as a player. He probably had left the Blackfriars 
company early, for his name does not appear to the petition of 1596; and in 
1601 we find him a writer for Henslowe's theatre. The diary of that manager 
contains the following entry amongst his catalogue of plays and their authors : 
' The Honourable Life of the Humorous Earl of Gloster, with his Conquest of 
Portugal, by Anthony Wadeson/ His name is not amongst the list of actors 
of Shakspere's plays. Thomas Pope, the eighth name of the certificate, as 
well as Augustine Phillipps, the tenth name, are mentioned by Heywood, in 
his ' Apology for Actors,' 1612, amongst famous performers: "Though they be 
dead, their deserts yet live in the remembrance of many." Pope, Phillipps, 
Towley, Kempe, Richard Burbage, and Shakspere himself, are the only names 
in the list of 1589 which appear to the petition of 1596 ; and it is also to be 
noticed, that, out of the same sixteen persons, these six, with the addition of 
Robert Arm in, are the only ones amongst the original fellows of Shakspere who 
are mentioned in the list of the names of the principal actors in Shakspere's 
plays. William Kempe, the thirteenth name in the certificate, was the famous 
successor of Tarleton, the extemporising clown, who died in 1588. Of this pair 
Heywood says, " Here I must needs remember Tarleton, in his time gracious 
with the Queen, his sovereign, and in the people's general applause, whom suc 
ceeded Will. Kempe, as well in the favour of her Majesty, as in the opinion and 
good thoughts of the general audience." Kempe was a person of overflowing 
animal spirits, as we may judge from his own extraordinary account of his 
morris-dance from London to Norwich. But it was for Shakspere to give his 
vivacity a right direction ; and to associate his powers with such enduring de 
lineations of human nature as Dogberry and Bottom. William Johnson, the four 
teenth name, has been already mentioned as one of the first patentees. Of Baptist 

* See p. 137. t See Analysis of Doubtful Plays, p. 210. 

LIFE. 2 X 305 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'ERE : 

Goodall, the fifteenth in the list, we know nothing. Robert Armin, the last name 
in the document, was a comic actor, said to have been taught by Tarleton. He ap 
pears to have been a writer of ballads and other ephemeral publications, as well as 
an actor ; for he is mentioned in this capacity by Thomas Nash, in a pamphlet 
of 1592.* Armin wrote several plays of no great merit or reputation ; and he 
published a translation of a little Italian novel. His ' Nest of Ninnies ' has 
been reprinted by the Shakespeare Society. This tract, which contains very 
little that can interest us as a picture of the times, and which displays a brisk 
sort of buffoonery, on the part of its author, rather than any real wit or humour, 
is a collection of queer anecdotes of domestic fools, most of which, the editor of 
the reprint very justly observes, "will strike all readers as merely puerile and 
absurd." Armin's stories, however, are told with an absence of offensive ribaldry 
which was scarcely to be expected from his peculiar talent. He desires to make 
his readers laugh ; but he does not seek to do so by obtruding the grossnesses 
by which his subject was necessarily surrounded. 

We have thus run through the list of Shakspere's fellows in 1589, to point 
to the characters of the men with whom he was thrown into daily companion 
ship. Some were of the first eminence as actors, and their names have survived 
the transitory reputation which belongs to their profession. Several had pre 
tensions to the literary character, and probably were more actively engaged in 
preparing novelties for the early stage than we find recorded in its perishable 
annals. But there is one name, the ninth on the list, which we have purposely 
reserved for a more extended mention : it is that of George Peele. 

In the ' Account of George Peele and his Writings,' prefixed to Mr. Dyce's 
valuable edition of his works (1829), the editor says, " I think it very probable 
that Peele occasionally tried his histrionic talents, particularly at the com 
mencement of his career, but that he was ever engaged as a regular actor I 
altogether disbelieve." But the publication, in 1835, by Mr. Collier, of the 
certificate of the good conduct in 1589 of the Blackfriars company, which he 
discovered amongst the Bridgewater Papers, would appear to determine the 
question contrary to the belief of Mr. Dyce. Mr. Collier, in the tract in which 
he first published this important document, f says, with reference to the enu 
meration of Peele in the certificate, " George Peele was unquestionably the 
dramatic poet, who, I conjectured some years ago, was upon the stage early in 
life." The name of George Peele stands the ninth on this list ; that of William 
Shakspere the twelfth. The name of William Kempe immediately follows 
that of Shakspere. Kempe must have become of importance to the company at 
least a year before the date of this certificate ; for he was the successor of 
Tarleton in the most attractive line of characters, and Tarleton died in 1588. 
We hold that Shakspere had won his position in this company at the age ol 
twenty-five by his success as a dramatic writer ; and we consider that in the 
same manner George Peele had preceded him, and had acquired rank and pro 
perty amongst the shareholders, chiefly by the exercise of his talents as a dra- 

Collier's Introduction to Armiu's ' Nest of Ninnies,' p. xiii. 
f New Facta regarding the Life of Shakespeare. 

MM 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

matic poet. Those of his dramatic works which have come down to us afford 
evidence that he possessed great flexibility and rhetorical power, without 
much invention, with very little discrimination of character, and with that 
tendency to extravagance in the management of his incidents which exhibits 
small acquaintance with the higher principles of the dramatic art. He no doubt 
became a writer for the stage earlier than Shakspere. He brought to the task a 
higher poetical feeling, and more scholarship, than had been previously employed 
in the rude dialogue which varied the primitive melodramatic exhibitions, 
which afforded a rare delight to audiences with whom the novel excitement 
of the entertainment compensated for many of its grossnesses and deficien 
cies. Thomas Nash, in his address 'To the Gentlemen Students of both Uni 
versities,' prefixed to Greene's ' Menaphon/ mentions Peele amongst the most 
celebrated poets of the day : " Should the challenge of deep conceit be intruded 
by any foreigner, to bring our English wits to the touchstone of art, I would 
prefer divine Master Spenser, the miracle of wit, to bandy line by line for my 
life, in the honour of England, against Spain, France, Italy, and all the world. 
Neither is he the only swallow of our summer (although Apollo, if his tripos 
were up again, would pronounce him his Socrates); but he being forborne, 
there are extant about London many most able men to revive poetry, though 
it were executed ten thousand times, as in Plato's, so in Puritans' common 
wealth ; as, namely, for example, Matthew Roydon, Thomas Achlow, and 
George Peele ; the first of whom, as he hath showed himself singular in the 
immortal epitaph of his beloved Astrophell, besides many other most absolute 
comic inventions (made more public by every man's praise than they can be by 
my speech); so the second hath more than once or twice manifested his deep- 
witted scholarship in places of credit ; and for the last, though not the least of 
them all, I dare commend him unto all that know him, as the chief supporter 
of pleasance now living, the Atlas of poetry, and primus verborum artifex ; 
whose first increase, the 'Arraignment of Paris/ might plead to your opinions 
his pregnant dexterity of wit, and manifold variety of invention, wherein (me 
judice) he goeth a step beyond all that write." 'The Arraignment of Paris,' 
which Nash describes as Peele's first increase, or first production, was per 
formed before the Queen in 1584 by the children of her chapel. It is called in 
the title-page "a pastoral." It is not improbable that the favour with which this 
mythological story of the Judgment of Paris was received at the Court of Eli 
zabeth might in some degree have given Peele his rank in the company of the 
Queen's players, who appear to have had some joint interest with the children 
of the chapel. The pastoral possesses little of the dramatic spirit; but we 
occasionally meet with passages of great descriptive elegance, rich in fancy, 
though somewhat overlaboured. The goddesses, however, talk with great 
freedom, we might say with a slight touch of mortal vulgarity. This would 
scarcely displease the courtly throng; but the approbation would be over 
powering at the close, when Diana bestows the golden ball, and Venus, Pallas, 
and Juno cheerfully resign their pretensions in favour of the superior beauty, 
wisdom, and princely state of the great Eliza. Such scenes were probably not 
for the multitude who thronged to the Blackfriars. Peele was the poet of the 
X2 307 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKIM. : 

City as well as of the Court. He produced a Lord Mayor's Pageant in 1585, 
when Sir Wolstan Dixie was chief magistrate, in which London, Magnanimity, 
Loyalty, the Country, the Thames, the Soldier, the Sailor, Science, and a 
quaternion of nymphs, gratulate the City in melodious verse. Another of his 
pageants before "Mr. William Web, Lord Mayor," in 1591, has come down to 
us. He was ready with his verses when Sir Henry Lee resigned the office of 
Queen's Champion in 1590; and upon the occasion also of an Installation at 
Windsor in 1593. When Elizabeth visited Theobalds in 1591, Peele produced 
the speeches with which the Queen was received, in the absence of Lord Bur- 
leigh, by members of his household, in the characters of a hermit, a gardener, 
and a mole-catcher. In all these productions we find the facility which distin 
guished his dramatic writings, but nothing of that real power which was to 
breathe a new life into the entertainments for the people. The early play of 
'Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes' is considered by Dr. Dyce to be the produc 
tion of Peele. It is a most tedious drama, in the old twelve-syllable rhyming 
verse, in which the principle of alliteration is carried into the most ludicrous 
absurdity, and the pathos is scarcely more moving than the woes of Pyramus 
and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream. One example of a lady in 
distress may suffice : 

" The sword of this my loving knight, behold, I here do take, 
Of this my woeful corpse, alas, a final end to make t 
Yet, ere I strike that deadly stroke that shall my life deprave, 
Ye Muses, aid me to the gods for mercy first to crave ! " 

In a few years, perhaps by the aid of better examples, Peele worked himself 
out of many of the absurdities of the early stage ; but he had not strength 
wholly to cast them off. We have noticed at some length his historical play 
of ' Edward I/ in the examination of the theory that he was the author of the 
three Parts of Henry VI. in their original state ; and it is scarcely necessary for 
us here to enter more minutely into the question of his dramatic ability. It is 
pretty manifest that a new race of writers, with Shakspere at their head, was 
rising up to push Peele from the position which he held in the Blackfriars 
company in 1589. We think it is probable that he quitted that company soon 
after the period when Shakspere had become the master-spirit which won for 
the shareholders fame and fortune. His name is not found in the petition to 
the Privy Council in 1596. He is one of the three, moreover, to whom Robert 
Greene in 1592 addressed his dying warning. He was, according to the re 
pentant profligate, driven like himself to extreme shifts. He was in danger, 
like Greene, of being forsaken by the puppets " that speak from our mouths." 
The reason that the players are not to be trusted is because their place is sup 
plied by another : " Yes, trust them not ; for there is an upstart crow beautified 
with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, sup 
poses he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you ; and, 
being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake- 
scene in a country." The insult offered to Shakspere was atoned for by the 
editor of the unhappy Greene's posthumous effusion of malignity. We mention 
it here, as some indication of the difficulties with which the young poet had to 
308 



A BIOGRAPII1. 



struggle, in coming amongst the monarchs of the barbarian stage with a higher 
ambition than that of being "primus verborum artifex." 

It would not be an easy matter, without some knowledge of minute facts and 
a considerable effort of imagination, to form an accurate notion of that building 
in the Blackfriars rooms converted into a common playhouse in which we 
may conclude that the first plays of Shakspere were exhibited. The very 
expression used by the petitioners against Burbage's project would imply that 
the building was not very nicely adapted to the purposes of dramatic repre 
sentation. They say, "which rooms the said Burbage is now altering, and 
meaneth very shortly to convert and turn the same into a common playhouse." 
And yet we are not to infer that the rooms were hastily adapted to their 
object by the aid of a few boards and drapery, like the barn of a strolling com 
pany. In 1596 the shareholders say, in a petition to the Privy Council, that 
the theatre, " by reason of its having been so long built, hath fallen into great 
decay, and that, besides the reparation thereof, it has been found necessary to 
make the same more convenient for the entertainment of auditories coming 
thereto." The structure no doubt was adapted to its object without any very 
great regard to durability ; and the accommodations, both for actors and 
audience, were of a somewhat rude nature. The Blackfriars was a winter 
theatre ; so that, differing from the Globe, which belonged to the same company, 
it was, there can be little doubt, roofed in. It appears surprising that, in a 
climate like that of England, even a summer theatre should be without a roof; 
but the surprise is lessened when we consider that, when the Globe was built, 
in 1594, not twenty years had elapsed since plays were commonly represented 
in the open yards of the inns of London. The Belle Savage * was amongst the 
most famous of these inn-yard theatres ; and some ten years ago the area of 
that inn showed how readily it might have been adapted for such performances. 
We turned aside from the crowds of Ludgate Hill, and passed down a gateway 
which opened into a considerable space. The inn occupied the east and north 
sides of the area, the west side consisted of private houses of business. But once 
the inn occupied the entire of the three sides, with open galleries running all 
round, and communicating with the chambers. Raise a platform with its back 
to the gateway for the actors, place benches in the galleries which run round 
three sides of the area, and let- those who pay the least price be contented with 
standing-room in the yard, and a theatre, with its stage, pit, and boxes, is 
raised as quickly as the palace of Aladdin. The Blackfriars theatre was pro^ 
bably, therefore, little more than a large space arranged pretty much like the 
Belle Savage yard, but with a roof over it. Indeed, so completely were the 
public theatres adapted after the model of the temporary ones, that the space 
for the "groundlings" long continued to be called the yard. One of the 
earliest theatres, built probably about the same time as the Blackfriars, was 
called the Curtain, from which we may infer that the refinement of separating 
the actors from the audience during the intervals of the representation was at 
first peculiar to that theatre. 

* The old writers spell the word less learnedly than we -Bel&avage. 

309 



\VII.MAM SHAKSPKIM: : 

In the petition to the Privy Council in 1596, it is stated that the petitioners 
" are owners and players of the private house or theatre in the precinct or 
liberty of the Blackfriars." Yet the petition of the inhabitants of the precinct 
against the enterprise of Burbage, in 1576, states the intention of Burbage to 
convert the rooms which he has bought " into a common playhouse," and it 
alleges the inconvenience that will result from the "gathering together of all 
manner of vagrant and lewd persons, under colour of resorting to the plays." 
Here then is an apparent contradiction, the Blackfriars theatre is called a pri 
vate house, and also a common playhouse. But the seeming contradiction is 
reconciled when we learn that for many years a distinction was preserved 
between public and private theatres. The theatres of inn-yards were un 
doubtedly public theatres. The yard was hired for some short period, the 
scaffold hastily run up, and the gates closed, except to those who came with 
penny in hand. Such were the theatres of the Belle Savage in Ludgate Hill, 
the Cross Keys in Gracechurch Street, and the Bull in Bishopsgate Street. 
But, as we learn from a passage in an old topographer, in which he expressly 
mentions the Belle Savage, the penny at the theatre gate was something like 
the penny at the porch of our cathedral show-shops of the present day, other 
pennies were demanded for a peep at the sights within. " Those who go to 
Paris Garden, the Belsavage, or Theatre, to behold bear-baiting, interludes, 
or fence-play, must not account of any pleasant spectacle, unless first they pay 
one penny at the gate, another at the entry of the scaffold, and a third for quiet 
standing."* The Paris Garden here mentioned was the old bear-baiting place 
which had existed from the time of Henry VIII., and perhaps earlier. The 
Belle Savage, rude as its accommodations doubtless were, had yet its graces 
and amenities, if Stephen Gosson be not a partial critic : " The two prose books 
played at the Bel-savage, where you shall find never a word without wit, 
never a line without pith, never a letter placed in vain."f The Theatre also 
mentioned by Lambarde was a public playhouse so called. It was situated in 
Shoreditch, without the City walls. In Aggas's map we see a tolerably con 
tinuous street, leading from Bishop's Gate to Shoreditch Church ; but on each 
side of this street there is a wide extent of fields and gardens, Spital field to the 
east, and Finsbury field to the west, with rude figures, in the map, of cows and 
horses, archers, laundresses, and water-carriers^ which show how completely 
this large district, now so crowded with human life in all its phases of comfort 
and misery, was in the days of Elizabeth a rural suburb. Stow, in the first 
edition of his ' Survey,' 1599, mentions the old Priory of St. John the Baptist, 
called Holy well. " The church thereof being pulled down, many houses have 
been there builded for the lodgings of noblemen, of strangers born, and other. 
And thereunto are builded two public houses for the acting and show of 
comedies, tragedies, and histories, for recreation. Whereof the one is called 
the Curtain, the other the Theatre, both standing on the south-west side 



* Lnmbarde's 'Perambulation of Kent,' 1576. 

t School of Abuse. 1 579. 
310 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

toward the field." 5 In a sermon by John Stockwood, in 1578, the Theatre is 
called a "gorgeous playing place." Stubbes, in 1583, rails bitterly against 
these public playhouses : " Mark the flocking and running to Theatres and 
Curtains." The early history of the less important theatres is necessarily in 
volved in great obscurity. There were playhouses on the Bankside, against the 
immoralities of which, particularly as to playing on Sundays, the inhabitants 
of Southwark complained to the authorities in 1 587 ; but it is not known when 
Henslowe's playhouse, the Rose, which was in that neighbourhood, was erected. 
The Swan and the Hope, also theatres of the Bankside, were probably, as well 
as the Rose, mean erections in the infancy of the stage, which afterwards grew 
into importance. There was an ancient theatre also at Newington, which offered 
its attractions to the holiday-makers who sallied out of the City to practise at 
the Butts. 

Tn the continuation of Stow's ' Chronicle/ by Edmund Howes, there is a very 
curious passage, which carries us back from the period in which he was writing 
(1631) for sixty years. He describes the destruction of the Globe by fire in 
1613, the burning of the Fortune Playhouse four years after, the rebuilding of 
both theatres, and the erection of " a new fair playhouse near the Whitefriars." 
He then adds, " And this is the seventeenth stage, or common playhouse, 
which hath been new made within the space of threescore years within London 
and the suburbs, viz. : five inns, or common hostelries, turned to playhouses, 
one Cockpit, St. Paul's singing-school, one in the Blackfriars, and one in the 
Whitefriars, which was built last of all, in the year one thousand six hundred 
twenty-nine. All the rest not named were erected only for common play 
houses, besides the new-built Bear-garden, which was built as well for plays, and 
fencers' prizes, as bull-baiting ; besides one in former time at Newington Butts. 
Before the space of threescore years abovesaid I neither knew, heard, nor read 
of any such theatres, set stages, or playhouses, as have been purposely built 
within man's memory." It would appear, as far as we can judge from the very 
imperfect materials which exist, that in the early period of Shakspere's connec 
tion with the Blackfriars it was the only private theatre. At a subsequent 
period the Cockpit, or Phoenix, in Drury Lane, was a private theatre ; and so 
was the theatre in Salisbury Court, the " new fair playhouse near the White 
friars " of Howes. What then was the distinction between the private theatre 
of the Blackfriars, of which Shakspere was a shareholder in 1589, and the 
permanent and temporary public theatres with which it entered into com 
petition? It is natural to conclude that the proprietors of this theatre, being 
the Queen's servants, not merely nominally, but the sworn officers of her house 
hold, were the most respectable of their vocation ; conformed to the ordinances 
of the state with the utmost scrupulousness ; endeavoured to attract a select 
audience rather than an uncritical multitude ; and received higher prices for 

* Mr. Collier, who originally pointed out this passage, by comparing the printed copy with 
Stow's manuscript in the British Museum, found that " activities " (tumbling) were mentioned as 
performed at thene theatres, as well as playb. 

311 



WILLIAM Ml AKsn:i:i: : 

admission than were paid at the public theatres. The performances at the 
Blackfriars were for the most part in the winter. Whether the performances 
were in the day or evening, artificial lights were used. The audience in what 
we now call the pit (then also so called) sat upon benches, and did not stand as 
in the yard open to the sky of the public playhouses. There were small rooms 
corresponding with the private boxes of existing theatres. A portion of the 
audience, including those who aspired to the distinction of critics, sat upon the 
stage. " Though you be a magistrate of wit, and sit on the stage at Blackfriars 
to arraign plays daily," says the preface to the first folio of Shakspere. The 
passage we have quoted from Lambarde gives us a notion of the prices of admis 
sion at the very early theatres. Those who paid a penny for the " entry of the 
scaffold" had, of course, privileges not obtained by those who merely paid "the 
penny at the gate; "and those who, when they had reached the scaffold, had to 
pay another penny "for quiet standing," had no doubt the advantage of some 
railed-off space, in some degree similar to the stalls of the modern pit. But the 
mass of the audience must have been the penny payers. The passages in old 
plays and tracts which allude to the prices of admission, for the most part 
belong to the high and palmy period of the stage. But we learn from one of 
Lyly's tracts, in 1590, that the admission at "The Theatre" was twopence, 
and at St. Paul's fourpence ; though a penny still seems from other authorities 
to have been the common price. It is possible, and indeed there is some evi 
dence, that the rate of admission even then varied according to the attraction 
of the performance ; and we may be pretty sure that a company like that of 
Shakspere's generally charged at a higher rate than the larger theatres, which 
depended more upon the multitude. At a much later period, Ben Jonson and 
Fletcher mention a price as high as half-a-crown ; and the lowest price which 
Jonson mentions is sixpence. At a later period still, Jonson speaks of the six 
penny mechanics of the Blackfriars. Those who sat upon the stage, it would 
appear, paid sixpence for a stool, in addition to their payment for admission. 
It is scarcely worth while to enter more minutely into the evidence on this 
point, which may be consulted by the curious in Malone's ' Historical Account 
of the English Stage,' and more fully in Mr. Collier's ' Annals of the Stage.' 
With these preliminary notices we may proceed to the picture of a new play at 
the Blackfriars, about a year or so before the period when it has been ascertained 
that Shakspere was one amongst the sixteen shareholders of that company, 
with four other shareholders, and those not unimportant persons, below him on 
the list. 

On the posts of the principal thoroughfares of the City a little bill is affixed, 
announcing that a new History will be performed at the private theatre of the 
Blackfriars. The passengers are familiar with such bills ; they were numerous 
enough in the year 1587 to make it of sufficient importance that one printer 
should be licensed by the Stationers' Company for their production. At an 
early hour in the afternoon the watermen are actively landing their passengers 
at the Blackfriars Stairs ; and there are hasty steps along tue narrow thorough 
fares. to the south of Lud Gate. The pit of the Blackfriars is soon filled. The 

812 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

people for the most part wait for the performance in tolerable quiet, but now 

and then a disturbance takes place. If we may judge from sober documents 

and allusive satires, London was never so full of cheats and bullies as about 

this period. There is a curious passage in Henry Chettle's ' Kind-Harte's 

Dream," printed in 1593, in which tract the author, "sitting alone not long 

since, not far from Finsbury, in a taphouse of antiquity, attending the coming 

of such companions as might wash care away with carousing," falls asleep, and 

has a vision of five personages, amongst whom is Tarleton, the famous clown 

In the discourse which Tarleton makes is this passage : " And let Tarleton 

entreat the young people of the city, either to abstain altogether from plays, or 

at their coming thither to use themselves after a more quiet order. In a place 

so civil as this city is esteemed, it is more than barbarously rude to see the 

shameful disorder and routs that sometimes in such public meetings are used. 

The beginners are neither gentlemen nor citizens, nor any of both their servants, 

but some lewd mates that long for innovation ; and when they see advantage 

that either servingmen or apprentices are most in number they will be of 

either side.* Though indeed they are of no side, but men beside all honesty, 

willing to make booty of cloaks, hats, purses, or whatever they can lay hold on 

in a hurley-burley. These are the common causers of discord in public places. 

If otherwise it happen, as it seldom doth, that any quarrel be between man and 

man, it is far from manhood to make so public a place their field to fight in : 

no men will do it but cowards that would fain be parted, or have hope to have 

many partakers." Amongst the quiet audience the sellers of nuts and pippins 

are gliding. Ever and anon a cork bounces out of a bottle of ale. Tobacco was 

not as yet. While the audience are impatiently waiting for the three soundings 

of trumpet that precede the prologue, a noise of many voices is heard behind 

the curtain which separates them from the stage. The noise is not of the 

actors ; but of the crowd of spectators who have entered by the tiring-room 

door, and are struggling for places, or in eager groups communicating their 

expectations of the performance, and their opinions of the author. Amongst 

this crowd would be the dramatic writers of the time, who in all probability 

then, as without doubt at a subsequent period, had a free admission to the 

theatres generally, the stage being their prescriptive place."f" We may venture 

to sketch the group of compeers that would be collected on this occasion, to 

witness the new production of one of Burbage's men, who, if we are not greatly 

mistaken, was not even then wholly unknown to fame as a dramatic writer. 

Robert Greene has been described by his friend Henry Chettle as " a man of 
indifferent years, of face amiable, of body well-proportioned, his attire after the 
habit of a scholarlike gentleman, only his hair somewhat long." J At the 
period of which we are now writing Greene was probably under thirty years 
of age, for he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge in 1578. The 
" somewhat long hair " is scarcely incompatible with the " attire after the habit 

* This indicates a state of quarrel between serving-nieu and apprentices, 
t See Ben Jonson's Induction to Cynthia's Revols. 
t Kind H irte's Dream. 

313 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

of a scholar." Chettle's description of the outward appearance of the man 
would scarcely lead us to imagine, what he has himself told us, that "his com 
pany were lightly the lewdest persons in the land." Greene took his degree 
of Master of Arts in 1583. In one of his posthumous tracts: 'The Repentance 
of Robert Greene,' which Mr. Dyce, the editor of his works, holds to be ge 
nuine, he says, " I left the University and away to London, where (after I had 
continued some short time, and driven myself out of credit with sundry of my 
friends) I became an author of plays, and a penner of love pamphlets, so that I 
soon grew famous in that quality, that who for that trade grown so ordinary 
about London as Robin Greene ? Young yet in years, though old in wicked 
ness, I began to resolve that there was nothing bad that was profitable : where 
upon I grew so rooted in all mischief, that I had as great a delight in wicked 
ness as sundry hath in godliness ; and as much felicity I took in villainy as 
others had in honesty." The whole story of Greene's life renders it too pro 
bable that Gabriel Harvey's spiteful caricature of him had much of that real 
resemblance which renders a caricature most effective : " I was altogether 
unacquainted with the man, and never once saluted him by name : but who in 
London hath not heard of his dissolute and licentious living ; his fond dis 
guising of a Master of Art with ruffianly hair, unseemly apparel, and more 
unseemly company ; his vainglorious and Thrasonical braving ; his fripperly 
extemporizing and Tarletonizing ; his apish counterfeiting of every ridiculous 
and absurd toy ; his fine cozening of jugglers, and finer juggling with cozeners ; 
his villainous cogging and foisting ; his monstrous swearing and horrible for 
swearing ; his impious profaning of sacred texts ; his other scandalous and 
blasphemous raving ; his riotous and outrageous surfeiting ; his continual shift 
ing of lodgings ; his plausible mustering and banqueting of roysterly acquaint 
ance at his first coming ; his beggarly departing in every hostess's debt ; his 
infamous resorting to the Bankside, Shoreditch, Southwark, and other filthy 
haunts ; his obscure lurking in basest corners ; his pawning of his sword, cloak, 
and what not, when money came short ; his impudent pamphleting, fantastical 
interluding, and desperate libelling, when other cozening shifts failed ? "* This 
is the bitterness of revenge, not softened even by the penalty which the 
wretched man had paid for his offence, dying prematurely in misery and soli 
tariness, and writing from his lodging at a poor shoemaker's these last touching 
lines to the wife whom he had abandoned : " Doll, I charge thee by the love 
of our youth, and by my soul's rest, that thou wilt see this man paid : for if he 
and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets." This cata 
strophe happened some four years after the time of which we are writing. 
Robert Greene is now surrounded by a group who are listening with delight to 
his eloquence and wit. Sometimes he extemporizes in a vein of lofty imagery ; 
then he throws around him his sarcasms and invectives, heedless where they 
fall ; and suddenly he breaks off into a licentious anecdote, which makes the 
better- minded, who had gathered round him to wonder at his facility, turn 
aside with pity or contempt. He is indifferent, so that his passionate love of 

Four Letters, &c., especially touching Robert Greene : 1592. , 
311 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

display can be gratified ; and, as he tells us, provided he continued to be " be 
loved of the more vainer sort of people." As a writer he is one amongst the 
most popular of his day. His little romances of some fifty pages each were the 
delight of readers for amusement for half a century. They were the compa 
nions of the courtly and the humble, eagerly perused by the scholar of the 
University and the apprentice of the City. They reached the extreme range 
of popularity. In Anthony Wood's time they were "mostly sold on ballad- 
monger's stalls;" and Sir Thomas Overbury describes his Chambermaid as 
reading "Greene's works over and over." Some of these tales are full of 
genius, ill-regulated no doubt, but so pregnant with invention, that Skakspere 
in the height of his fame did not disdain to avail himself of the stories of his 
early contemporary.* The dramatic works of Greene were probably much 
more numerous than the few which have come down to us ; and the personal 
character of the man is not unaptly represented in these productions. They 
exhibit great pomp and force of language ; passages which degenerate into pure 
bombast from their ambitious attempts to display the power of words ; slight 
discrimination of character; incoherence of incident; and an entire absence of 
that judgment which results in harmony and proportion. His extravagant 
pomp of language was the characteristic of all the writers of the early stage 
except Shakspere; and equally so were those attempts to be humorous which 
sank into the lowest buffoonery. In the lyrical pieces which are scattered up 
and down Greene's novels, there is occasionally a quiet beauty which exhibits 
the real depths of the man's genius. Amidst all his imperfections of character, 
that genius is fully acknowledged by the best of his contemporaries. 

By the side of Greene stands Thomas Lodge, his senior in age, and greatly 
his superior in conduct. He has been a graduate of Oxford ; next a player, 
though probably for a short time ; and is now a member of Lincoln's Inn. He 
is probably hovering in the choice of a profession between physic and the law ; 
for a successful physician of the name of Thomas Lodge is held to be identical 
with Lodge the poet. He is the author of a tragedy, 'The Wounds of Civil 
War : lively set forth in the true Tragedies of Marius and Sylla.' He had 
become a writer for the stage before the real power of dramatic blank verse 
had been adequately conceived. His lines possess not the slightest approach to 
flexibility; they invariably consist of ten syllables, with a pause at the end of 
every line "each alley like its brother;" the occasional use of the triplet is 
the only variety. Lodge's tragedy has the appearance of a most correct and 
laboured performance; and the result is that of insufferable tediousness. With 
Greene he is an intimate. In conjunction with him he wrote, probably about 
this time, 'A Looking Glass for London/ one of the most extraordinary pro 
ductions of that period of the stage, the character of which is evidently de 
rived not from any desire of the writers to accommodate themselves to the taste 
of an unrefined audience, but from an utter deficiency of that common sense 
which could alone recommend their learning and their satire to the popular 
apprehension. For pedantry and absurdity 'The Looking-Glass for London' 

* See Introductory Notice to A Winter's Tale. 

315 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

is unsurpassed. Lodge, as well as Greene, was a writer of little romances ; and 
here he does not disdain the powers of nature and simplicity. The early 
writers for the stage, indeed, seem one and all to have considered that the lan 
guage of the drama was conventional ; that the expressions of real passion 
ought never there to find a place ; that grief should discharge itself in long 
soliloquies, and anger explode in orations set forth upon the most approved 
forms of logic and rhetoric. There is some of this certainly in the prose ro 
mances of Greene and Lodge. Lovers make very long protestations, which are 
far more calculated to display their learning than their affection. This is the 
sin of most pastorals. But nature sometimes prevails, and we meet with a 
touching simplicity, which is the best evidence of real power. Lodge, as well 
as Greene, gave a fable to Shakspere.* 

Another of the chosen companions of Robert Greene stands at his elbow. It 
is Thomas Nash, who in his " beardless years " has thrown himself upon the 
town, having forfeited the honours which his talents would have commanded 
in the due course of his University studies. He is looked upon with some 
dread, and with more suspicion, for his vein is satire. In an age before that of 
newspapers and reviews, this young man is a pamphleteering critic ; and very 
sharp, and to a great extent very just, is his criticism. The drama, even at this 
early period, is the bow of Apollo for all ambitious poets. It is Nash who, in 
the days of Locrine, and Tamburlaine, and perhaps Andronicus, is the first to 
laugh at " the servile imitation of vainglorious tragedians, who contend not so 
seriously to excel in action, as to embowel the clouds in a speech of comparison ; 
thinking themselves more than initiated in poets' immortality if they but once 
get Boreas by the beard, and the heavenly Bull by the Dewlap. "f It is he 
who despises the " idiot art-masters that intrude themselves to our ears as the 
alchymists of eloquence, who, mounted on the stage of arrogance, think to out 
brave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse. "J As 
Greene is declaiming to those around him, Nash looks up to him with the 
admiration of his facility which thus shaped itself into printed words : " Give 
me the man whose extemporal vein in any humour will excel our greatest art- 
master's deliberate thoughts ; whose inventions, quicker than his eye, will 
challenge the proudest rhetorician to the contention of like perfection with like 
expedition. " In a year or two Nash was the foremost of controversialists. 
There are few things in our language written in a bitterer spirit than his 
pamphlets in the " Marprelate " controversy, and his letters to Gabriel Harvey. 
Greene, as it appears to us, upon his deathbed warned Nash of the danger of 
his course : " With thee [Marlowe] I join young Juvenal, that biting satirist, 
that lastly with me together writ a comedy. Sweet boy, might I advise thee, 
be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words : inveigh against vain 
men, for thou canst do it, no man better, no man so weU : thou hast a liberty 
to reprove all, and name none : for one being spoken to, all are offended ; none 
being blamed, no man is injured. Stop shallow water still running, it will 

* See Introductory Notice to As You Like It. 

1 Epistle prefixed to Greene's ' Menaphou.' J Ibid. Ibid. 

316 



A BIOGEAPHY. 

rage ; tread on a worm, and it will turn : then blame not scholars who are 
vexed with sharp and bitter lines, if they reprove thy too much liberty of 
reproof." It is usual to state that Thomas Lodge is the person thus addressed. 
So say Malone and Dr. Dyce. The expression, " that lastly with me together 
writ a comedy," is supposed to point to the union of Greene and Lodge in the 
composition of ' The Looking-Glass for London.' But it is much easier to be 
lieve that Greene and Nash wrote a comedy which is unknown to us, than that 
Greene should address Lodge, some years his elder, as " young Juvenal," and 
" sweet boy." Neither have we any evidence that Lodge was a " biting 
satirist," and used " bitter words " and personalities never to be forgiven. We 
hold that the warning was meant for Nash. It was given in vain ; for he spent 
his high talents in calling others rogue and fool, and having the words returned 
upon him with interest ; bespattering, and bespattered. 

George Peele is dressed for his part, a minor one. But the knot we have 
attempted to describe are his familiar friends ; and he must have a laugh and a 
sneer with them at the young author of the day. They regard that author as a 
pretender. He has taken no degree at the universities : he is not of their own 
habitual tavern acquaintance. His daily life is that of a base mechanical ; he 
labours hard at his desk. Old Burbage, experienced as he is, has learnt much 
from him in the economical management of their joint adventure. The sharers 
are prospering under his advice ; but for such a drudge to write anything worth 
the listening, God save the mark ! He is a favourite too ; gentle, considerate, 
but unfailing in his own duty, and accustomed to expect order and punctuality 
in others. He is a mere novice in the ways of the town ; pays his reckoning at 
the ordinary when he dines there ; has never learnt to cog a die, and scarcely 
knows pedlers' French. The social accomplishments of George Peele are re 
corded in pamphlet and play ; * and it is not to be wondered at if he looks 
upon William Shakspere with more than poetical rivalry. 

But there is one of higher mark who occasionally mingles with this knot of 
dissolute wits, but suddenly turns away from them, as if he sought to breathe a 
purer atmosphere. That impatient spirit, with the flashing eye and the lofty 
brow, is Christopher Marlowe. It is the author of ' Tamburlaine the Great.' 
It is he who addressed his first audience in words which told them that one 
of high pretensions was come to rescue the stage from the dominion of feeble 
ness and buffoonery : 

" From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits, 
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay, 
We '11 lead you to the stately tent of war, 
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine, 
* Threat'ning the world with high astounding terms." t 

His daring was successful. It is he who is accounted the " famous gracer of 
tragedians."* It is he who has "gorgeously invested with rare ornaments 

* See ' The Merry Conceited Jests of George Peele/ and ' The Puritan.' 
f Prologue to ' Tamburlaine the Great.' t Greene. 

31 / 



WILLIAM SHAKSPEIIE: 

splendid habiliments the English tongue."* It is he who, after his tragical end 
was held 

" Fit to write passions for the souls below." f 

It is he of the " mighty line."t The name of Tamburlaine was applied to 
Marlowe himself by his contemporaries. It is easy to imagine that he might 
be such a man as he has delighted to describe in his Scythian Shepherd : 

" Of stature tall, and straightly fashioned, 
Like his desire lift upward and divine ; 
So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit, 
Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear 
Old Atlas' burthen. ... , 

Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion, 
Thirsting with sovereignty and love of arms, 
His lofty brows in folds do figure death, 
And in their smoothness amity and life ; 
About them hangs a knot of amber hair, 
Wrapped in curls, as fierce Achilles' was, 
On which the breath of heaven delights to play, 
Making it dance with wanton majesty. 
His arms and fingers, long and snowy-white, 
Betokening valour and excess of strength " 

The essential character of his mind was that of a lofty extravagance, shaping 
itself into words that may be likened to the trumpet in music, and the scarlet 
in painting perpetual trumpet, perpetual scarlet. One of the courtiers of 
Tamburlaine says, 

" You see, my lord, what working words he hath." 
Hear a few of these " working words : " 

" The god of war resigns his room to me, 
Meaning to make me general of the world : 
Jove, viewing me in arms, looks pale and wan, 
Fearing my power should pull him from his throne. 
Where'er I come the fatal sisters sweat, 
And grisly Death, by running to and fro, 
To do their ceaseless homage to my sword ; 
And here, in Afric, where it seldom rains, 
Since I arriv'd with my triumphant host, 
Have swelling clouds, drawn from wide-gasping wounds, 
Been oft resolv'd in bloody, purple showers, 
A meteor that might terrify the earth, 
And make it quake at every drop it drinks." || 



Through five thousand lines have we the same pompous monotony, the same 
splendid exaggeration, the same want of truthful simplicity. But the man was 
in earnest. His poetical power had nothing in it of affectation and pretence. 
There is one speech of Tamburlaine which unveils the inmost mind of Tam- 

* Meres. f Peele. J Jonson. 

Tamburlaine, Part I., Act IL || Ibid., Part L, Act v. 

818 



A BIOGRAPHY, 

burlaine's author. It is by far the highest passage in the play, revealing to 
us something nobler than the verses which "jet on the stage in tragical buskins, 
every word filling the mouth like the faburden of Bow-bell : "* 

" Nature that form'd us of four elements, 
Warring within our breasts for regiment, 
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds ; 
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend 
The wondrous architecture of the world, 
And measure every wandering planet's course, 
Still climbing after knowledge infinite, 
And always moving as the restless spheres, 
Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest, 
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all." f 

The "ripest fruit of all," with Tamburlaine, was an "earthly crown;" but 
with Marlowe, there can be little doubt, the " climbing after knowledge infinite " 
was to be rewarded with wisdom, and peace, the fruit of wisdom. But he sought 
for the " fruit " in dark and forbidden paths. He plunged into the haunts of 
wild and profligate men, lighting up their murky caves with his poetical torch, 
and gaining nothing from them but the renewed power of scorning the un- 
spiritual things of our being, without the resolution to seek for wisdom in the 
daylight track which every man may tread. If his life had not been fatally cut 
short, the fiery spirit might have learnt the value of meekness, and the daring 
sceptic have cast away the bitter " fruit " of half-knowledge. He did not long 
survive the fearful exhortation of his dying companion, the unhappy Greene : 
" Wonder not, thou famous gracer of tragedians, that Greene, who hath said 
with thee, like the fool in his heart, there is no God, should now give glory unto 
His greatness : for penetrating is His power, His hand lies heavy upon me, He 
hath spoken unto me with a voice of thunder, and I have felt He is a God that 
can punish enemies. "Why should thy excellent wit, His gift, be so blinded 
that thou shouldest give no glory to the giver ? "J Marlowe resented the accu 
sation which Greene's words conveyed. We may hope that he did more ; that 
he felt, to use other words of the same memorable exhortation, that the " liberty " 
which he sought was an " infernal bondage." 

Turn we to a soberer group than those we have described. On his stool, with 
his page behind him for he is a courtier, though a poor one sits " eloquent 
and witty John Lyly." He was called, by a bookseller who collected his plays 
some forty years or more after their appearance, " the only rare poet of that time, 
the witty, comical, facetiously quick, and unparalleled John Lyly, Master of Arts." 
Such is the puff-direct of a title-page of 1632. The title-pages and the puffs 
have parted company in our day, to carry on their partnership in separate fields, 
and sometimes looking loftily on each other, as if they were not twin-brothers. 
He it was that took hold of the somewhat battered and clipped but sterling 
coin of our old language, and, minting it afresh, with a very sufficient quantity 



* Greene. t Tamburlaine, Part I., Act 11. J Groat's-worth of Wit. 

Meres. 

319 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPF.RE : 

of alloy, produced a sprakling currency, the very counters of court compliment. 
It was truly said, and it was meant for praise, that he "hath stepped one step 
further than any either before or since he first began the witty discourse of his 
' Euphues.' " * He is now some forty years old. According to Nash, " he is but 
a little fellow, but he hath one of the best wits in England."f The little man 
smiles briskly upon all around him ; but there is a furrow on his brow, for he 
knows 

" What hell it is in suing long to bide." 

He has been a dreary time waiting and petitioning for the place of Master of 
the Revels. In his own peculiar phraseology he tells the Queen, in one of his 
petitions, " For these ten years I have attended with an unwearied patience, 
and now I know not what crab took me for an oyster, that in the middest of 
your sunshine, of your most gracious aspect, hath thrust a stone between the 
shells to rate me alive that only live on dead hopes." J Drayton described him 
truly, at a later period, when poetry had asserted her proper rights, as 

".Talking of stones, stars, plants, of fishes, flies, 
Playing with words, and idle siniilies." 

Lyly was undoubtedly the predecessor of Shakspere. His ' Alexander and 
Campaspe, 1 acted not only at Court but at the Blackfriars, was printed as early 
as 1584. It is not easy to understand how a popular audience could ever have 
sat it out ; but the incomprehensible and the excellent are sometimes con 
founded. What should we think of a prologue, addressed to a gaping pit, and 
hushing the cracking of nuts into silence, which commences thus? "They 
that fear the stinging of wasps make fans of peacock's tails, whose spots are like 
eyes : and Lepidus, which could not sleep for the chattering of birds, set up a 
beast whose head was like a dragon : and we, which stand in awe of report, are 
compelled to set before our owl Pallas's shield, thinking by her virtue to cover 
the other's deformity." Shakspere was a naturalist, and a true one ; but Lyly 
was the more inventive, for he made his own natural history. The epilogue to 
the same play informs the confiding audience that " Where the rainbow toucheth 
the tree no caterpillars will hang on the leaves : where the glow-worm creepeth 
in the night no adder will go in the day." ' Alexander and Campaspe ' is in 
prose. The action is little, the talk is everything. Hephaestion exhorts Alex 
ander against the danger of love, in a speech that with very slight elaboration 
would be long enough for a sermon. Apelles soliloquizes upon his own love for 
Campaspe in a style so insufferably tedious, that we could wish to thrust the 
picture that he sighs over down his rhetorical throat (even as Pistol was made 
to swallow the leek), if he did not close his oration with one of the prettiest 
songs of our old poetry : 



* Webbe's 'Discourse of English Poetry/ 1586. 

t Apology of Pierce Pennilesse. 

J Ptition to the Queen in the Harleian MSS.: Dodsley's Old Plays, 1825, vol. ii. 
320 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

" Cupid and my Campaspe play'd 
At cards for kisses, Cupid paid ; 
He stakes his quiver, bow, and arrows, 
His mother's doves and team of sparrows 
Loses them, too ; then down he throws 
The coral of his lip, the rose 
Growing on 's cheek (but none knows howV 
With these the crystal of his brow, 
And then the dimple of his chin ; 
All these did my Campaspe win. 
At last he set her both his eyes, 
She won, and Cupid blind did rise. 
Love ! has she done this to thee ? 
What shall, alas ! become of me ? " 

The dramatic system of Lyly is a thing unique in its kind. He never attempts 
to deal with realities. He revels in pastoral and mythological subjects. He 
makes his gods and goddesses, his nymphs and shepherds, all speak a language 
which common mortals would disdain to use. In prose or in verse, they are all 
the cleverest of the clever. They are, one and all, passionless beings, with no 
voice but that of their showman. But it is easy to see how a man of consider 
able talent would hold such things to be the proper refinements to banish for 
ever the vulgarities of the old comedy. He had not the genius to discover that 
the highest drama was essentially for the people ; and that its foundations must 
rest upon the elemental properties of mankind, whether to produce tears or 
laughter that should command a lasting and universal sympathy. Lyly came 
too early, or too late, to gather any enduring fame ; and he lived to see a new 
race of writers, and one towering above the rest, who cleared the stage of his 
tinselled puppets, and filled the scene with noble copies of humanity. His fate 
was a hard one. Without the vices of men of higher talent, he had to endure 
poverty and disappointment, doomed to spin his " pithy sentences and gallant 
tropes " for a thankless Court and a neglectful multitude ; and, with a tearful 
merriment, writing to his Queen, " In all humility I entreat that I may dedicate 
to your Sacred Majesty Lyly de Tristibus, wherein shall be seen patience 
labours, and misfortunes." 

Around Lyly are collected the satellites of the early stage, looking perhaps 
with little complacency upon the new author, whose bolder and simpler style, 
though scarcely yet developed whose incidents, though encumbered as yet with 
superfluous horrors have seized upon the popular mind as something to be 
felt and understood. The critics can scarcely comprehend that there is genius 
in this young man ; for he labours not at words, and appears to have no parti 
cular anxiety to be fine and effective. Robert Wilson, of whom we have spoken, 
compares notes with the great Euphuist; and they think the age is growing 
degenerate. Thomas Kyd is there in the full flush of his popularity. He is 
the author of ' Jeronimo,' which men held a dozen years after " was the only 
best and judiciously penned play in Europe." * It is of the same period as 



* Jonson's Induction to ' Cynthia's Revels.' 
LIFE. Y 321 



WILLIAM SIIAKSIM:I:I: : 

Andronicus. Wherever performed originally, the principal character was 
adapted to an actor of very small stature. It is not impossible that a precocious 
boy, one of the children of Paul's, might have filled the character. Jeronimo 
the Spanish marshal, and Balthazar the Prince of Portugal, thus exchange com 
pliments : 

" Balthazar. Thou inch of Spain, 
Thou man, from thy hose downward scarce so much, 
Thou very little longer than thy beard, 
Speak not such big Words ; they '11 throw thee dowu, 
Little Jeronimo : words greater than thyself ! 
It must be. 

Jeronimo. And thou, long thing of Portugal, why not ? 
Thou that art full as tall 
As an English gallows, upper beam and all, 
Devourer of apparel, thou huge swallower, 
My hose will scarce make thee a standing collar : 
What ! have I almost quited you ?' 

There can be no doubt that ' Jeronimo,' whatever remodelling it may have 
received, belongs essentially to the early stage. There is killing beyond all 
reasonable measure. Lorenzo kills Pedro, and Alexandro kills Rogero : Andrea 
is also killed, but he does not so readily quit the scene. After a decent in 
terval, occupied by talk and fighting, the man comes again in the shape of 
his own ghost, according to the following stage -direction : " Enter two, dragging 
of ensigns ; then the funeral of Andrea : next Horatio and Lorenzo leading Prince 
Balthazar captive : then the Lord General, with others, mourning : a great cry 
within, Charon, a boat, a boat : then enter Charon and the Ghost of Andrea." 
Charon, Revenge, and the Ghost have a little pleasant dialogue ; and the Ghost 
then vanishes with the following triumphant words : 

" I am a happy ghost ; 

Revenge, my passage now cannot be cross'd : 
Come, Charon ; come, hell's sculler, waft me o'er 
Your sable streams which look like molten pitch ; 
My funeral rites are made, my hearse hung rich." 

The Ghost of Shakspere's first Hamlet was, we have little doubt, an improve 
ment upon this personage. 

Henry Chettle, a friend of Greene, but who seems to have been a man of 
higher morals, if of inferior genius ; and Anthony Munday, who was called by 
Meres " the best plotter " (by which he probably means a manufacturer of dumb 
shows), are the only remaining dramatists whose names have escaped oblivion 
that can be called contemporaries of Shakspere in his early days at the Black- 
friars. 

Chettle is one of the very few persons who have left us any distinct memorial 
cf Shakspere. He appears to have had some connexion with the writers of 
his time, in preparing their manuscripts for the press. He so prepared 
Greene's posthumous tract, ' The Groat's-worth of Wit,' copying out the 
author's faint and blotted sheets, written on his sick-bed. He says, in the 
322 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



preface to ' Kind-Harte's Dream,' in which he is very anxious to explain the 

share which he had in the publication of Greene's pamphlet, " I had only in 

the copy this share : it was ill-written, as sometimes Greene's hand was none of 

the best ; licensed it must be, ere it could be printed, which could, never be if 

it might not be read. To be brief, I writ it over, and, as near "as I could, 

followed the copy, only in that letter I put something out, but in the whole 

book not a word in ; for I protest it was all Greene's, not mine, nor Master 

Nash's, as some unjustly have affirmed." In this pamphlet of Greene's an 

jnsult was offered to Shakspere; and it would appear from the allusions of 

Chettle that he was justly offended. Marlowe, also, resented, as well he might, 

the charge of impiety which was levelled against him. Chettle says, "With 

neither of them that take offence was I acquainted." By acquaintance he 

means companionship, if not friendship. He goes on, " And with one of them 

I care not if I never be." He is supposed here to point at Marlowe. But to 

the other he tenders an apology, in all sincerity : " The other, whom at that 

time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that as I have mo 

derated the heat of living writers, and might have used my cwn discretion 

especially in such a case), the author being dead, that I did not I am as sorry 

as if the original fault had been my fault; because myself have seen his de 

meanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes : besides. 

divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his 

honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art." In the In 

duction to ' Cynthia's Revels ' Ben Jonson makes one of the personified spec 

tators on the stage say, "I would speak with your author; where is he?" It 

may be presumed, therefore, that it was not uncommon for the author to mix 

with that part of the audience; and thus Henry Chettle may be good evidence 

of the civil demeanour of William Shakspere. We may imagine the young 

" maker " composedly moving amidst the throng of wits and critics that fill the 

stage. He moves amongst them modestly, but without any false humility. In 

worldly station, if such a consideration could influence his demeanour, he is 

fully their equal. They are for the most part, as he himself is, actors, as well 

as makers of plays. Phillips says Marlowe was an actor. Greene is reason 

ably conjectured to have been an actor. Peele and Wilson were actors of 

Shakspere's own company ; and so was Anthony Wadeson. There can be little 

doubt that upon the early stage the occupations for the most part went toge 

ther. The dialogue was less regarded than the action. A plot was hastily got 

up, with rude shows and startling incidents. The characters were little discri 

minated ; one actor took the tyrant line, and another the lover ; and ready 

words were at hand for the one to rant with and the other to whine. The 

actors were not very solicitous about the words, and often discharged their 

mimic passions in extemporaneous eloquence. In a few years the necessity of 

pleasing more refined audiences changed the economy of the stage. Men of 

high talent sought the theatre as a ready mode of maintenance by their writings ; 

but their connexion with the stage would naturally begin in acting rather than 

in authorship. The managers, themselves actors, would think, and perhaps 



2 Y 2 



WILLIAM SIIAKSPERE : 

rightly, that an actor would be the best judge of dramatic effect; and a Mastei 
of Arts, unless he were thoroughly conversant with the business of the stage, 
might better carry his taffeta phrases to the publishers of sonnets. The rewards 
of authorship through the medium of the press were in those days small 
indeed ; and paltry as was the dramatist's fee. the players were far better pay 
masters than the stationers. To become a sharer in a theatrical speculation 
offered a reasonable chance of competence, if not of wealth. If a sharer existed 
who was " excellent " enough in " the quality " he professed to fill the stage 
creditably, and added to that quality " a facetious grace in writing," there is, 
no doubt that with " uprightness of dealing " he would, in such a company as 
that of the Blackfriars, advance rapidly to distinction, and have the counte 
nance and friendship of " divers of worship." One of the early puritanica. 
attacks upon the stage has this coarse invective against players : " Are they not 
notoriously known to be those men in their life abroad, as they are on the stage, 
roysters, brawlers, ill-dealers, boasters, lovers, loiterers, ruffians? So that they are 
always exercised in playing their parts and practising wickedness ; making that an 
art, to the end that they might the better gesture it in their parts ? " By the 
side of this silly abuse may be placed the modest answer of Thomas Heywood, the 
most prolific of writers, himself an actor : "I also could wish that such as are 
condemned for their licentiousness might by a general consent be quite excluded 
our society; for, as we are men that stand in the broad eye of the world, so 
should our manners, gestures, and behaviours, savour of such government and 
modesty, to deserve the good thoughts and reports of all men, and to abide the 
sharpest censure even of those that are the greatest opposites to the quality. Many 
amongst us I know to be of substance, of government, of sober lives, and 
temperate carriages, housekeepers, and contributory to all duties enjoined them, 
equally with them that are ranked with the most bountiful ; and if, amongst so 
many of sort, there be any few degenerate from the rest in that good demeanour 
which is both requisite and expected from their hands, let me entreat you not to 
censure hardly of all for the misdeeds of some, but rather to excuse us, as Ovid 
doth the generality of women : 

' Parcite paucarum diffundere crimen in omnes ; 
Spectetur mentis quaeque puella snis.' " t 

Those of Shakspere's early competitors who approached the nearest to him in 
genius possessed not that practical wisdom which carried him safely and honourably 
through a life beset with some temptations. They knew not the value of " govern 
ment and modesty." He lived amongst them, but we may readily believe that he 
was not of them. 

The curtain is drawn back, slowly, and with little of mechanical contrivance. 
The rush-strewn stage is presented to the spectators. The play to be performed 
is Henry VI. The funeral procession of Henry V. enters to a dead march ; a 



Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Players, 
f Apology for Actors. 



824 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

few mourners in sable robes following the bier. The audience is silent as the 
imaginary corse; but their imaginations are not stimulated with gorgeous 
scenery. There is no magical perspective of the lofty roof and long-drawn 
aisles of Westminster Abbey ; no ojgan peals, no trains of choristers with tapers 
and censers sing the Requiem. The rushes on the floor are matched with the 
plain arras on the walls. Bedford speaks : 

" Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night." 

Lofty in his tone, corresponding with the solemn and unvarying rhythm. It is 
the "drumming decasyllabon " which Nash ridicules. The great master of a 
freer versification is not yet confident of his power. The attention of the 
auditory is fixed by the stirring introduction. There are old remembrances of 
national honour in every line. The action moves rapidly. The mourners dis 
perse ; and by an effort of imagination the scene must be changed from England 
to France. Charles the king marches with drum and soldiers. The English 
are encountered, the French are beaten. The Maid of Orleans appears. The 
people will see the old French wars which live in their memories fought over 
again ; and their spirits rise with every alarum. But the poet will show too 
the ruinous course of faction at home. The servingmen of Gloucester and 
Winchester battle at the Tower gates. The Mayor of London and his officers 
suppress the riot. Again to Orleans, where Salisbury is slain by a fatal linstock. 
All is bustle and contention in France ; but the course of intrigue in England is 
unfolded. The first page of the fatal history of York and Lancaster is here 
read. We see the growth of civil war at home ; we trace the beginnings of 
disaster abroad. The action presents a succession of events, rather than de 
veloping some great event brought about by a skilful adjustment of many parts. 
But in a " chronicle history " this was scarcely to be avoided ; and it is easy to 
see how, until the great principle of art which should produce a Lear and a 
Macbeth was evolved, the independent succession of events in a chronicle history 
would not only be the easiest to portray by a young writer, but would be the 
most acceptable to an uncritical audience, that had not yet been taught the 
dependences of a catastrophe upon slight preceding incidents, upon niceties 
of character, upon passion evolved out of seeming tranquillity, the danger ot 
which has been skilfully shadowed forth to the careful observer. It was in 
detached passages, therefore, that the young poet would put out his strength in 
such a play. The death of Talbot and his son was a fit occasion for such an 
effort ; and the early stage had certainly seen nothing comparable in power and 
beauty to the couplets which exhibit the fall of the hero and his boy. Other 
poets would have noticed the scene. Shakspere painted it; and his success 
is well noticed by Thomas Nash, who for once loses his satirical vein in fer 
vent admiration : " How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the terror of the 
French) to think that, after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he 
should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the 
tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times), who, in the tragedian 

825 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding ! " * The 
prejudices of the age are gratified by the condemnation of the Pucelle ; but 
the poet takes care to make it felt that her judges are "bloody homicides." 
At the very close of the play a new series o/ events is opened, ending here with 
the mission of Suffolk to bring a bride for the imbecile king ; but showing that 
the issue is to be presented in some coming story. The new play is a success : 
and the best of his brother poets have a ready welcome for the author, in spite 
of a sneer or two at " Shake-scene." 

Pierce Pennil 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



NOTE ON THE DATE OF NASH'S EPISTLE PREFIXED TO 

' MENAPHON.* 



THOMAS NASH took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge hi 1585. In a tract published in 
1595, Cambridge is said to have been unkind to Nash in weaning him before his time. As he never 
took a higher degree than that of Bachelor of Arts, he is supposed to have left the university in some 
disgrace. He is held to have travelled before he acquired a distinction amongst the satirical and con 
troversial writers of London. In the address to ' Menaphon ' he says to the gentlemen-students 
" Read favourably to encourage me in the firstlings of my folly." It has been usual to assign the date 
of this epistle to 1589. The first recorded edition of Greene's 'Menaphon' bears the date of that 
year. Nash in the epistle promises a satirical work called 'Anatomy of Absurdities/ and in 1589 such 
a work appears. Mr. Dyce, however, fixes the date of the first edition of 'Menaphon' as 1587 ; but he 
cites the title from the earliest edition he has met with, that of 1589. It would be satisfactory to 
know upon what authority an earlier date than that of 1589 is given to Nash's edition. If Nash wrote 
the epistle in 1589, his high praise of Peele as the Atlas of poetry, and the omission of all mention of 
Marlowe, looks like partiality, if not prejudice. If it first appeared in 1587, there is less suspicion for 
an unworthy motive for the omission of Marlowe. The same reasoning applies to Shakspere. But we 
apprehend that the date of 1587 is a mistake. The reference made in the epistle of Nash to a play of 
Hamlet "whole Hamlets I should say handfuls of tragical speeches" (see p. 259) has been held 
by persons whose opinions are entitled to more weight than our own to be an allusion to the Hamlet 
of Shakspere an earlier Hamlet than any we possess. But this does not fall in with the theory that 
Shakspere first began to write for the stage about six or seven years after he became connected with 
the theatre. It is, therefore, convenienence adopt Mr. Dyce's date of 1587 without inquiry; and to 
say "there cannot be a moment's doubt" that the Hamlet alluded to by Nash "was written and acted 
many years before Shakspeare's tragedy." See Mr. Collier's Introduction to ' The History of Hamlet," 
1841 ; in which he says, without qualification, " Malone erred as to the date of Greene's ' Menaphon.' '' 
Malone gives the date as 1589. But in his Introduction to Nash's 'Pierce Pennilesse,' 1842, Mr. Collier 
speaks more doubtingly : "We take the date of Greene's 'Menaphon,' 1587, from the edition of that 
author's Dramatic Works by the Rev. A. Dyce. He does not seem to have met with any copy of it of 
BO early a date as 1587, and quotes the title-page of the impression of 1589." As regards the possible 
allusion to Shakspere's first Hamlet, we look upon the difference of two years as-a matter of little 
importance ; for a Hamlet whose characteristic was " whole handfuls of tragical speeches " might have 
been as readily produced by the Shakspere of twenty-three as by the Shakspere of twenty-five. 
(See our Notice on the Authenticity of Titus Andronicus, p. 58, and the Introductory Notice to 
Hamlet.) 



WILLIAM SHAKSl'ERE : 



NOTE ON MARLOWE. 



IT has long been the fashion to consider Marlowe as the precursor of Shakspere ; to regard Marluwe 
as oiie of the founders of the regular drama, and Shakapere only as an improver. The internal 
evidence for this belief has been entered into with some fulness in our Essay on the Three Parts 
of Henry VI., &c. We may here say a few words as to the external evidence. Marlowe was killed 
in a wretched brawl on the 1st of June, 1593. Of his age nothing is exactly known; but he took 
his degree of Bachelor of Arts, in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1583 ; and that of Master 
of Arts in 1587. The age of Elizabeth had its boy bachelors, as well as that of her father. Youths 
went earlier to the university than in our time, and received their first degree earlier. We may con 
clude, therefore, that Marlowe was not older than Shakspere. Phillips, in his ' Theatrum Poetarum,' 
thus speaks of him: "Christopher Marlowe, a kind of a second Shakspeare (whose contemporary 
he was), not only because like him he rose from an actor to be a maker of plays, though inferior 
both in fame aud merit," &c. We have no distinct record of Marlowe as an actor. We know that 
he was early a maker of plays. There appears to be little doubt that he was the author of ' Tam 
burlaine;' and ' Tamburlaine ' is mentioned by Greene in 1588. But Hamlet is mentioned by Nash 
hi 1587 (if 1587 be the date of Greene's 'Menaphon'), and the evidence is quite as good that this was 
the Hamlet of Shakspere, as that the other was the ' Tamburlaine ' of Marlowe. The young Shak- 
spere and the young Marlowe, it is- agreed, were nearly of the same age. What right have we 
to infer that the one could produce a ' Tarnburlaine ' at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, and the 
other not produce an imperfect outline of his own Hamlet at the same age ? Malone connects the 
supposed date of Shakspere's commencement as a dramatic writer with the notice of him by some of 
his contemporaries. He passes over Nash's "whole Hamlets;" he maintains that Spenser's descrip 
tion, in 1591, of the "gentle spirit," who 

" Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell 
Than so himself to mockery to sell," 

applied not to Shakspere, but to Lyly, who was at that instant most active in "mockery ;" but he 
fixes Shakspere with having begun to write in 1592, because Greene in that year sneers at him as 
" the only Shake-scene in a country." Does a young writer suddenly jump into the distinction of 
a sneer of envy from one much older in reputation, as Greene was ? In an age when there were no 
newspapers and no reviews, it must be extremely difficult to trace the course of any man, however 
eminent, by the notices of the writers of his times. An author's fame, then, was not borne through 
every quarter of the land in the very hour hi which it was won. More than all, the reputation of a 
dramatic writer could scarcely be known, except to a resident in London, until his works were com 
mitted to the press. The first play of Shakspere's which wag printed was The First Part of the 
Contention (Henry VI., Part II.), and that did not appear till 1594. Now, Malone says, "In 
Webbe's ' Discourse of English Poetry,' published in 1586, we meet with the names of most of the 
celebrated poets of that time; particularly those of George Whetstone and Anthony Munday, who 
were dramatic writers ; but we find no trace of our author, or of any of his works." But Maloue 
does not tell UB that in Webbe's ' Discourse of Poetry,' we find the following passage : " I am 
humbly to desire pardon of the learned company of gentlemen scholars, and students of the univer 
sities aud inns of court, if I omit their several commendations in this place, which I know a great 
number of them have worthily deserved, hi many rare devices and singular inventions of poetry : for 
neither hath it been my good hap to have seen all which I have heard of, neither is my abiding hi such 
place where I can with facility get knowledge of their works." 

"Three years afterwards," continues Malone, "Puttenham printed his 'Art of English Poesy;' 
328 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

and in that work also we look in vain for the name of Shakspeare." The book speaks of the one- 
and-thirty years' space of Elizabeth's reign ; and thus puts the date of the writing a year earlier 
than the printing. But we here look in vain for some other illustrious names besides that of 
Shakspere. Malone has not told us that the name of Edmund Spenser is not found in Puttenham ; 
nor, what is still more uncandid, that not one of Shakspere's early dramatic contemporaries is 
mentioned neither Marlowe, nor Greene, nor Peele, nor Kyd, nor Lyly. The author evidently 
derives his knowledge of " poets and poesy " from a much earlier period than that in which he pub 
lishes. He does not mention Spenser by name, but he does " that other gentleman who wrote the 
late ' Shepherd's Calendar.' " The ' Shepherd's Calendar ' of Spenser was published in the year 
1579. Malone goes on to argue that the omission of Shakspere's name, or any notice of his works 
in Sir John Harrington's 'Apology of Poetry,' printed in 1591, in which "he takes occasion to 
speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated dramas of that time," is a proof that none 
of Shakspere's dramatic compositions had then appeared. The reader will be in a better position 
to judge of the value of this argument by a reference to the passage of Sir John Harrington: 
" For tragedies, to omit other famous tragedies : that, that was played at St. John's in Cambridge, 
of Richard III., would move, I think, Phalaris the tyrant, and terrify all tyrannous-minded men." 
[This was a Latin play, by Dr. Legge, acted some years before 1588.] " Then for comedies. How 
full of harmless mirth is our Cambridge ' Pedantius ' and the Oxford ' Bellum Grammaticale ' ! " 
[Latin plays again.] " Or, to speak of a London comedy, how much good matter, yea, and matter 
of state, is there in that comedy called 'The Play of the Cards/ in whieh it is showed how four 
parasitical knaves robbed the four principal vocations of the realm ; videl. the vocation of soldiers, 
scholars, merchants, and husbandmen ! Of which comedy, I cannot forget the saying of a notable 
wise counsellor that is now dead, who, when some (to sing Placebo) advised that it should be for 
bidden, because it was somewhat too plain, and indeed as the old saying is (sooth boord is no boord), 
yet he would have it allowed, adding it was fit that they which do that they should not, should hear 
that they would not." 

Nothing, it will be seen, can be more exaggerated than Malone's statement, " He takes occasion to 
speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated dramas of that time." Does he men 
tion ' Tamburlaine,' or 'Faustus,' or 'The Massacre of Paris,' or 'The Jew of Malta'? As he does 
not, it may be assumed with equal justice that none of Marlowe's compositions had appeared in 1591 ; 
and yet we know that he died in 1593. So of Lyly's 'Galathea,' 'Alexander and Campaspe,' 'Endy- 
mion,' &c. So of Greene's 'Orlando Furioso,' 'Friar Bacon,' 'James IV.' So of the 'Spanish 
Tragedy ' of Kyd. The truth is, that Harrington in his notice of celebrated dramas was even more 
antiquated than Puttenham ; and his evidence, therefore, in this matter, is utterly worthless. But 
Malone has given his crowning proof that Shakspere had not written before 1591, in the following 
words : " Sir Philip Sidney, in his ' Defence of Poesie,' speaks at some length of the low state of 
dramatic literature at the time he composed this treatise, but has not the slightest allusion to Shak 
speare, whose plays, had they then appeared, would doubtless have rescued the English stage from the 
conte-mpt which is thrown upon it by the accomplished writer; and to which it was justly exposed by 
the wretched compositions of those who preceded our poet. ' The Defence of Poesie ' was not pub 
lished till 1595, but must have been written some years before." There is one slight objection to this 
argument : Sir Philip Sidney was killed at the battle of Zutphen, in the year 1586 ; and it would 
really have been somewhat surprising if the illustrious author of the ' Defence of Poesy ' could have 
included Shakspere in his account " of the low state of dramatic literature at the time he composed 
this treatise," which was in effect a reply to ' The School of Abuse ' of Gosson, and to other contro 
versialists of the puritanical faction, who were loudest about 1580. At that time Shakspere was 
sixteen years of age. 




[The Misfortunes of Arthur.) 



CHAPTER II. 



THE COUET AT GREENWICH. 



AT the close of the year 1587, and the opening, according to our new style, ol 
1588, "the Queen's Majesty being at Greenwich, there were showed, pre 
sented, and enacted before her Highness, betwixt Christmas and Shrovetide, 
seven plays, besides feats of activity and other shows, by the children of Paul's, 
her Majesty's own servants, and the gentlemen of Gray's Inn, on whom was 
employed divers remnants of cloth of gold and other stuff out of the store." 
Such is the record of the accounts of the revels at Court. Of the seven plays 
performed by the children of Paul's and the Queen's servants there is no me 
morial; but we learn from the title of a book of uncommon rarity of what 

330 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



nature were the " Certaine Devises and Shewes presented Her Majestie by the 
Gentlemen of Grave's Inne, at Her Highnesse Court in Greenwich, the twenty- 
eighth day of Februarie, in the thirtieth yeare of Her Majestie's most happy 
raigne."" The "Misfortunes of Arthur, Uther Pendragon's son," was the 
theme of these devices and shows. It was "reduced into tragical notes by 
Thomas Hughes, one of the society of Gray's Inn. It was "set down as it 
passed from under his hands, and as it was presented, excepting certain words 
and lines, where some of the actors either helped their memories by brief omis 
sion, or fitted their acting by alteration." Thomas Hughes also tells us that he 
has put "a note at the end of such speeches as were penned by others, in lieu 
of these hereafter following." It is pleasant to imagine the gentlemen of Gray's 
Inn sitting over their sack during the Christmas of 1587, listening to Thomas 
Hughes reciting his doleful tragedy; cutting out a speech here, adding some 
thing wondrously telling there; the most glib of tongue modestly declining to 
accept the part of Arthur the king, and expressing his content with Mordred 
the usurper; a beardless student cheerfully agreeing to wear the robes of 
Guenevra the queen; and a grey-headed elder undertaking the Ghost of the 
Duke of Cornwall. A perfect play it is, if every accessory of a play can render 
it perfect ; for every act has an argument, and every argument a dumb-show, 
and every dumb-show a chorus. Here is indeed an ample field for ambitious 
members of the honourable society to contribute their devices ; and satisfactory 
it is that the names of some of his fellow-labourers in this elaborate work have 
been preserved to us by the honour-giving Thomas Hughes. " The dumb-shows 
and additional speeches were partly devised by William Fulbeck, Francis 
Flower, Christopher Yelverton, Francis Bacon, John Lancaster, and others, 
who with Master Penroodock and Lancaster directed these proceedings at 
Court." Precious is this record. The salt that preserves it is the one name 
of Francis Bacon. Bacon, in 1588, was Reader of Gray's Inn. To the devices 
and shows of Hughes's tragedy accompaniments that might lessen the tedious- 
ness of its harangues, and scatter a little beauty and repose amongst its scenes 
of crime and murder Bacon would bring something of that high poetical 
spirit which gleams out at every page of his philosophy. Nicholas Trotte, 
gentleman, penned the Introduction, " which was pronounced in manner follow 
ing, namely, three Muses came upon the stage apparelled accordingly, bringing 
five gentlemen-students attired in their usual garments, whom one of the 
Muses presented to her Majesty as captives." But the dresses, the music, the 
dancing to song, were probably directed by the tasteful mind who subsequently 
wrote, " These things are but toys ; but yet, since princes will have such things, 
it is better that they should be graced with elegancy than daubed with cost."f 
Under the roof then of the old palace at Greenwich the palace which Hum 
phrey of Gloucester is said to have built, and where Elizabeth was born are 
assembled the gentlemen of Gray's Inn and the Queen's players. The two 
master-spirits of their time amongst the very greatest of all time are there. 

* A copy is in the Garrick Collection, in the British Museum, 
t Of Masques and Triumphs : Essay 37, 

331 




I Bacon ] 



Francis Bacon, the lawyer, and William Shakspere, the actor, are unconscious 
each of the greatness of the other. The difference of their rank probably pre 
vents that communication which might have told each something of the other's 
power. Master Penroodock and Master Lancaster may perhaps solicit a little 
of the professional advice of Burbage and his men ; and the other gentlemen 
who penned the dumb-shows may have assisted at the conference. A flash of 
wit from William Shakspere may have won a smile from the Reader of Gray's 
Inn; and he may have dropped a scrap of that philosophy which is akin to 
poetry, so as to make the young actor reverence him more highly than as the 
son of Elizabeth's former honest Lord Keeper. But the signs of that free 
masonry by which great minds know each other could scarcely be exchanged. 
They would go their several ways, the one to tempt the perils and the degra 
dations of ambition, and to find at last a refuge in philosophy ; the other to be 
content with a well-earned competence, and gathering amidst petty strifes and 
jealousies, if such could disturb him, something more than happiness in the 
culture of that wondrous imagination which had its richest fruits in his own 
unequalled cheerful wisdom. 

Elizabeth, the Queen, is now in her fifty-fifth year. She is ten years younger 
than when Paul Hentzner described her, as he saw her surrounded with her 
state in this same palace. The wrinkles of her face, oblong and fair, were per 
haps not yet very marked. Her small black eyes, according to the same 
authority, were pleasant even in her age. The hooked nose, the narrow lips, 
and the discoloured teeth, were perhaps less noticeable when Shakspere looked 
upon her in his early days. The red hair was probably not false, as it after 
wards was. The small hand and the white fingers were remarkable enough of 
themselves ; but, sparkling with rings and jewels, the eye rested upon them. 
832 




[Elizabeth.] 



The young poet, who has been .ately sworn her servant, has stood in the back 
ward ranks of the presence-chamber to see his dread mistress pass to chapel. 
The room is thronged with councillors and courtiers. The inner doors are 
thrown open, and the gentlemen-pensioners, bearing their gilt battle-axes, 
appear in long file. The great officers of the household and ministers of state 
are marshalled in advance. The procession moves. When the Queen appears, 
sudden and frequent are the genuflexions : " Wherever she turned her face as 
she was going - along, everybody fell down upon their knees." But she is 
gracious, according to the same authority : " Whoever speaks to her it is kneel 
ing; now and then she raises some with her hand." As she moves into the 
ante-chapel, loud are the shouts of " Long live Queen Elizabeth." The service 
is soon ended, and then to dinner. While reverence has been paid to " the 
only Ruler of princes," forms as reverent in their outward appearance have 
been offered even to the very place where the creature comforts of our every 
day life are to be served up to majesty. Those who cover the table with 
the cloth kneel three times with the utmost veneration ; so do the bearers of 

333 



WILLIAM BHAK8PBBI : 

the salt-cellar, of the plate, and of the bread. A countess, dressed in white 
silk, prostrates herself with the same reverence before the plate, which she rubs 
with bread and salt. The yeomen of the guard enter, bearing the dishes ; 
and the lady in white silk, with her tasting-knife, presents a portion of each 
dish to the lips of the yeomen, not in courtesy but in suspicion of poison. The 
bray of trumpets and the clang of kettle-drums ring through the hall. The 
Queen is in her inner chamber ; and the dishes are borne in by ladies of honour 
with silent solemnity. When the Queen has eaten, the ladies eat. Brief is the 
meal on this twenty-eighth of February, for the hall must be cleared for the 
play. 

The platform in the hall at Greenwich, which was to lesound with the 
laments of Arthur, was constructed by a cunning workman, so as to be speedily 
erected and taken down. It was not so substantial an affair as the "great 
stage, containing the breadth of the church from the one side to the other," 
that was built in the noble chapel of King's College, Cambridge, in 1564, for the 
representation before the Queen of a play of Plautus. Probably in one particular 
the same arrangement was pursued at Greenwich as at Cambridge on that occa 
sion : " A multitude of the guard had every man in his hand a torch-staff; and 
the guard stood upon the ground by the stage-side holding their lights." But 
there would be some space between the stage and the courtly audience. Raised 
above the rushes would the Queen sit upon a chair of state. Around her 
would stand her honourable maids. Behind, the eager courtiers with the 
ready smile when majesty vouchsafed to be pleased. Amongst them is the 
handsome captain of the guard, the tall and bold Raleigh he of the high 
forehead, long face, and small piercing eye.* His head is ever and anon in 
clined to the chair of Elizabeth. He is " as good as a chorus," and he can tell 
more of the story than the induction " penned by Nicholas Trotte, gentleman." 
He has need, however, to tell little as the play proceeds. The plot does not 
unravel itself; the incidents arise not clearly and naturally; but some worthy 
person amongst the characters every now and then informs the audience, with 
extreme politeness and with a most praiseworthy completeness of detail, every 
thing that has happened, and a good deal of what will happen ; and thus the 
unities of time and place are preserved according to the most approved rules, 
and Mr. Thomas Hughes eschews the offences which were denounced by the 
lamented Sir Philip Sidney, of having " Asia of the one side, and Afric of the 
other, and so many other under kingdoms that the player when he comes in 
must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be con 
ceived, "f The author of 'The Misfortunes of Arthur' avoids this by the 
somewhat drowsy method of substituting the epic narrative for the dramatic 
action. The Queen whispers to Raleigh that the regular players are more 
amusing. 

A day or two passes on, and her Majesty again wants diversion. She bends 

" He had a most remarkable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced, and sour eye- 
lidded a kind of pig eye." AUBREY. 
f Defence of Pooy. 
334 




[Raleigh.] 



her mind manfully to public affairs, and it is a high and stirring time ; but, if 
it only be to show her calmness to her people, she will not forego her accus 
tomed revels. Her own players are sent for; and the summons is hasty and 
peremptory for some fitting novelty. Will the comedy which young Shakspere 
has written for the Blackfriars, and which has been already in rehearsal, be 
suited for the Court ? The cautious sagacity of old Burbage is willing to confide 
in it. Without attempting too close an imitation of Court manners, its phrases 
he conceives are refined, its lines are smooth. There are some slight touches 
of satire, at which it bethinks him the Queen will laugh : but there is nothing 
personal, for Don Armado is a Spaniard. The verse, he holds, sounds according 
to the right stately fashion in the opening of the play : 

" Let fame that all hunt after in their lives 
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs." 

The young poet is a little licentious, however, in the management of his verse 
as he proceeds ; he has not Marlowe's lofty cadences, which roll out so nobly 
from the full mouth. But the lad will mend. Truly he has a comic vein. If 
Kempe takes care to utter what is put down for him in Costard, her Majesty 
will forget poor Tarleton. And then the compliments to the ladies : 



" They are the books, the arts, the academes, 
That show, contain, and nourish all the world." 



335 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

Elizabeth will take the compliments to herself. The young man's play shall 
be " preferred." 

It is a bright sparkling morning " the first mild day of March " as the 
Queen's barge waits for Burbage and his fellows at the Blackfriars Stairs. 
They are soon floating down the tide. Familiar as that scene now is to him, 
William Shakspere cannot look upon it without wonder and elation of heart. 
The venerable Bridge, with its hundred legends and traditions ; the Tower, 
where scenes have been acted that haunt his mind, and must be embodied some 
day for the people's instruction. And now, verses, some of which he has 
written in the quiet of his beloved Stratford, characters that he has drawn from 
the stores of his youthful observation, are to be presented for the amusement of 
a Queen. But with a most modest estimate of his own powers, he is sure that 
he has heard some very indifferent poetry, which nevertheless has won the 
Queen's approbation ; with many jokes at which the Queen has laughed, that 
scarcely have seemed to him fitting for royal ears. If his own verses are not 
listened to, perhaps the liveliness of his little Moth may command a smile. At 
any rate, there will be some show in his pageant of the Nine Worthies. He will 
meet the issue courageously. 

The Queen's players have now possession of the platform in the Hall. Bur- 
bage has ample command of tailors, and of stuff out of the store. Paste 
board and buckram are at his service in abundance. The branches are gar 
nished ; the arras is hung. The Queen and her Court are seated. But the 
experiment of the new play soon ceases to be a doubtful one. Those who can 
judge, and the Queen is amongst the number, listen with eagerness to some 
thing different to the feebleness of the pastoral and mythological stories to 
which they have been accustomed. " The summer's nightingale " e himself 
owns that a real poet has arisen, where poetry was scarcely looked for. The 
Queen commands that rewards, in some eyes more precious than the accus 
tomed gloves, should be bestowed upon her players. Assuredly the delightful 
comedy of ' Love's Labour's Lost,' containing as it does in every line the evi 
dence of being a youthful work, was very early one of those 

" flights upon the banks of Thames 
That BO did take Eliza." 



* Raleigh is so called by Sponger. 



NOTE ON HENTZNER'S ACCOUNT OF THE COURT AT GREENWICH. 



PAUL HENTZNER, a man of learning and ability, accompanied a young German nobleman to England, 
upon a visit of curiosity, in 1598. The account of what he saw is written in Latin; and was trans 
lated by Horace Walpole. His description of the Queen and her state at Greenwich is amongst the 
most curious and authentic records which we possess of that time. It haa been often quoted ; but it 
will save the reader trouble if we here copy it : 

" First went gentlemen, baroiis, earls, knights of the garter, all richly dressed and bareheaded ; 
next came the Chancellor, bearing the seals in a red silk purse, between two ; one of which carried the 
royal sceptre, the other the sword of state, in a red scabbard, studded with golden fleur-de-lis, the 
point upwards : next came the Queen, in the sixty-fifth year of her age, we are told, very majestic ; 
her face oblong, fair but wrinkled ; her eyes small, yet black and pleasant ; her nose a little hooked, 
her lips narrow, and her teeth black (a defect the English seem subject to, from their too great use of 
sugar) ; she had in her ears two pearls, with very rich drops ; she wore false hair, and that red ; upon 
her head she had a small crown, reported to be made of some of the gold of the celebrated Lune- 
bourg table : her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it, till they marry ; and she had 
on a necklace of exceeding fine jewels ; her hands were small, her fingers long, and her stature neither 
tall nor low ; her air was stately, her manner of speaking mild and obliging. That day she was dressed 
in white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk, shot with 
silver threads ; her train was very long, the end of it borne by a marchioness ; instead of a chain she 
had an oblong collar of gold and jewels. As she went along in all this state and magnificence, she 
spoke very graciously, first to one, then to another, whether foreign ministers, or those who attended 
for different reasons, in English, French, and Italian ; for, besides being well skilled in Greek, Latin, 
and the languages I have mentioned, she is mistress of Spanish, Scotch, and Dutch : whoever speaks 
to her, it is kneeling ; now and then she raises some with her hand. While we were there, W. Slawata, 
a Bohemian baron, had letters to present to her ; and she, after pulling off her glove, gave him her 
right hand to kiss, sparkling with rings and jewels a mark of particular favour : wherever she turned 
her face, as she was going along, everybody fell down on their knees. The ladies of the court followed 
next to her, very handsome and well shaped, and for the most part dressed in white ; she was guarded 
on each side by the gentlemen-pensioners, fifty in number, with gilt battle-axes. In the ante-chapel 
next the hall where we were, petitions were presented to her, and she received them most graciously, 
which occasioned the acclamation of ' Long live Queen Elizabeth ! ' She answered it with, ' I thank 
you, my good people.' In the chapel was excellent music ; as soon as it and the service was over, 
which scarce exceeded half an hour, the v.een returned in the same state and order, and prepared 
to go to dinnei'. But while she was still at prayers, we saw her table set out with the following 
solemnity : 

'' A gentleman entered the room bearing a rod, and along with him another who had a table-cloth, 
which, after they had both kneeled three times with the utmost veneration, he spread upon the table, 
and, after kneeling again, they both retired. Then came two others, one with the rod again, the other 
with a salt-cellar, a plate, and bread ; when they had kneeled, as the others had done, and placed what 
was brought upon the table, they too retired with the same ceremonies performed by the first. At 
last came an unmarried lady (we were told she was a countess), and along with her a married one, 
bearing a tasting-knife ; the former was dressed in white silk, who, when she had prostrated herself 
three times in the most graceful manner, approached the table, and rubbed the plates with bread and 
salt, with as much awe as if the Queen had been present : when they had waited there a little while, 
the yeomen of the guards entered, bareheaded, clothed in scarlet, with a golden rose upon their backs, 
bringing in at each turn a course of twenty -four dishes, served in plate, most of it gilt ; these dishes 
were received by a gentleman in the same order they were brought, and placed upon the table, while 
the lady-taster gave to each of the guard a mouthful to eat of the particular dish he had brought, for 
fear of any poison. During the time that this guard, which consists of the tallest and stoutest men 
that can be found in all England, being carefully selected for this service, were bringing dinner, twelve 
trumpets and two kettle-drums made the hall ring for half an hour together. At the end of all this 
ceremonial a number of unmarried ladies appeared, who, with particular solemnity, lifted the meat off 
the table, and conveyed it into the Queen's inner and most private chamber, where, after she had 
chosen for herself, the rest goes to the ladies ol the court." 

LIFE Z 837 




[Funeral of Sidney. j 



CHAPTER III. 

THE MIGHTY HEAET. 



IN the spring of 1588, and through the summer also, we may well believe that 
Shakspere abided in London, whether or not he had his wife and children 
about him. The course of public events was such that he would scarcely have 
left the capital, even for a few weeks. For the hearts of all men in the vast 
city were mightily stirred ; and whilst in that " shop of war " might be heard on 
every side the din of " anvils and hammers waking to fashion out the plates 
and instruments of armed justice,"* the poet had his own work to do, in urging 
forward the noble impulse through which the people, of whatever sect, or 
whatever party, willed that they would be free. It was the year of the Ar 
mada. When Shakspere first exchanged the quiet intercourse of his native 

* Milton : ' Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.' 
338 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

town for the fierce contests of opinion amongst the partisans of London he 
must have had fears for his country. A conspiracy, the most daring and ex 
tensive, had burst out against the life of the Queen ; and it was the more 
dangerous that the leaders of the plot were high-minded enthusiasts, who 
mingled with their traitorous designs the most chivalrous devotion to another 
Queen, a long-suffering prisoner. The horrible cruelties that attended the 
execution of Babington and his accomplices aggravated the pity which men 
felt that so much enthusiasm should have been lost to their country. More 
astounding events were to follow. In a year of dearth the citizens had ban 
queted, amidst bells and bonfires, in honour of the detection of Babington and 
his followers ; and now, within three weeks of the feast of Christmas, the 
Lord Mayor and Aldermen, assisted with divers earls, barons, and gentlemen 
of account, and worshipful citizens " in coats of velvet and chains of gold, all on 
horseback, in most solemn and stately manner, by sound of four trumpets, 
about ten of the clock in the forenoon, made open and public proclamation and 
declaration of the sentence lately given by the nobility against the Queen of 
Scots under the great seal of England."* At the Cross in Cheap, or at the end 
of Chancery Lane, or at St. Magnus Corner near London Bridge, would the 
young sojourner in this seat of policy hear the proclamation : and he would 
hear also " the great and wonderful rejoicing of the people of all sorts, as ma 
nifestly appeared by ringing of bells, making of bonfires, and singing of psalms 
in every of the streets and lanes of the City."f But amidst this show of 
somewhat ferocious joy would he encounter gloomy and fear-stricken faces. 
Men would not dare even to whisper their opinions, but it would be manifest 
that the public heart was not wholly at ease. On the eighth of February the 
Queen of Scots is executed. Within a week after London pours forth its mul 
titudes to witness a magnificent and a mournful pageant. The Queen has 
taken upon herself the cost of the public funeral of Sir Philip Sidney. She has 
done wisely in this. In honouring the memory of the most gallant and accom 
plished of her subjects, she diverts the popular mind from unquiet reflections 
to feelings in which all can sympathise. Even the humblest of the people, 
who know little of the poetical genius, the taste, the courtesy, the chivalrous 
bearing of this star of the Court of Elizabeth, know that a young and brave 
man has fallen in the service of his country. Some of his companions in arms 
have perhaps told the story of his giving the cup of water, about to be lifted to 
his own parched lips, to the dying soldier whose necessities were greater than 
his. And that story indeed would move their tears, far more than all the 
gallant recollections of the tilt-yard. From the Minorites at the eastern ex 
tremity of the City, to St. Paul's, there is a vast procession of authorities in 
solemn purple ; but more impressive is the long column of " certain young men 
of the City marching by three and three in black cassokins, with their short 
pikes, halberds, and ensign trailing on the ground." There are in that pro 
cession many of the " officers of his foot in the Low Countries " his " gentlemen 
and yeoman-servants," and twelve "knights of his kindred and friends." 

* Stow's Annals. t Ibid. 

Z2 839 



WILLIAM SIIAKMTU. . 

there is amongst them upon \\lmm all eyes are gazing Drake, the bold seaman 
who has carried the terror of the English flag through every sea, and in afew 
months will be " singeing the King of Spain's beard." The corpse of Sidney 
is borne by fourteen of his yeomen ; and amongst the pall-bearers is one weep 
ing manly tears, Fulke Greville, upon whose own tomb was written as the 
climax of his honour that he was " friend to Sir Philip Sidney." The uncle, 
of the dead hero is there also, the proud, ambitious, weak, and incapable Lei 
cester, who has been kinging it as Governor-General of the Low Countriei 




[Leicester.] 



without the courage to fight a battle, except that in which Sidney was sacri 
ficed. He has been recalled ; and is in some disfavour in the courtly circle, 
although he tried to redeem his disgraces in the Netherlands by boldly coun 
selling the poisoning of the Queen of Scots. Shakspere looks upon the haughty 
peer, and shudders when he thinks of the murder of Edward Arden.* 



Seep S8. 



310 




[Sir Philip Sidney.] 



Within a year of the burial of Sidney the popular temper had greatly 
changed. It had gone forth to all lands that England was to be invaded. 
Philip of Spain was preparing the greatest armament that the combined navies 
of Spain and Portugal, of Naples and Sicily, of Genoa and Venice, could bear 
across the seas, to crush the arch-heretic of England. Rome had blessed the 
enterprise. Prophecies had been heard in divers languages, that the year 
1588 "should be most fatal and ominous unto all estates," and it was "now 
plainly discovered that England was the main subject of that time's opera 
tion." * Yet England did not quail. " The whole commonalty," says the 
annalist, " became of one heart and mind." The Council of War demanded 
five thousand men and fifteen ships of the City of London. Two days were 
craved for answer ; and the City replied that ten thousand men and thirty 
ships were at the service of their country. f In every field around the capital 
were the citizens who had taken arms practising the usual points of war. The 

* Stow's Annals. 

t It has been said, in contradiction to the good old historian of London, that the City only gave 
what the Council demanded; 10,000 men were certainly levied in the twenty-five wards. 

841 



NVII.I.IAM SIIAKSI-I :i:i: : 

Camp at Tilbury was formed. " It was a pleasant sight to behold the soldiers, 
as they marched towards Tilbury, their cheerful countenances, courageous 
words and gestures, dancing and leaping wheresoever they came ; and in the 
camp their most felicity was hope of fight with the enemy : where ofttimes 
divers rumours ran of their foe's approach, and that present battle would be given 
them ; then were they joyful at such news, as if lusty giants were to run a race." 
There is another description of an eager and confident army that may parallel 
this: 

" All furnUh'd, all in arms : 
All plum'd, like estridges tluxt with the wind 
Bated, like eagles having lately bath'd ; 
Glittering in golden coats, like images ; 
As full of spirit as the month of May, 
And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer : 
Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls." * 



Henry IV., Part I., Act iv.. Scene i. 




[Camp at Tilbury.' 



A BIOGKAP11Y. 

He who wrote this description had, we think, looked upon the patriot train- 
bands of London in 1588. But, if we mistake not, he had given an impulse to 
the spirit which had called forth this " strong and mighty preparation," in a 
voice as trumpet-tongued as the proclamations of Elizabeth. The chronology 
of Shakspere's King John is amongst the many doubtful points of his literary 
career. The authorship of the 'King John' in two Parts is equally doubtful. 
But if that be an older play than Shakspere's, and be not, as the Germans 
believe with some reason, written by Shakspere himself, the drama which we 
receive as his is a work peculiarly fitted for the year of the great Armada. 
The other play is full of matter that would have offended the votaries of the 
old religion. This, in a wise spirit of toleration, attacks no large classes of men 
excites no prejudices against friars and nuns, but vindicates the independence 
of England against the interference of the papal authority, and earnestly ex 
horts her to be true to herself. This was the spirit in which even the un 
doubted adherents of the ancient forms of religion acted while England lay 
under the ban of Rome yi 1588. The passages in Shakspere's King John 
appear to us to have even a more pregnant meaning, when they are connected 
with that stirring time : 

"K. John. What earthly name to interrogatories 
Can task the free breath of a sacred kiug ? 
Thou canst not, cardinal, devise a name 
So slight, unworthy, and ridiculous, 
To charge me to an answer, as the pope. 
Tell him this tale ; and from the mouth of England 
Add thus much more, that no Italian priest 
Shall tithe or toll iu our dominions ; 
But as we under Heaven are supreme head, 
So under Him, that great supremacy, 
Where we do reign, we will alone uphold, 
Without the assistance of a mortal hand : 
So tell the pope ; all reverence set apart 
To him and his usurp' d authority. 

K. Phil. Brother of England, you blaspheme in thia. 

K. John. Though you, and all the kings of Christendom, 
Are led so grossly by this meddling priest, 
Dreading the curse that money may buy out; 
And, by the merit of vile gold, dross, dust, 
Purchase corrupted pardon of a man, 
Who, in that sale, sells pardon from himself ; 
Though you, and all the rest, so grossly led, 
This juggling witchcraft with revenue cherish; 
Yet I, alone, alone do me oppose 
Against the pope, and count his friends my foes." 

* . 

" K. John. The legate of the pope hath been with me, 
And I have made a happy peace with him ; 
And he hath promised to dismiss the powers 
Led by the dauphin. 



343 



WILLIAM 

Diut. inglorious league ! 

Shall we, upon the footing of our land, 
Send fair-play orders, and mako compromise, 
Insinuation, parley, and base truce, 
To limits invasive?" 



" This England never did, nor never shall. 
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror. 
But when it first did help to wound itself. 
Now these her princes are come home again, 
Come the three corners of the world in arms, 
And we shall shock them : Nought shall make us rue, 
If England to itself do rest but true." 

The patriotism of Shakspere is less displayed in 
set speeches than in the whole life of his historical 
plays incident and character. Out of inferior 
writers might be collected more laudatory sentences 
flattering to national pride ; but his words are bright 
and momentary as the spark which fires the mine. 
The feeling is in the audience, and he causes it to 
burst out in shouts or tears. He learnt the manage 
ment of this power, we think, during the excitement 
of the great year of 1588. 

The Armada is scattered. England's gallant 
sons have done their work ; the winds, which a 
greater Power than that of sovereigns and councils 
holds in His hand, have been let loose. The praise 
is to Him. Again, a mighty procession is on the 
way to St. Paul's. Shakspere is surely amongst 
the gazers on that great day of thanksgiving. 
He has seen the banners taken from the Spanish 
ships hung out on the battlements of the ca 
thedral ; and now, surrounded by all the nobles 







, ' 



















A BIOGKAPHY. 

and mighty men who have fought her battles, the Queen descends from her 
" chariot throne " to make her " hearty prayers on her hended knees." Leicester, 
the favourite to whose weak hand was nominally intrusted the command of the 
troops, has not lived to see this triumph. But Essex, the new favourite, would 
be there ; and Hunsdon, the General for the Queen. There too would be Ra 
leigh, and Hawkins, and Frobisher, and Drake, and Howard of Effingham one 




[Howard.] 

who forgot all distinctions of sect in the common danger of his country, 
might the young poet thus apostrophize this country ! 

" This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise ; 
This fortress, built by Nature for herself, 
Against infestion and the hand of war ; 
This happy breed of men, this little world; 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
Which serves it in the office of a wall, 
Or as a moat defensive to a house, 
Against the envy of less happier lands ; 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." 



Well 




: 



[Drake.] 

But, glorious as was the contemplation of the attitude of England during the 
year of the Armada, the very energy that had called forth this noble display 
of patriotic spirit exhibited itself in domestic controversy when the pressure 
from without was removed. The poet might then, indeed, qualify his former 
admiration : 

" England ! model to thy inward greatness, 
Like little body with a mighty heart, 
What mightst thoii do that honour would thee do, 
Were all thy children kind and natural !" 

The same season that witnessed the utter destruction of the armament of Spain 
saw London excited to the pitch of fury by polemical disputes. It was not 
now the quarrel between Protestant and Romanist, but between the National 
Church and Puritanism. The theatres, those new and powerful teachers, lent 
themselves to the controversy. In some of these their licence to entertain the 
people was abused by the introduction of matters connected with religion and 
politics ; so that in 1589 Lord Burghley not only directed the Lord Mayor to 
inquire what companies of players had offended, but a commission was ap 
pointed for the same purpose. How Shakspere's company proceeded during 
this inquiry has been made out most clearly by the valuable document disco 
vered at Bridgewater House by Mr. Collier, wherein they disclaim to have 
conducted themselves amiss. " These are to certify your right Honourable 
Lordships that her Majesty's poor players, James Burbage, Richard Burbage, 
John Laneham, Thomas Greene, Robert Wilson, John Taylor, Anth. Wade- 
son, Thomas Pope, George Peele, Augustine Phillipps, Nicholas Towley, Wil 
liam Shakespeare, William Kempe, William Johnson, Baptiste Coodale, and 
346 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Robert Armyn, being all of them sharers in the Blackfriars playhouse, have never 
given cause of displeasure, in that they have brought into their plays matters of 
state and religion, unfit to be handled by them or to be presented before lewd 
spectators : neither hath any complaint in that kind ever been preferred against 
them or any of them. Wherefore they trust most humbly in your Lordships' 
consideration of their former good behaviour, being at all times ready and willing to 
yield obedience to any command whatsoever your Lordships in your wisdom may 
think in such case meet," &c. 

"Nov. 1589." 

In this petition, Shakspere, a sharer in the theatre, but with others below him 
in the list, says, and they all say, that " they have never brought into their plays 
matters of state and religion." The public mind in 1589-90 was furiously 
agitated by " matters of state and religion." A controversy was going on 
which is now known as that of Martin Marprelate, in which the constitution 
and discipline of the Church were most furiously attacked in a succession of 
pamphlets ; and they were de-fended with equal violence and scurrility. Tzaak 
Walton says, " There was not only one Martin Marprelate, but other venom 
ous books daily printed and dispersed, books that were so absurd and scur 
rilous, that the graver divines disdained them an answer." Walton adds, 
" And yet these were grown into high esteem with the common people, til. 
Tom Nash appeared against them all, who was a man of a sharp wit, and the 
master of a scoffing, satirical, merry pen." Connected with this controversy, 
there was subsequently a more personal one between Nash and Gabriel Harvey ; 
but they were each engaged in the Marprelate dispute. John Lyly was the 
author of one of the most remarkable pamphlets produced on this occasion, 
called ' Pap with a Hatchet.' Harvey, it must be observed, was the intimate 
friend of Spenser; and in a pamphlet which he dates from Trinity Hall, No 
vember 5, 1589, he thus attacks the author of ' Pap with a Hatchet/ the more 
celebrated Euphuist, whom Sir Walter Scott's novel has made familiar to 
us : 

" I am threatened with a bable, and Martin menaced with a comedy a fit 
motion for a jester and a player to try what may be done by employment of his 
faculty. Babies and comedies are parlous fellows to decipher and discourage men 
(that is the point) with their witty flouts and learned jerks, enough to lash any man 
out of countenance. Nay, if you shake the painted scabbard at me, I have done ; 
and all you that tender the preservation of your good names were best to please 
Pap-Hatchet, and fee Euphues betimes, for fear lest he be moved, or some one of 
his apes hired, to make a play of you, and then is your credit quite undone for ever 
and ever. Such is the public reputation of their plays. He must needs be 
discouraged whom they decipher. Better anger an hundred other than two such 
that have the stage at commandment, and can furnish out vices and devils at their 
pleasure." * 

We thus see that Harvey, the friend of Spenser, is threatened by one of 
those who " have the stage at commandment " with having a play made of him. 

Pierce's 'Supererogation.' Reprinted in 'Archaica,' p. 137. 

347 



WILLIAM SHAKSP 

Such plays were made in 1589, and Nash thus boasts of them in one of his 
tracts printed in 1589: " Methought Vetus Comcedia began to prick him at 
London in the right vein, when he brought forth divinity with a scratched 
face, holding of her heart as if she were sick, because Martin would have 
forced her ; but missing of his purpose, he left the print of his nails upon her 
cheeks, and poisoned her with a vomit, which he ministered unto her to make 
her cast up her dignities." Lyly, taking the same side, writes, " Would 
those comedies might be allowed to be played that are penned, and then I am 
sure he [Martin Marprelate] would be deciphered, and so perhaps discouraged." 
Here are the very words which Harvey has repeated, " He must needs be 
discouraged whom they decipher." Harvey, in a subsequent passage of the 
same tract, refers to this prostitution of the stage to party purposes in very 
striking words : " The stately tragedy scorneth the trifling comedy, and the 
trifling comedy fiouteth t/ie new ruffianism." These circumstances appear to us 
very remarkable, with reference to the state of the drama about 1590. Shak- 
spere's great contemporary, Edmund Spenser, in a poem entitled ' The Tears 
of the Muses,' originally published in 1591, describes, in the 'Complaint' of 
Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, the state of the drama at the time in which he is 
writing : 

" Where be the sweet delights of learning's treasure, 

That wont with comic sock to beautify 
The painted theatres, and fill with pleasure 

Tha listeners' eyes, and ears with melody ; 
In which I late was wont to reign as queen, 
And mask in mirth with graces well beseen ? 

! all is gone ; and all that goodly glee, 

Which wont to be the glory of gay wits, 
Is laid a-bed, and nowhere now to see ; 

And in her room unseemly Sorrow sits, 
With hollow brows and grissly countenance, 
Marring my joyous gentle dalliance. 

And him beside sits ugly Barbarism, 

And brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late 
Out of dread darkness of the deep abysm, 

Where being bred, he light and heaven does hate ; 
They in the minds of men now tyraimi/c, 
And the fair scene with rudeness foul disguise. 

All places they with folly have possess'd, 

And with vain toys the vulgar entertain ; 
But me have banished, with all the rest 

That whilom wont to wait upon my train, 
Fine Counterfesauce, and unhurtful Sport, 
Delight, and Laughter, deck'd in seemly sort." 

Spenser was in England in 1590-91, and it is probable that 'The Tears of the 
Muses' was written in 1590, and that the poet described the prevailing state of 
the drama in London during the time of his visit. 

The four stanzas which we have quoted are descriptive, as we think, of a 
348 



A BIOGRAPHV. 

period of the drama when it had emerged from the semi-barbarism by which it 
was characterized, " from the commencement of Shakspere's boyhood, till about 
the earliest date at which his removal to London can be possibly fixed." * This 
description has nothing in common with those accounts of the drama which have 
reference to this " semi-barbarism." Nor does the writer of- it belong to the 
school which considered a violation of the unities of time and place as the great 
defect of the English theatre. Nor does he assert his preference of the classic 
school over the romantic, by objecting, as Sir Philip Sidney objects, that "plays 
be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns." 
There had been, according to Spenser, a state of the drama that would 



" Fill with pleasure 
The listeners' eyes, and ears with melody." 



Can any comedy be named, if we assume that Shakspere had, in 1590, not 
written any, which could be celebrated and by the exquisite versifier of 'The 
Fairy Queen ' for its " melody " ? Could any also be praised for 

" That goodly glee 
Which wont to be the glory of gay wits " ? 

Could the plays before Shakspere be described by the most competent of judges 
the most poetical mind of that age next to Shakspere as abounding in 

" Fine Counterfesanoe, and unhurtful Sport, 
Delight, and Laughter, deck'd in seemly sort " ? 

We have not seen such a comedy, except some three or four of Shakspere's, 
which could have existed before 1590. We do not believe there is such a 
comedy from any other pen. What, according to the ' Complaint ' of Thalia, 
has banished such comedy? "Unseemly Sorrow," it appears, has been fashion 
able ; not the proprieties of tragedy, but a Sorrow 

" With hollow Irows and grimly countenance ;" 

the violent scenes of blood which were offered for the excitement of the multi 
tude, before the tragedy of real art was devised. But this state of the drama is 
shortly passed over. There is something more defined. By the side of this 
false tragic sit " ugly Barbarism and brutish Ignorance." These are not the 
barbarism and ignorance of the old stage ; they are 

" Ycrept of late 
Out of dread darkness of the deep abysm." 

They "now tyrannize;" they now "disguise" the fair scene "with rudeness." 
The Muse of Tragedy, Melpomene, had previously described the " rueful spec 
tacles " of " the stage." It was a stage which had no " true tragedy." But i 
had possessed 

" Delight, and Laughter, deck'd in seemly sort." 

Now " the trifling comedy flouteth the new ruffianism." The words of Gabriel 

* Edinburgh Review, vol. Ixxi., p. 469. 

349 



WILLIAM SIIAKMM 

Harvey and Edmund Spenser agree in this. The bravos that " have the stage 
at commandment can furnish out vices and devils at their pleasure," says Har 
vey. This describes the Vetus Comcedia the old comedy of which Nash 
boasts. Can there be any doubt that Spenser had this state of things in view 
vhen he denounced the 

" Ugly Barbaritm, 

ALC! brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late 
Out of dread darkness of the deep abysm " t 

He denounced it in common with his friend Harvey, who, however he partook 
of the controversial violence of his time, was a man of learning and eloquence ; 
and to whom only three years before he had addressed a sonnet, of which the 
highest mind in the country might have been proud. 

But we must return to the 'Thalia.' The four stanzas which we have 
quoted are immediately followed by these four others : 

" All these, and all that else the comic stage 

With season'd wit and goodly pleasure graced, 
By which man's life in his likest image 

Was limned forth, are wholly now defaced ; 
And those sweet wits, which wont the like to frame, 
Are now despised, and made a laughing game. 

And he, the man whom Nature self had made 

To mock herself, and Truth to imitate, 
With kindly counter, under mimic shade, 

Our pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late : 
With whom all joy and jolly merriment 
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent. 

Instead thereof scoffing Scurrility, 

And scornful Folly, with Contempt, is crept, 
Rolling in rhymes of shameless ribaldry, 

Without regard or due decorum kept ; 
Each idle wit at will presumes to make, 
And doth the Learned's task upon him take. 

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen 

Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow, 
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men, 

Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw, 
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell 
Than so himself to mockery to sell." 

Here there is something even stronger than what has preceded it, in the direct 
allusion to the state of the stage in 1590. Comedy had ceased to be an exhi 
bition of "seasoned wit" and "goodly pleasure;" it no longer showed "man's 
life in his likest image." Instead thereof there was "Scurrility" -'scornful 
Folly " " shameless Ribaldry ; " and " each idle wit " 

" doth the Learned's task upon him take." 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

It was the task of "the Learned" to deal with the high subjects of religious 
controversy the "matters of state and religion," with which the stage had 
meddled. Harvey had previously said, in the tract quoted by us, it is "a godly 
motion, when interluders leave penning their pleasureable plays to become zeal 
ous ecclesiastical writers." He calls Lyly more expressly, with reference to 
this meddling, "the fool master of the theatre." In this state of things the 
acknowledged head of the comic stage was silent for a time : 

" HE, the man whom Nature self had made 
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate, 
With kindly counter, under mimic shade, 
Our pleasant WILLY, ah ! is dead of late." 

And the author of ' The Fairy Queen ' adds, 

" But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen 

Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow, 
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men, 

Which dare their follies forth so madly throw, 
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell 
Than so himself to mockery to sell." 

The love of personal abuse had driven out real comedy ; and there was one who 
for a brief season had left the madness to take its course. We cannot doubt 
that 

" HE, the man whom Nature self had made 
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate," 

was William Shakspere. Mr. Collier, in his ' History of Dramatic Poetry/ 
says of Spenser's ' Thalia/ " Had it not been certain that it was written at so 
early a date, and that Shakespeare could not then have exhibited his talents and 
acquired reputation, we should say at once that it could be meant for no other 
poet. It reads like a prophetic anticipation, which could not have been ful 
filled by Shakspere until several years after it was published." Mr. Collier, 
when he wrote this, had not discovered the document which proves that Shak 
spere was a sharer in the Blackfriars Theatre at least a year before this poem 
was published. Spenser, we believe, described a real man, and real facts. He 
made no " prophetic anticipation ; " there had been genuine comedy in ex 
istence ; the ribaldry had driven it out for a season. The poem has reference 
to some temporary degradation of the stage ; and what this temporary degrada 
tion was is most exactly defined by the public documents of the period, and the 
writings of Harvey, Nash, and Lyly. The dates of all these proofs correspond 
with minute exactness. And who then is "our pleasant Willy," according to 
the opinion of those who would deny to Shakspere the title to the praise of the 
other great poet of the Elizabethan age? It is John Lyly, says Malone the 
man whom Spenser's bosom friend was, at the same moment, denouncing as 
" the foolmaster of the theatre." We say, advisedly, that there is absolutely no 
proof that Shakspere had not written The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The 

351 



WI I.T.I AM 

Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour 's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and All 's 
Well that Ends Well, amongst his comedies, before 1 590 : we believe that he 
alone merited the high praise of Spenser ; that it was meant for him.* 

This argument was originally advanced by us in a small Life of Shakspere ; and we here repeat 
it, with slight alteration. 







[Spenser J 



352 







[Ilu.nmonu.J 



CHAPTER IV. 

HOW CHANCES IT THEY TRAVEL. 



JOHN STANHOPE, one of the gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, writes thus to 
Lord Talbot, in December, 1589: "The Queen is so well as, I assure you, six 
or seven galliards in a morning, besides music and singing, is her ordinary 
exercise."* This letter is dated from Richmond. The magnificent palace 
which the grandfather of Elizabeth erected upon the ruins of the old palace of 
the Plantagenets was a favourite residence of the Queen. Here, where she 
danced her galliards, and made the courts harmonious with her music, she 
closed her life some ten years after, not quite so deserted as was the great 
Edward upon the same spot, but the victim, in all probability, of blighted 
affections and unavailing regrets. Scarcely a vestige is now left of the second 
palace of Richmond. The splendid towers of Henry VII. have fallen, but the 



2 A 



* ' Lodge's Illustrations,' 4 to., vol. ii., page 411. 



353 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

name which he gave to the site endures, and the natural beauty which fixed 
here the old sovereigns of England, and which the people of all lands still come 
to gaze upon, is something which outlives the works of man, if not the memory 
of those works. In the Christmas of 1589, the Queen's players would be neces 
sarily busy for the diversion of the Court. The records are lost which would 
show us at this period what were the precise performances offered to the Queen ; 
and the imperfect registers of the Council, which detail certain payments for 
plays, do not at this date refer to payments to Shakspere's company. But there 
can be little doubt that the Lord Chamberlain's servants were more frequently 
called upon for her Majesty's solace than the Lord Admiral's men, or Lord 
Strange's men, or the Earl of Warwick's men, to whom payments are recorded 
at this period. It is impossible that the registers of the Council, as published 
originally by Chalmers, should furnish a complete account of the theatrical 
performances at Court ; for there is no entry of any payment whatever for such 
performances, under the Council's warrant, between the llth of March, 1593, 
and the 27th of November, 1597- The office-books of the Treasurers of the 
Chamber exhibit a greater blank at this time. We can have no doubt that 
the last decade of the sixteenth century was the most brilliant period of the 
regal patronage of the drama ; the period when Shakspere, especially, 

" Made those flights upon the banks of Thames " 

to which Jonson has so emphatically alluded. That Shakspere was familiar 
with Richmond we can well believe. He and his fellows would unquestionably, 
at the holiday seasons of Christmas and Shrovetide, be at the daily command 
of the Lord Chamberlain, and in attendance upon the Court wherever the 
Queen chose to dwell. The servants of the household, the ladies waiting upon 
the Queen, and even the great officers composing the Privy Council, seem to 
have been in a perpetual state of migration from palace to palace. Elizabeth 
carried this desire for change of place to an extent that was not the most agree 
able to many of her subjects. Her progress from house to house, with a cloud 
of retainers, was almost ruinous to some who were yet unable to reject the 
honour. But even the frequent removals of the Court from palace to palace 
must have been productive of no little annovance to the grave and the delicate 
amongst the royal attendants. The palaces were ill-furnished ; and whenever 
the whim of a moment directed a removal, many of the heavier household 
necessaries had to be carried from palace to 'palace by barge or waggon. In the 
time of Henry VIII. we constantly find charges attendant upon these removals.* 
Gifford infers that in the time of which we are writing, the practice was suffi 
ciently common and remarkable to have afforded us one of our most significant 
and popular words : " To the smutty regiment, who attended the progresses, 
and rode in the carts with the pots and kettles, which, with every other article 
of furniture, were then moved from palace to palace, the people, in derision, 
gave the name of black guards, a term since become sufficiently familiar, and 
never properly explained." f The palaces themselves were most inconveniently 

* See Nicolaa's 'Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry the Eighth.' 

f Note to ' Every Man out of his Humour.' 
354 







[St. James's.] 



adapted for these changes. Wherever the Queen was, there was the seat of 
government. The Privy Council were in daily attendance upon the Queen 
and every public document is dated from the Court. Official business of the 
most important nature had to be transacted in bedchambers and passages. 
Lady Mary Sidney, whose husband was Lord President of Wales, writes the 
most moving letter to an officer of the Lord Chamberlain, to implore him to 
beg his principal "to have some other room than my chamber for my lord to 
have his resort unto, as he was wont to have, or else my lord will be greatly 
troubled when he shall have any matters of dispatch; my lodging, you see, 
being very little, and myself continually sick, and not able to be much out of 
my bed."* A great officer of state being obliged to transact business with his 
servants and suitors in his sick wife's bedroom, is a tolerable example of the 
inconvenient arrangements of our old palaces. Perhaps a more striking example 
of their want of comfort, and even of decent convenience, is to be found in a 
memorial from the maids of honour, which we have seen in the State Paper 
Office, humbly requesting that the partition which separates their sleeping- 
rooms from the common passage may be somewhat raised, so as to shut them 
out from the possible gaze of her Majesty's gallant pages. If Windsor was thus 
inconvenient as a permanent residence, how must the inconvenience have been 
doubled when the Queen suddenly migrated here from St. James's, or Somerset 
Place, or Greenwich? The smaller palaces of Nonsuch and Richmond were 



2 A2 



The letter is given in Malone's 'Inquiry,' p. 91. 



355 



WILLIAM SII \KMT.Iir : 

probably still less endurable. But they were all the seats of gaiety, throwing 
a veil over fears and jealousies and feverish ambition. Our business is not 
with their real tragedies. 

From about the period of Shakspere's first connection with the stage, and 
thence with the Court, Henry Lord Hunsdon, the kinsman of Elizabeth, was 
Lord Chamberlain. It is remarkable, that when Burbage erected the Black- 
friars Theatre, in 1576, close by the houses of Lord Hunsdon and of the famous 
Ratcliffe, Earl of Sussex, Lord Hunsdon was amongst the petitioners against 
the project of Burbage. But the Earl of Sussex, who was then Lord Cham 
berlain, did not petition against the erection of a playhouse ; and he may there 
fore be supposed to have approved of it. The opinions, however, of Lord 
Hunsdon must have undergone some considerable change ; for upon his suc 
ceeding to the office of Lord Chamberlain upon the death of Sussex, he became 
the patron of Shakspere's company. They were the Lord Chamberlain's men ; 
or, in other words, the especial servants of the Court. Henry Lord Hunsdon 
held this office for eleven years, till his death in 1596. Elizabeth bestowed 




: Zl 

[Lord Hunsdon.] 




[Somerset Houie.j 

upon him as a residence the magnificent palace of the Protector Somerset. 
Here, in the halls which had been raised out of the spoliation of the great 
Priory of St. John of Jerusalem, would the company of Shakspere be frequently 
engaged. The Queen occasionally made the palace her residence ; and it can 
scarcely be doubted that on these occasions there was revelry upon which the 
genius of the new dramatic poet, so immeasurably above all his compeers, would 
bestow a grace which a few years earlier seemed little akin to the spirit of the 
drama. That palace also is swept away ; and the place which once witnessed 
the stately measure and the brisk galliard where Cupids shook their painted 
wings in the solemn masque and where, above all, our great dramatic poet 
may first have produced his Comedy of Errors, his Two Gentlemen of Verona, 
his Romeo and Juliet, and have been rewarded with smiles and tears, such as 
seldom were bestowed in the chill regions of state and etiquette, that place 
now sees the complicated labours of the routine departments of a mighty 
government constantly progressing in their prosaic uniformity. No contrast 
can be more striking than the Somerset House of Queen Elizabeth's Lord 
Chamberlain, and the Somerset House of Queen Victoria's Commissioners of 
Stamps and Taxes. 

" How chances it they travel ? " says Hamlet, speaking of the players 
Their residence both in reputation and profit was better both ways." Ham- 

357 



WILLIAM SnAKSrr.lM : 

let's " tragedians of the city " travel because " the boys carry it away." But 
there were other causes that more than once forced Shakspere's company to 
disperse, and which affected also every other company. That terrible affliction 
from which England has so long been free, the plague, almost invariably broke 
up the residence of the players. They were in general scattered about the 
country seeking a precarious maintenance, whilst their terror-stricken families 
remained in the fated city. In the autumn of 1592 the plague raged in Lon 
don. Michaelmas term was kept at Hertford ; as in 1593 it was at St. Albans. 
During this long period all the theatres were closed, the Privy Council justly 
alleging " that infected people, after their long keeping in and before they be 
cleared of their disease and infection, being desirous of recreation, use to resort 
to such assemblies, where through heat and throng they infect many sound 
persons." In the letters of Alleyn the player, which are preserved in Dulwich 
College, there is one to his wife, of this exact period, being dated from Chelms- 
ford, the 2nd of May, 1593, which exhibits a singular picture of the indignities 
to which the less privileged players appear to have been subjected : " I have no 
news to send thee, but I thank God we are all well, and in health, which I pray 
God to continue with us in the country, and with you in London. But, mouse, 
I little thought to hear that which I now hear by you, for it is well known 
they say, that you were by my Lord Mayor's officers made to ride in a cart, 
you and all your fellows, which I am sorry to hear ; but you may thank your 
two supporters, your strong legs I mean, that would not carry you away, but 
let you fall into the hands of such termagants."* On the 1st of September, 
1592, there was a company of players at Cambridge, and, as it appears, engaged 
in a contest with the University authorities. On that day the Vice-Chancellor 
issues a warrant to the constable forbidding the inhabitants to allow the players 
to occupy any houses, rooms, or yards, for the purpose of exhibiting their inter 
ludes, plays, and tragedies. The players, however, disregarded the warrant ; 
for on the 8th of September, the Vice-Chancellor complains to the Privy Council 
that " certain light persons, pretending themselves to be her Majesty's players, 
&c., did take boldness, not only here to proclaim their interludes (by setting 
up of writings about our college gates), but also actually at Chesterton to play 
the same, which is a village within the compass of the jurisdiction granted to 
us by her Majesty's charter, and situated hard by the plot where Stourbridge 
fair is kept." The Privy Council does not appear to have been in a hurry to 
redress the grievance; for ten days afterwards the Vice- Chancellor and various 
heads of colleges repeated the complaint, alleging that the offenders were sup 
ported by Lord North (who resided at Kirtling, near Cambridge), who said " in 
the hearing as well of the players, as of divers knights and gentlemen of the 
shire then present," that an order of the Privy Council of 1575, forbidding the 
performance of plays in the neighbourhood of universities, "was no perpe 
tuity." It was not till the following year that the Privy Council put an end 
to this unseemly contest, by renewing the letters of 1575. The company of 
Shakspere was not, we apprehend, the " certain light persons, pretending them- 

* Collier's ' Memoiro of Edward Alleyn,' p. 24. 
358 



A BIOGRAPUY. 

selves to be her Majesty's players." The complaint of the Vice-Chancellor 
recites that one Button was a principal amongst them ; and Button's company 
is mentioned in the accounts of the Revels as early as 1572. But for this 
notice of Button we might have concluded that the Queen's players were the 
company to which Shakspere belonged ; and that his acquaintance with Cam 
bridge, its splendid buildings, and its noble institutions, was to be associated 
with the memory of a dispute that is little creditable to those who resisted the 
just exercise of the authority of the University. The Queen and her courtiers 
appear to have looked upon this contest in something of the spirit of mischiev 
ous drollery. Three months after the dispute, Br. John Still, then Vice-Chan- 
cellor, Master of Trinity College, and Bishop of Bath and Wells, writes thus to 
the Lords of the Council : " Upon Saturday last, being the second of Becember, 
we received letters from Mr. Vice-Chamberlain by a messenger sent purposely, 
wherein, by reason that her Majesty's own servants in this time of infection 
may not disport her Highness with their wonted and ordinary pastimes, his 
Honour hath moved our University (as he writeth that he hath also done the 
other of Oxford) to prepare a comedy in English, to be acted before her High 
ness by some of our students in this time of Christmas. How ready we are 
to do anything that may tend to her Majesty's pleasure, we are very desirous 
by all means to testify ; but how fit we shall be by this is moved, having no 
practice in this English vein,* and being (as we think) nothing beseeming our 

* The English vein had gone out of use. In 1564, 'Ezekias,' a comedy in English by Dr. 
Nicholas Udall, was pel-formed before Elizabeth in King's College Chapel. 




(Ancient View of Cambridge.) 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKU. 

students, specially out of the University, we much doubt; and do find our prin 
cipal actors (whom we have of purpose called before us) very unwilling to play 
in English."* If Dr. Still were the author of 'Gammer Gurton's Needle,' as 
commonly believed, the joke is somewhat heightened ; but at any rate it is 
diverting enough, as a picture of manners, to find the University who have 
opposed the performances of professional players, being called upon to produce 
a play in the " English vein," a species of composition mostly held in contempt 
by the learned as fitted only for the ignorant multitude. 

In relation to Shakspere, we learn from these transactions at Cambridge, that 
at the Christmas of 1592 there were no revels at Court: "her Majesty's own 
servants in this time of infection may not disport her Highness with their 
wonted and ordinary pastimes." Shakspere, we may believe, during the long 
period of the continuance of the plague in London, had no occupation at the 
Blackfriars Theatre ; and the pastimes of the Lord Chamberlain's servants were 
dispensed with at the palaces. It is probable that he was residing at his own 
Stratford. The leisure, we think, afforded him opportunity of preparing the 
most important of that wonderful series of historical dramas which unquestion 
ably appeared within a few years of this period ; and of producing some other 
dramatic compositions of the highest order of poetical excellence. The accounts 
of the Chamberlains of Stratford exhibit no payments to players from 1587 to 
1592; but in that year in the account of Henry Wilson, the Chamberlain, we 
have the entry of " Paid to the Queenes players XXs," and a similar entry 
occurs in the account of John Sadler, Chamberlain in 1593. Were these pay 
ments to the Lord Chamberlain's company, known familiarly as the Queen's 
players ? We cannot absolutely decide. Another company was at Cambridge 
pretending to be the Queen's players ; and in the office book of the Treasurer 
of the Chamber, in 1590, there is the record of a payment " to Lawrance Button 
and John Dutton, her Majesty's players, and their company." The Lord Cham 
berlain's players appear to have ceased to be called " the Queen's players," about 
this time. Upon the whole, we are inclined to the belief, although we have 
previously assumed that the Queen's players who performed at Stratford in 
1587 were Shakspere's fellows, f that the Lord Chamberlain's servants did 
not " travel." If the "profit "of their " residence " in London was interrupted 
by the plague, it did not consist with their " reputation " to seek out the scanty 
remuneration of uncritical country audiences. It appears to us, also, looking 
at the poetical labours of Shakspere at this exact period, that there was some 
pause in his professional occupation ; and that many months' residence in Strat 
ford, from the autumn of 1592 to the summer of 1593, enabled him more 
systematically to cultivate those higher faculties which placed him, even in the 
opinion of his contemporaries, at the head of the living poets of England. J 

One of the peculiar characteristics of the genius of Shakspere consists in its 
essentially practical nature its perfect adaptation to the immediate purpose of 
its employment. It is not inconsistent, therefore, with the most unlimited re- 

* The various documents may be consulted in Collier's 'Annals of the Stage,' vol. L 

f See page 281. J Sec note at the end of this chapter. 

360 






A BIOGRAPHY. 

verence for the higher qualities of that genius, to believe that in its original 
direction to the drama it was guided by no very abstract ideas of excellence, 
but sought to accommodate itself to the taste and the information of the people, 
and to deal only with what was to them obvious and familiar. It is thus that 
we may readily admit that many of the earliest plays of Shakspere were 
founded upon some rude production of the primitive stage. Andronicus had, 
no doubt, its dramatic ancestor, who exhibited the same Gothic view of Roman 
history, and whose scenes of blood were equally agreeable to an audience re 
quiring strong excitement. Pericles, however remodelled at an after period, 
belonged, we can scarcely doubt, to Shakspere's first efforts for the improvement 
of some popular dramatic exhibition which he found ready to his hand. So of 
The Taming of the Shrew, of which we may without any violence assume 
that a common model existed both for that and for the other play with a very 
similar name, which appears to belong to the same period. It is in the highest 
degree probable that the three parts of Henry VI. may in the same manner 
be founded upon older productions ; but it is utterly inconsistent with our con 
fidence in the originality of Shakspere's powers, even when dealing with old 
materials, to believe that those plays which we know as the two parts of The 
Contention between the Houses of York and Lancaster, were the plays upon 
which Shakspere founded the second and third parts of Henry VI. They are 
as much his own as the Hamlet of 1603 is his own, or the Henry V. of 1600, 
or the Merry Wives of 1602, each of which is evidently the sketch, and per 
haps the mutilated sketch, of the finished picture which was subsequently 
delivered to us. That sketch of Hamlet, which in all probability was the 
remodelling of something earlier from the same pen (which earliest piece might 
even have been founded upon some rude dialogue or dumb show of a murder 
or a ghost), proves to us, comparing it with the finished play, the quarto of 
1604, how luxuriantly the vigorous sapling went on year by year to grow into 
the monarch of the forest. But from the first, Shakspere, with that consummate 
judgment which gave a fitness to every thing that he did, or proposed to do, 
held his genius in subjection to the apprehension of the people, till he felt 
. secure of their capability to appreciate the highest excellence. In his case, as 
in that of every great artist, perfection could only be attained by repeated 
efforts. He had no models to work upon ; and in the very days in which he 
lived the English drama began to be created. It was not " Learning's triumph 
o'er her barbarous foes " which " first rear'd the stage," but a singular combina 
tion of circumstances which for the most part grew out of the reformation of 
religion. He took the thing as he found it. The dramatic power was in him 
so supreme that, compared with the feebler personifications of other men, it 
looks like instinct. He seized upon the vague abstractions which he found in 
the histories and comedies of the Blackfriars and the Bel Savage, and the 
scene was henceforth filled with living beings. But not as yet were these 
individualities surrounded with the glowing atmosphere of burning poetry. 
The philosophy which invests their sayings with an universal wisdom, that 
enters the mind and becomes its loadstar, was scarcely yet evoked out of that 

361 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKKI. : 

profound contemplation of human actions and of the higher things dimly re 
vealed in human nature, which belonged to the maturity of his wondrous mind. 
The wit was there in some degree from the first, for it was irrepressible ; but 
it was then as the polished metal, which dazzlingly gives back the brightness 
of the sunbeams ; in after times it was as the diamond, which reflects every 
thing, and yet appears to be self-irradiated in its lustrous depths. If these 
qualities, and if the humour which seems more especially the ripened growth 
of the mental faculty, could have been produced in the onset of Shakspere's 
career, it is probable that the career would not have been a successful one. 
He had to make his audience. He himself has told us of a play of his earliest 
period, that " I remember, pleased not the million ; 'twas caviarie to the ge 
neral : but it was (as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such mat 
ters cried in the top of mine) an excellent play ; well digested in the scenes : 
set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were 
no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury ; nor no matter in the phrase 
that might indite the author of affectation ; but called it an honest method, as 
wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine."* Was this 
play an attempt of Shakspere himself to depart from the popular track ? If it 
were, we probably owe much to the million. 

Let us place then the Shakspere of eight-and-twenty once more in the soli 
tude of Stratford, with the experience of seven years in the pursuits which he 
has chosen as his profession. He has produced, we believe, several plays be 
longing to each class of the drama with which the early audiences were familiar. 
In the tragedy of Andronicus, as it has come down to us, and with great pro 
bability in the first conceptions of Hamlet and of Romeo and Juliet, the physical 
horrors of the scene were as much relied upon as attractions, if not more so, 
than the poetry and characterization. The struggles for the empery of France, 
and the wars of the Roses, had been presented to the people with marvellous 
animation ; but the great dramatic principle of unity of idea had been but im 
perfectly developed, and probably, without the practice of that apprentice-period 
of the poet's dramatic life, would scarcely have been conceived in its ultimate 
perfection. Comedy, too, had been tried ; and here the rude wit and the. 
cumbrous affectations of his contemporaries had been supplanted by drollery 
and nature, with a sprinkle of graceful poetry whose essential characteristic is 
the rejection of the unnatural ornament and the conventional images which 
belong to every other dramatic writer of the period. The Two Gentlemen of 
Verona, the Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, 
and All 's Well that Ends Well, are essentially nobler and purer in their poetical 
elements than anything that Peele, or Greene, or Lyly, or Lodge, have be 
queathed to us. That they are superior in many respects to many of the best 
productions of Shakspere's later contemporaries may be the result of the after- 
polish which we have no doubt the poet bestowed even upon his least important 
works. They, with the histories and tragedies we have named, essentially 

* Hamlet, Act n., Sc. n. 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

belonged, we think, to his earliest period. We are about to enter upon the career 
of a higher ambition. 

William Shakspere left Stratford about 1585 or 1586, an adventurer probably, 
but. as we hold, not the reckless adventurer which it has been the fashion to 
represent him. We know not whether his wife and children were with him in 
London. There is no evidence to show that they did not so dwell. If he were 
absent alone during a portion of the year from his native place, his family probably 
lived under the roof of his father and mother. His visits to them would not 
necessarily be of rare occurrence and of short duration. The Blackfriars was 
a winter theatre, although at a subsequent period, when the Globe was erected, it 
was let for summer performances to the " children of the Chapel." With rare 
exceptions the performances at Court occupied only the period from Hallowmas 
Day to Shrove Tuesday. The latter part of the summer and autumn seem, 
therefore, to have been at Shakspere's disposal, at least during the first seven or 
eight years of his career. That he spent a considerable portion of the year in the 
quiet of his native walks we may be tolerably well assured, from the constant 
presence of rural images in all his works, his latest as well as his earliest. We 
have subsequently more distinct evidence in his farming occupations. At the time 
of which we are now writing we believe that a great public calamity gave him 
unwonted leisure ; and that here commences what may be called the middle period 
of his dramatic life, which saw the production of his greater histories, and of some 
of his most delightful comedies. 

There is a well-known passage in A Midsummer Night's Dream which goes very 
far towards a determination of its date. Titania thus reproaches Oberon : 

" These are the forgeries of jealousy : 
And never, since the middle summer's spring, 
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead, 
By paved fountain, or by rushy brook, 
Or on the beached margeut of the sea, 
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind, 
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport. 
Therefore, the winds, piping to us in vain, 
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea 
Contagious fogs ; which, falling in the land, 
Have every pelting river made so proud, 
That they have overborne their continents : 
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain, 
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn 
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard : 
The fold stands empty in the drowned field, 
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock ; 
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud 
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green, 
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable." 

The summers of 1592, 1593, and 1594 were so unpropitious, that the minute 
description of Titania, full of the most precise images derived from the observ 
ation of a resident in the country, gives us a far more exact idea of these re- 

363 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

markable seasons than any of the prosaic records of the time. In 1594, Dr. J. 
King thus preaches at York : " Remember that the spring (that year when the 
plague broke out) was very unkind, by means of the abundance of rains that 
fell. Our July hath been like to a February, our June even as an April, so 
that the air must needs be infected." He then adds, speaking of three succes 
sive years of scarcity, " Our years are turned upside down. Our -summers are 
no summers ; our harvests are no harvests ; our seed-times are no seed-times."* 
There are passages in Stow's ' Annals,' and in a manuscript by Dr. Simon For- 
man in the Ashmolean Museum, which show that in the June and July of 
1594 there were excessive rains. But Stow adds, of 1594, "notwithstanding 
in the month of August there followed a fair harvest." This does not agree 
with 

" The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain, 
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn 
Hath rotted, ere his youth attain'd a beard." 

It is not necessary to fix Shakspere's description of the ungenial season upon 1594 
in particular. There was a succession of unpropitious years, when 

" The spring, the summer, 
The childing autumn, angry winter, change 
Their wonted liveries." 

" Our summers are no summers ; our harvests are no harvests ; our seed-times 
are no seed-times." Churchyard, in his preface to a poem entitled ' Charity,'t 
says, " A great nobleman told me this last wet summer the weather was too cold 
for poets." The poetry of Shakspere was as much subjective as objective, to use 
one of the favourite distinctions which we have derived from the Germans. The 
most exact description of the coldness of the "wet summer" becomes in his 
hands the finest poetry, even taken apart from its dramatic proprfety; but in 
association with the quarrels of Oberon and Titania, it becomes something much 
nigher than descriptive poetry. It is an integral part of those wondrous efforts 
of the imagination which we can call by no other name than that of creation. 
It is in A Midsummer Night's Dream, as it appears to us, that Shakspere first 
felt the entire strength of his creative power. That noble poem is something 
so essentially different from anything which the stage had previously possessed, 
that we must regard it as a great effort of the highest originality; conceived 
perhaps with very little reference to its capacity of pleasing a mixed audience ; 
probably composed with the express intention of being presented to " an audience 
fit though few," who were familiar with the allusions of classical story, of 
" masque and antique pageantry," but who had never yet been enabled to forrc 
an adequate notion of 

" Such sights as youthful poets dream 
On summer eves by haunted stream." 



See our Illustrations of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act n., Sc. n. 
t Quoted by Mr. Halliwell, in his ' Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream.' 
364 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

The exquisite delicacy of the compliment to "the imperial votaress" fully war 
rants the belief that in the season of calamity, when her own servants " may 
not disport her Highness with their wonted and ordinary pastimes," one of them 
was employed in a labour for her service, which would make all other pastimes 
of that epoch appear flat and trivial. 

It is easy to believe that if any external impulse were wanting to stimulate 
the poetical ambition of Shakspere to make him aspire to some higher cha 
racter than that of the most popular of dramatists such might be found in 
1593 in the clear field which was left for the exercise of his peculiar powers. 
Robert Greene had died on the 3rd of September, 1592, leaving behind him a 
sneer at the actor who aspired " to bombast out a blank verse." Had his genius 
not been destroyed by the wear and tear, and the corrupting influences, of a 
profligate life, he never could have competed with the mature Shakspere. But 
as we know that " the only Shake-scene in a country," at whom the unhappy 
man presumed to scoff, felt the insult somewhat deeply, so we may presume he 
took the most effectual means to prove to the world that he was not, according 
to the malignant insinuation of his envious compeer, " an upstart crow beautified 
with our feathers." We believe that in the gentleness of his nature, when he 
introduced into A Midsummer Night's Dream 

" The thrice three Muses mourning for the death 
Of learning late deceas'd in beggary," 

he dropped a tear upon the grave of him whose demerits were to be forgiven 
in his misery. On the 1st of June, 1593, Christopher Marlowe perished in a 
wretched brawl, "slain by Francis Archer," as the Register of Burials of the 
parish of St. Nicholas, Deptford, informs us. Who was left of the dramatists 
that could enter into competition with William Shakspere, such as he then 
was ? He was almost alone. The great disciples of his school had not arisen. 
Jonson had not appeared to found a school of a different character. It was for 
him, thenceforth, to sway the popular mind after his own fashion ; to disregard 
the obligation which the rivalry of high talent might have imposed upon him 
of listening to other suggestions than those of his own lofty art ; to make the 
multitude bow before that art, rather than that it should accommodate itself to 
their habits and prejudices. But at a period when the exercise of the poetical 
power in connection with the stage was scarcely held amongst the learned and 
the polite in itself to be poetry, Shakspere vindicated his reputation by the 
publication of the Venus and Adonis. It was, he says, " the first heir of my 
invention." There may be a doubt whether Shakspere meant to say literally 
that this was the first poetical work that he had produced ; or whether he held, 
in deference to some critical opinions, that his dramatic productions could not 
be classed amongst the heirs of "invention." We think that he meant to use 
the words literally ; and that he used them at a period when he might assume, 
without vanity, that he had taken his rank amongst the poets of his time. He 
dedicates to the Earl of Southampton something that had not before been given 
to the world. H calls his verses " unpolished lines ; " he vows to take advan- 

365 



WILLIAM SHAKSI-; UK : 

tage of all idle hours till he had honoured the young patron of the Muses with 
"some graver labour." But invention was received then, as it was afterwards, 
as the highest quality of the poet. Dryden says, " A poet is a maker, as the 
word signifies ; and he who cannot make, that is invent, hath his name for 
nothing." We consider, therefore, that "my invention" is not the language 
of cne unknown to fame. He was exhibiting the powers which he possessed 
upon a different instrument than that to which the world was accustomed ; but 
the >*'orld knew that the power existed. We employ the word genius always 
with reference to the inventive or creative faculty. Substitute the word genius 
for invention, and the expression used by Shakspere sounds like arrogance. 
But the substitution may indicate that the actual expression could not have 
been used by one who came forward for the first time to claim the honours 
of the poet. It has been argued from this expression that Shakspere had 
produced nothing original before the Venus and Adonis that up to the period 
of its publication, in 1593, he was only a repairer of the works of other men. 
We hold that the expression implies the direct contrary. 
The dreary summer of 1593 has passed away ; 

" And on old Hyenas' chin, and icy crown, 
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds 
Is, aa in mockery, set." 

From the 1st of August in that year to the following Christmas the Queen was 
at Windsor. The plague still raged in London, and the historian gravely 
records, amongst the evils of the time, that Bartholomew Fair was not held. 
Essex was at Windsor during this time, and probably the young Southampton, 
was there also. It was a long period for the Court to remain in one place. 
Elizabeth was afraid of the plague in the metropolis ; and upon a page dying 
within the castle on the 21st of November, she was about to rush away from the 
pure air which blew around the "proud keep." But "the lords and ladies 
who were accommodated so well to their likings had persuaded the Queen to 
suspend her removal from thence till she should see some other effect." * Living 
in the dread of " infection," we may believe that the Queen would require 
amusement; and that the Lord Chamberlain's players, who had so long for 
borne to resort to the metropolis, might be gathered around her without any 
danger from their presence. If so, was the Midsummer Night's Dream one of 
the novelties which her players had to produce ? But there was another novelty 
which tradition tells us was written at the especial desire of the Queen herself 
a comedy which John Dennis altered in 1702, and then published with the 
following statement: "That this comedy was not despicable, I guessed for 
several reasons : first, I knew very well that it had pleased one of the greatest 
queens that ever was in the world great noc only for her wisdom in the arts of 
government, but for her knowledge of polite learning, and her nice taste of the 
drama ; for such a taste we may be sure she had, by the relish which she had of 
the ancients. This comedy was written at her command, and by her direction, 

* Letter from Mr. Standen to Mr. Bacon, in Birch's ' Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth.' 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



and she was so eager to see it acted, that she commanded it to be finished in 
fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at 
the representation." The plain statement of Dennis, "this comedy was written 
at her command," was amplified by Rowe into the circumstantial relation that 
Elizabeth was so well pleased with the character of Falstaff in Henry IV. " that 
she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love. 
Hence all the attempts, which have only resulted in confusion worse confounaea, 
to connect The Merry Wives of Windsor with Henry IV. We have stated this 
question fully, and, we hope, impartially, in the Introductory Notice to The 
Merry Wives of Windsor. Let us give one corroboration of the belief there 
expressed, that the comedy was written in 1 593, or very near to that time ; tne 
circumstance itself being somewhat of a proof that Shakspere was at Windsor 
precisely at that period, and ready to obey the Queen's command that a comedy 
suggested by herself should " be finished in fourteen days." 

" Ben Jonson and he [Shakspere] did gather humours of men daily wherever 
they came." So writes honest Aubrey. " The humour of the constable," which 
Shakspere, according to the same authority, "happened to take at Grendon 
in Bucks, which is on the road from London to Stratford," may find a paralle* 
in mine host of the Garter of The Merry Wives of Windsor. We have little 
doubt that the character was a portrait of a man well known to the courtiers, 
and whose good-natured bustling importance was drawn out by the poet as he 
passed many a cheerful evening of the winter of 1593 around his sea-coal fire. 
We have shown that in all likelihood the "perplexity" of the host when he 
lost his horses was a real event. Let us quote the cause of this perplexity from 
the original sketch of The Merry Wives, as published in 1602. The unfortunate 
host, who when he is told " Here be three gentlemen come from the Duke, the 
stranger, sir, would have your horse," exclaims with wondrous glee " They 
shall have my horses, Bardolph, they must come off, I'll sauce them," is now 
"cozened." Sir Hugh, who has a spite against mine host, thus tells him the 
ill news : " Where is mine Host of the Garter ? Now, my Host, I would 
desire you, look you now, to have a care of your entertainments, for there is 
three sorts of cosen garmombles is cosen all the Host of Maidenhead and Read 
ings." Dr. Caius has previously told him "Dere be a Garman Duke come to 
de Court has cosened all de host of Branford and Reading." We have pointed 
out that in 1592 a German Duke did visit Windsor; and that he had a kind ot 
passport from Lord Howard addressed to all justices of peace, mayors, and 
bailiffs, expressing that it was her Majesty's pleasure "to see him furnished 
with post-horses in his travel to the sea-side, and there to seek up such shipping, 
he paying nothing for the same." We asked, was there any dispute about the 
ultimate payment for the Duke's horses for which he was to pay nothing? We 
have no doubt whatever that the author of The Merry Wives of Windsor 
literally rendered the tale of mine host's perplexity for the amusement of the 
Court. For who was the German Duke who visited Windsor in the autumn 
of 1592? "His Serene Highness the Right Honourable Prince and Lord 
Frederick Duke of Wiirtemburg and Teck, Count of Miimpelgart." The pass- 



367 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

port of Lord Howard describes him as Count Mombeliard. And who are those 
who have rid away with the horses? " Three sorts of cosen garmombles." One 
device of the poets of that day for masking a rea^ name under a fictitious was 
to invert the order of the syllables ; thus, in the ' Shepherd's Calendar ' Algrind 
stands for Archbishop Grindal, and Morel for Elmor, Bishop of London. In 
Lodge's ' Fig for Momus/ we also find Donroy for Matthew Roydon, and Ringde 
for Bering. Precisely according to this method Garmomble is Momble^rar 
Mumpelgart.* We think this is decisive as to the allusion ; and that the allusion 
is decisive as to the date of the play. What would be a good joke when the 
Court was at Windsor in 1593, with the visit of the Duke fresh in the memory 
of the courtiers, would lose its point at a later period. Let us fix then the per 
formance of The Merry Wives of Windsor at that period when Elizabeth 
remained five months in her castle, repressing her usual desire to progress from 

We are indebted for this suggestion to a correspondent to whom we ofier our best thanks. 




A BIOGRAPHY. 

county to county, or to move from palace to palace. She has completed her 
noble terrace, with its almost unrivalled prospect of beauty and fertility. Her 
gallery too is finished, whose large bay window looks out upon the same mag 
nificent, landscape. The comedy, which probably arose out of some local inci 
dent, abundantly provocative of courtly gossip and merriment, has hastily been 
produced. The hand of the master is yet visible in it. Its allusions, contrary 
to the wont of the author, are all local, and therefore agreeable to his audience. 
As his characters hover about Frogmore, with its farm-house where Anne Page 
is a-feasting ; as Falstaff meets his most perilous adventure in Datchet Mead ; 
as Mistress Anne and her fairies crouch in the castle ditch, the poet shows 
that he has made himself familiar with the scenes where the Queen delighted 
to dwell. The characters, too, are of the very time of the representation of the 
play, perhaps more than one of them copied from actual persons. In the ori 
ginal sketch Shakspere hardly makes an attempt to transfer the scene to an 
earlier period. The persons of the drama are all of them drawn from the rich 
storehouse of the humours of the middle classes of his own day. We may 
readily believe the tradition which tells us that the Queen was " very well 
pleased at the representation." The compliment to her in association with 
Windsor, in the last scene, where the drollery is surrounded with the most 
appropriate poetry, sufficiently indicates the place at which the comedy was 
performed, and the audience to whom it was presented : 

" About, about ; 

Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out : 
Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room, 
That it may stand till the perpetual doom, 
In state as wholesome as in state 't is fit ; 
Worthy the owner, and the owner it." 

This is one of the few passages which in the amended edition remain unaltered 
from the original text. 



LIFE. 2 B 



WILLIAM BHAK8PERK. 



NOTE ON SHAKSPERE'S OCCUPATIONS IN 1593. 



IT may be assumed with tolerable certainty that for nearly a year Shakspere was unemployed in his 
profession. We have endeavoured to show in this chapter how he filled up some part of his leisure. 
But with reference to his poetical labours it is scarcely necessary to infer that all his time was spent in 
"lonely musing." A notion has been propounded that he personally visited Italy. In the Local 
Illustrations to the Taming of the Shrew, and the Merchant of Venice, with which we were favoured 
by Miss Martineau, will be found some very striking proofs of Shakspere's intimate acquaintance, not 
only with Italian manners, but with those minor particulars of the domestic life of Italy, such as the 
furniture and ornaments of houses, which could scarcely be derived from books, nor, with reference to 
their minute accuracy, from the conversation of those who had " swam in a gondola." These observa 
tions were communicated to us by our excellent friend, without any previous theorizing on the subject, 
or any acquaintance with the opinions that had been just then advanced on this matter by Mr. Brown. 
It is not our intention here to go over this ground again ; but it appears to us strongly confirmatory of 
the belief that Shakspere did visit Italy, that in 1593 he might have been absent several months from 
England without any interference with his professional pursuits. It is difficult to name any earlier 
period of his life in which we can imagine him with the leisure and the command of means necessary 
for such a journey. The subsequent part of the sixteenth century certainly left him no leisure. The 
Merchant of Venice and Othello (in which there is also one or two remarkable indications of local 
knowledge) were produced within a few years of 1 593. The Taming of the Shrew probably belongs 
to the exact period. 



870 




'-' 'ii e - i *'-'v s 

- V -^ 
[The Globe Theatre.] 



CHAPTER V. 

THE GLOBE. 



WE have a distinct record when the theatres were re-opened after the plague. 
The ' Diary' of Philip Henslowe records that " the Earl of Sussex his men ' 
acted ' Huon of Bordeaux' on the 28th of December, 1593. Henslowe ap 
pears to have had an interest in this company. It is probable that Shakspere's 
vheatre of the Blackfriars was opened about the same period. We have some 
evidence to show what was the duration of the winter season at this theatre ; 
for the same diary shows that from June, 1594, the performances of the theatre 
2 B 2 371 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE- 

at Newington Butts were a joint undertaking by the Lord Admiral's men and 
the Lord Chamberlain's men. How long this association of two companies 
lasted is not easy to determine ; but during the month of June we have entries 
of the exhibition of Andronicus, of Hamlet, and of The Taming of a Shrew 
No subsequent entries exhibit the names of plays which have any real or appa 
rent connection with Shakspere.* It appears that in December, 1593, Richard 
Burbage entered into a bond with Peter Streete, a carpenter, for the per 
formance on the part of Burbage of the covenants contained in an indenture of 
agreement by which Streete undertook to erect a new theatre for Burbage's 
company. This was the famous Globe on the Bankside, of which Shakspere 
was unquestionably a proprietor. We thus see that in 1594 there were new 
demands to be made upon his invention ; and we may reasonably conclude that 
the reliance of Burbage and his other fellows upon their poet's unequalled 
powers was one of their principal inducements to engage in this new enter 
prise. 

In the midst of his professional engagements, which doubtless were renewed 
with increased activity after their long suspension, Shakspere published his 
Rape of Lucrece. He had vowed to take advantage of all idle hours till he 
had honoured Lord Southampton with some graver labour than the first heir 
of his invention. The Venus and Adonis was entered in the Registers of the 
Stationers' Company on the 18th of April, 1593. The Lucrece appears in the 
same Registers on the 9th of May, 1594. That this elaborate poem was wholly 
or in part composed in that interval of leisure which resulted from the shutting 
of the theatres in 1593 may be reasonably conjectured; but it is evident that 
during the year which had elapsed between the publication of the first and the 
second poem, Shakspere had been brought into more intimate companionship 
with his noble patron. The language of the first dedication is that of distant 
respect, the second is that of grateful friendship : 

" To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton and Baron of TitcJifield. 

" The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end ; whereof this pamphlet, without begin 
ning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the 
worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I 
have to do is yours ; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty 
would show greater ; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life, 
still lengthened with all happiness. Your Lordship's in all duty, 

" WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE." 

Henry Wriothesly was born October 6th, 1573. His grandfather, the first 
Earl, was the celebrated Chancellor of Henry VIII. /a fortunate statesman and 
lawyer, whose memory, however he was lauded by his contemporaries, is in 
famously associated with the barbarous cruelties of that age in the torture of 
the heroic Ann Askew. His son Henry, the second Earl, bred up by his father 
in the doctrines opposed to the Reformation, adhered with pertinacity to the 
old forms of religion, and was of course shut out from the honours and employ- 

* See our Introductory Notice to Hamlet. 
872 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

ments of the government. He was unmolested, however, till his partisanship 
In the cause of Mary Queen of Scots occasioned his imprisonment in the Tower, 
in 1572. The house in which his father the Chancellor dwelt was also his 
London residence ; and its site is still indicated by the name of Southampton 
Buildings. In Aggas's map the mansion appears to have been backed by ex 
tensive gardens. Gervase Markham, in his curious book, printed in 1624, 
entitled ' Honour in his Perfection ; or, a Treatise in Commendation of the 
Vertues and Renowned Vertuous Vndertakings of the Illustrious and Heroicall 
Princes Henry Earle of Oxenford, Henry Earle of Southampton, Robert Earle 
of Essex, &c.,' thus describes the state with which the father of Shakspere's 
friend was surrounded: "His muster-roll never consisted of four lackeys and 
a coachman, but of a whole troop of at least a hundred well-mounted gentlemen 
and yeomen ; he was not known in the streets by guarded liveries, but by gold 
chains ; not by painted butterflies, ever running as if some monster pursued 
them, but by tall goodly fellows, that kept a constant pace, both to guard his 
person and to admit any man to their lord which had serious business." The 
pomp with which he was encircled might in some degree have compensated for 
the absence of courtly splendour. But he lived not long to enjoy his solitary 
dignity, or, as was sufficiently probable, to conform to the opinions which 
might have opened to him the road to the honours of the crown. He died in 
1581, leaving two children, Henry and Mary. The boy earl was only eight 
years old at the death of his father. During his long minority the accumula 
tion of the family property must have been great : and we may thus believe 
that the general munificence of his patronage in after-life has not been over 
rated. He appears to have had careful guardians, who taught him that there 
were higher honours to be won than those which his rank and wealth gave 
him. At the age of twelve he became a student of St. John's College, Cam 
bridge ; and four years afterwards took the degree of Master of Arts by the 
usual exercises.* He subsequently became, according to one account, a mem 
ber of Gray's Inn. At the period when Shakspere dedicated to him his Venus 
and Adonis, he was scarcely twenty years of age. He is supposed to have 
become intimate with Shakspere from the circumstance that his mother had 
married Sir Thomas Heneage, who filled the office of Treasurer of the Chamber, 
and in the discharge of his official duties would be brought into frequent inter 
course with the Lord Chamberlain's players. This is Drake's theory. The 
more natural belief appears to be that he had a strong attachment to literature, 
and, with the generous impetuosity of his character, did not regard the distinc 
tions of rank to the extent with which they were regarded by men of colder 
temperaments and more worldly minds. Shakspere appears to have been the 
first amongst the writers of his day that offered a public tribute to the merits 
of the youna nobleman. Both the dedications, and especially that of Lucrece, 
are conceived in a modest and a manly spirit, entirely different from the ordi 
nary language of literary adulation. Nash, who dedicates a little book to him 



Cum prius disputasset public^ pro gradu." Harleian MS. 7138. 



873 






WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

at the same period, after calling him " a dear lover and cherisher, as well of 
the lovers of poets as of poets themselves," gives us one of the many proofs 
that the characters of satirist and flatterer may have some affinity : " Incom 
prehensible is the height of your spirit, both in heroic resolution and matters 
of conceit. Unreprievably perisheth that book whatsoever to waste paper which 
on the diamond rock of your judgment disasterly chanceth to be shipwracked." 
Gervase Markham, who many years after became the elaborate panegyrist of 
Southampton, dedicates a tragedy to him in the following sonnet, in 1 595 : 



" Thou glorious laurel of the Muses' hill, 
Whose eyes doth crown the most victorious pen ; 
Bright lamp of virtue, in whose sacred skill 
Lives all the bliss of ears-enchanting men : 

From graver subjects of thy grave assays, 
Bend thy courageous thoughts uuto these lines ; 
The grave from whence mine humble Muse doth raise 
True honour's spirit in her rough designs : 

And when the stubborn stroke of my harsh song 
Shall seasonless glide through almighty earn, 
Vouchsafe to sweet it with thy blessed tongue, 
Whose well-tun'd sound stills music in the spheres : 

So shall my tragic lays be blest by thee, 

And from thy lips suck their eternity." 



This hyperbolical praise is something different from Shakspere's simple expres 
sions of respect and devotion in the dedication to the Lucrece. There is evi 
dence in that dedication of a higher sort of intercourse between the two minds 
than consists with any forced adulation of any kind, and especially with any 
extravagant compliments to the learning and to the abilities of a superior in 
rank. Such testimonies are always suspicious ; and probably honest old Florio, 
when he dedicated his ' World of Words ' to the Earl in 1 598, shows pretty 
correctly what the race of panegyrists expected in return for their compliments : 
" In truth, I acknowledge an entire debt, not only of my best knowledge, but of 
all ; yea of more than I know, or can to your bounteous lordship, in whose pay 
and patronage I have lived some years ; to whom I owe and vow the years I 
have to live. But, as to me, and many more, the glorious and gracious sun 
shine of your honour hath infused light and life." There is an extraordinary 
anecdote told by Rowe of Lord Southampton's munificence to Shakspere, which 
seems to bring the poet somewhat near to Florio's plain-speaking association of 
pay and patronage : " What grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it 
was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. 
He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour 
and friendship from the Earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that 
time for his friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Essex. It was to that noble 
lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance 
so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not 
been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who 
374 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured 
to have inserted ; that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand 
pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a 
mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to 
that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Italian 
singers.'^ This is one of the many instances in which we are not warranted 
in rejecting a tradition, however we may look suspiciously upon the accuracy of 
its details. D'Avenant could scarcely be very well acquainted with Shak- 
spere's affairs, for he was only ten years old when Shakspere died. The sum 
mentioned as the gift of the young nobleman to the poet is so large, looking at 
the value of money in those days, that it could scarcely consist with the inde 
pendence of a generous spirit to bear the load of such a prodigality of bounty. 
The notions of those days were, however, different from ours. Examples will 
readily suggest themselves of the most lavish rewards bestowed by princes and 
nobles upon great painters. They received such gifts without any compromise 
of their intellectual dignity. It was the same then with poets. The public, 
now the best patron, was then but a sorry paymaster; and the great stepped 
in to give the price for a dedication as they would purchase any other gratifi 
cation of individual vanity. According to the habits of the time, Shakspere 
might have received a large gift from Lord Southampton, without any for 
feiture of his self-respect. Nevertheless, Rowe's story must still appear suffi 
ciently apocryphal : " My Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand 
pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a 
mind to." It is not necessary to account for the gradual acquisition of property 
by Shakspere that we should yield our assent to this tradition, without some 
qualification. In 1589, when Lord Southampton was a lad at College, Shak 
spere had already acquired that property which was to be the foundation of his 
future fortune. He was then a shareholder in the Blackfriars Theatre. That 
the adventure was a prosperous one, not only to himself but to his brother 
shareholders, may be inferred from the fact that four years afterwards they 
began the building of another theatre. The Globe was commenced in De 
cember, 1 593 ; and being constructed for the most part of wood, was ready to be 
opened, we should imagine, in the summer of 1594. In 1596 the same pros 
perous company were prepared to expend considerable sums upon the repair 
and extension of their original theatre, the Blackfriars. The name of Shak 
spere occupies a prominent position in the document from which we collect this 
fact : it is a petition to the Lords of the Privy Council from " Thomas Pope, 
Richard Burbadge, John Hemings, Augustine Philips, William Shakespeare, 
William Kempe, William Slye, Nicholas Tooley, and others, servants to the 
Right Honorable the Lord Chamberlain to her Majesty;" and it sets forth that 
they are " the owners and players of the private theatre in the Blackfriars ; 
that it hath fallen into decay; and that it has been found necessary to make 
the same more convenient for the entertainment of auditories coming thereto." 



Rowe's ' Life of Shakspeare.' 

375 



WILLIAM SHAKsri.Ki: : 

It then states what is important to the present question : " To this end 
your petitioners have all and each of them put down sums of money according 
to their shares in the said theatre, and which they have justly and honestly 
gained by the exercise of their quality of stage-players." It then alleges that 
certain inhabitants of the precinct had besought the Council not to allow the 
said private house to remain open, " but hereafter to be shut up and closed, to 
the manifest and great injury of your petitioners, who have no other means 
whereby to maintain their wives and families, but by the exercise of their 
quality as they have heretofore done." The common proprietorship of the 
company in the Globe and Blackfriars is also noticed : " In the summer season 
your petitioners are able to play at their new-built house on the Bankside, 
called the Globe, but in the winter they are compelled to come to the Black- 
friars." If the winter theatre be shut up, they say they will be " unable to 
practise themselves in any plays or interludes when called upon to perform for 
the recreation and solace of her Majesty and her honourable Court, as they have 
been heretofore accustomed." Though the Registers of the Council and the 
Office-books of the Treasurer of the Chamber are wanting for this exact period, 
we have here the distinct evidence of the intimate relation between Shakspere's 
company and the Court. The petitioners, in concluding by the prayer that 
their " honourable Lordships will grant permission to finish the reparations 
and alterations they have begun," add as a reason for this favour that they 
" have hitherto been well ordered in their behaviour and just in their deal 
ings."* The performances at the Blackfriars went on without interruption. 
Shakspere, in 1597, bought " all that capital messuage or tenement in Stratford 
called the New Place." This appears to have been his first investment in pro 
perty distinct from his theatrical speculations. The purchase of the best house 
in his native town, at a period of his life when his professional occupations 
could have allowed him little leisure to reside in it, would appear to have had 
in view an early retirement from a pursuit which probably was little agreeable 
to him. His powers as a dramatic writer might be profitably exercised with 
out being associated with the actor's vocation. We know from other circum 
stances that at this period Stratford was nearest to his heart. On the 24th of 
January, 1 598, Mr. Abraham Sturley, an alderman of Stratford, writes to his 
brother-in-law, Richard Quiney, then in London : " I would write nothing 
unto you now but come home. I pray God send you comfortably home. 
This is one special remembrance, from your father's motion. It seemeth by 
him that our countryman Mr. Shakspere is willing to disburse some money 
upon some odd yard land or other at Shottery, or near about us. He thinketh 
it a very fit pattern to move him to deal in the matter of our tithes. By the 
instructions you can give him thereof, and by the friends he can make there 
fore, we think it a fair mark for him to shoot at, and not impossible to hit. It 
obtained, would advance him indeed, arid would do us much good." We thus 
see that in a year after the purchase of New Place, Shakspere's accumulation 



The petition is printed in Mr. Collier's ' Annals of the Stage,' vol. L, p. 298. 
376 



A BIOGRAPHY. 



of money was going on. The worthy aldermen and his connections appear to 
look confidently to their countryman, Mr. Shakspere, to assist them in their 
needs. On the 4th of November, in the same year, Sturley again writes a very 
long letter. " to his most loving brother, Mr. Richard Quiney, at the Bell, in 
Carter Lane, in London," in which he says of a letter written by Quiney to 
him on the 21st of October, that it imported, amongst other matters, "that our 
countryman Mr. W. Shakspere would procure us money, which I well like of, 
as I shall hear when, and where, and how ; and I pray let not go that occasion, 
if it may sort to any indifferent conditions." Quiney himself at this very time 
writes the following characteristic letter to his " loving good friend and coun 
tryman, Mr. William Shakspere : " " Loving countryman, I am bold of you as 
of a friend, craving your help with thirty pounds upon Mr. Bushell and my 
security, or Mr. Myttens with me. Mr. Rosswell is not come to London as 
yet, and I have especial cause. You shall friend me much ill helping me out of 
all the debts I owe in London, I thank God, and much quiet to my mind which 
would not be indebted. I am now towards the Court in hope your answer for 
the dispatch of my business. You shall neither lose credit nor money by me, 
the Lord willing ; and now but persuade yourself so as I hope, and you shall 
not need to fear but with all hearty thankfulness I will hold my time, and 
content your friend, and if we bargain farther, you shall be the paymaster 
yourself. My time bids me to hasten to an end, and so I commit this to your 
care and hope of your help. I fear I shall not be back this night from the 
Court. Haste. The Lord be with you and with us all. Amen. From the Bell 
in Carter Lane, the 25th October, 1598. Yours in all kindness, Rye. Quiney." 
The anxious dependence which these honest men appear to have upon the good 
offices of their townsman is more satisfactory even than the evidence which 
their letters afford of his worldly condition. 

In the midst of this prosperity the registers of the parish of Stratford-upon- 
Avon present to us an event which must have thrown a shade over the brightest 
prospects. 



This is the register of the burial of the only son of the poet in 1596. Hamnet 
was born on the 2nd of February, 1585; so that at his death he was eleven 
years and six months old. He was a twin child ; and it is not unlikely that he 
was constitutionally weak. Some such cause interfered probably with the edu 
cation of the twin-sister Judith ; for whilst Susanna, the elder, is recorded to 
have been " witty above her sex," and wrote a firm and vigorous hand, as we 
may judge from her signature to a deed in 1639, 



377 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE 






the mark of Judith appears as an attesting witness to a conveyance in 161 1 




Shakspere himself has given us a most exquisite picture of a boy, who, like his 
own Hamnet, died young, in whom the imaginative faculty was all -predominant. 
Was this a picture of his own precocious child ? 

" Her. Take the boy to you : he so troubles me, 
*T is past enduring. 

1 Lady. Come, my gracious lord, 

Shall I be your playfellow ? 

Mam. No, I '11 none of you. 

1 Lady. Why, my sweet lord ? 

Mam. You '11 kiss me hard ; and speak to me as if 
I were a baby stilL I love you better. 

2 Lady. And why so, my lord ? 

Mam. Not for because 

Your brows are blacker ; yet black brows, they say, 

Become some women best ; so that there be not 

Too much hair there, but in a semi-circle, 

Or a half-moon made with a pen. 

2 Lady. Who taught you this f 

Mam. I learn'd it out of women's faces. Pray, now, 

What colour are your eyebrows? 

. 1 Lady. Blue, my lord. 

378 



A BIOGKAPHY. 

Mam. Nay, that 's a mock : I have seen a lady's noso 
That has been blue, but not her eyebrows." 

" Her. What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now 
I am for you again : Pray you, sit by us, 
And tell 's a tale. 

Mam. Merry, or sad, shall 't be ? 

Her. As merry as you will. 

Mam. A sad tale 's best for winter : 

I have one of sprites and goblins. 

Her. Let 's have that, good sir. 

Come on, sit down : Come on, and do your best 
To fright me with your sprites : you 're powerful at it. 

M am. There was a man 

Her. Nay, come, sit down ; then on. 

Mam. Dwelt by a churchyard ; I will tell it softly ; 
Yon crickets shall not hear it. 

Her. Come on then, 

And give 't in mine ear." * 

With the exception of this inevitable calamity, the present periou may pro 
bably be regarded as a happy epoch in Shakspere's life. He had conquered any 
adverse circumstances by which his earlier career might have been impeded. 
He had taken his rank among the first minds of his age ; and, above all, his 
pursuits were so engrossing as to demand a constant exercise of his faculties, 
but to demand that exercise in the cultivation of the highest and the most 
pleasurable thoughts. This was the period to which belong the great histories 
of Richard II., Richard III., and Henry IV., and the delicious comedies of the 
Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, and Twelfth Night. These 
productions afford the most abundant evidence that the greatest of intellects 
was in the most healthful possession of its powers. These were not hasty 
adaptations for the popular appetite, as we may well believe some of the earlier 
plays were in their first shape ; but highly-wrought performances, to which all 
the method of his cultivated art had been strenuously applied. It was at this 
period that the dramatic poet appears not to have been satisfied with the ap 
plause of the Globe or the Blackfriars, or even with the gracious encourage 
ments of a refined Court. During three years he gave to the world careful 
editions of some of these plays, as if to vindicate the drama from the pedantic 
notion that the Muses of tragedy and comedy did not meet their sisters upon 
equal ground. Richard II. and Richard III. were published in 1597 ; Love's 
Labour's Lost, and Henry IV., Part I., in 1598; Romeo and Juliet, corrected and 
augmented, in 1599 ; Henry IV., Part II., the Merchant of Venice, A Midsum 
mer Night's Dream, and Much Ado about Nothing, in 1600. The system of pub 
lication then ceased. It no doubt interfered with the interests of his fellows; 
and Shakspere was not likely to assert an exclusive interest, or to gratify an 
exclusive pride, at the expense of his associates. But his reputation was higher 
than that of any other man, when only four of his plays were accessible to the 
readers of poetry. In 1598 it was proclaimed, not timidly or questionably, that 

* Winter's Tale, Act n., Sc. i. 

379 



WILLIAM SHAKSri 

as Plautus arid Seneca are accounted the best for tragedy and comedy among 
the Latins, so Shakespeare, among the English, is the most excellent in both 
kinds for the stage :" and "As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in 
Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey- 
tongued Shakespeare."* It was certainly not at this period of Shakspere's life 
that he wrote with reference to himself, unlocking his heart to some nameless 
friend . 

" When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, 
I all alone beweep my outcast state, 
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries, 
And look upon myself, and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, 
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd, 
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, 
With what I most enjoy contented least ; 
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, 
Haply I think on thee, and then my state 
(Like to the lark at break of day arising 
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate ; 

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings, 

That then I scorn to change my state with kings." 

Sonnets of Shakspere were in existence in 1598, when Meres tells us of " his 
sugared sonnets among his private friends." We have entered so fully into the 
question, whether these poems are to be considered autobiographical, that it 
would be useless for us here to repeat an argument not hastily entered upon, or 
carelessly set forth. We believe that the order in which they were printed is 
an arbitrary one ; that some form a continu us poem or poems, that others are 
Isolated in their subjects and the persons to whom they are addressed ; that 
some may express the poet's personal feelings, that others are wholly fictitious, 
dealing with imaginary loves and jealousies, and not attempting to separate the 
personal identity of the artist from the sentiments which he expressed, and the 
situations which he delineated. " We believe that, taken as works of art, .having 
a certain degree of continuity, the Sonnets of Spenser, of Daniel, of Drayton, 
of Shakspere, although in many instances they might shadow forth real feel 
ings and be outpourings of the inmost heart, were presented to the world as 
exercises of fancy, and were received by the world as such."f Even of those 
portions of these remarkable relics which appear to have an obvious reference 
to the poet's feelings and circumstances, we cannot avoid rejecting the principle 
of continuity ; for they clearly belong to different periods of his life, if they are 
the reflection of his real sentiments. We have the playfulness of an early love, 
and the agonizing throes of an unlawful passion. They speak of a period when 
the writer had won no honour or substantial rewards " in disgrace with for 
tune and men's eyes," the period of his youth, if the allusion was at all real ; 
and yet the writer is 

" With time's injurious hand crush'd and o'erworn." 

Francis Meres. t Illustrations of the Sonnets, Pictorial Edition, p. 114. 

380 



A BIOGRAPHY. 
One little dedicatory poem says, 

" Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage 

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit, 
To thee I send this written embassage, 
To witness duty, not to show my wit." 

Another (and it is distinctly associated with what we hold to be a continued 
little poem, wholly fictitious, in which the poet dramatizes as it were the poeti 
cal character) boasts that 

" Not marble, not the gilded monuments 
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme." 

Without attempting therefore to disprove that these Sonnets were addressed to 
the Earl of Southampton, or to the Earl of Pembroke, we must leave the reader 
who fancies he can find in them a shadowy outline of Shakspere's life to form 
his own conclusion from their careful perusal. We have endeavoured, in our 
analysis of these poems, to place before him all the facts which have relation to 
the subject. But to preserve in this place the unity of our narrative with 
reference to the period before us, we venture to reprint a passage from the 
Illustrations to which we refer: "The 7lst to the 74th Sonnets seem bursting 
from a heart oppressed with a sense of its own unworthiness, and surrendered to 
some overwhelming misery. There is a line in the 74th which points at suicide. 
We cling to the belief that the sentiments here expressed are essentially dra 
matic. In the 32nd Sonnet, where we recognise the man Shakspere speaking in 
his own modest and cheerful spirit, death is to come across his 'well contented 
day/ The opinion which we have endeavoured to sustain of the probable admix 
ture of the artificial and the real in the Sonnets, arising from their supposed 
original fragmentary state, necessarily leads to the belief that some are accurate 
illustrations of the poet's situation and feelings. It is collected from these 
Sonnets, for example, that his profession as a player was disagreeable to him ; 
and this complaint is found amongst those portions which we have separated 
from the series of verses which appear to us to be written in an artificial character. 
It might be addressed to any one of his family, or some honoured friend, such as 
Lord Southampton : 

' 0, for my sake do you with Fortune chide, 
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds, 
That did not better for my life provide 
Than public means, which public manners breeds. 
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand, 
And almost thence my nature is subdued 
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.' 

But if from his professional occupation his nature was felt by him to be subdued 
to what it worked in, if thence his name received a brand, if vulgar scandal 
sometimes assailed him, he had high thoughts to console him, such as were 
never before imparted to mortal. This was probably written in some period or 
dejection, when his heart was ill at ease, and he looked upon the world with a 
J 381 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

slight tinge of indifference, if not of dislike. Every man of high genius has 
felt something of this. It was reserved for the highest to throw it off, ' like 
dew-drops from the lion's mane.' But the profound self-abasement and de 
spondency of the 74th Sonnet, exquisite as the diction is, appear to us unreal, as 
a representation of the mental state of William Shakspere ; written, as it most 
probably was, at a period of his life when he revels and luxuriates (in the comedies 
which belong to the close of the sixteenth century) in the spirit of enjoyment, rush 
ing from a heart full of love for his species, at peace with itself and \vith all the 
world." 




[Richard Butbage ) 




[The Falcon Tavern.] 

CHAPTER VI. 

WIT-COMBATS. 



" MANY were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson ; which two I 
behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war : Master Jonson 
(like the former) was built far higher in learning ; solid, but slow, in his per 
formances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but 
lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage 
of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention." Such is Thomas 
Fuller's well-known description of the convivial intercourse of Shakspere and 
Jonson, first published in 1662. A biographer of Shakspere says, "The me 
mory of Fuller perhaps teemed with their sallies." That memory, then, must 
have been furnished at secondhand ; for Fuller was not born till 1608. He 
beheld them in his mind's eye only. Imperfect, and in many respects worth 
less, as the few traditions of these wit-combats are, there can be no doubt of the 
companionship and ardent friendship of these two monarchs of the stage. Ful- 



WILLIAM SHAK8PERE: 

ler's fanciful comparison of their respective conversational powers is probably 
to some extent a just one. The difference in the constitution of their minds, 
and the diversity of their respective acquirements, would more endear each to 
the other's society. 

Rowe thus describes the commencement of the intercourse between Shak- 
spere and Jonson : " His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remark 
able piece of humanity and good nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time 
altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, 
in order to have it acted ; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after 
having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it 
to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their com 
pany, when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so 
well in it as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recom 
mend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public."* The tradition which Rowe 
thus records is not supported by minute facts which have since become known. 
In Henslowe's Diary of plays performed at his theatre, we have an entry under 
the date of the llth of May, 1597, of 'The Comedy of Humours.' This was 
no doubt a new play, for it was acted eleven times ; and there can be little 
question that it was Jonson's comedy of 'Every Man in his Humour.' A few 
months after we have the following entry in the same document: "Lent unto 
Benjamin Jonson, player, the 22nd of July, 1597, in ready money, the sum of 
four pounds, to be paid it again whensoever either I or my son shall demand 
it." Again : "Lent unto Benjamin Jonson, the 3rd of December, 1597, upon a 
book which he was to write for us before Christmas next after the date hereof, 
which he showed the plot unto the company : I say, lent in ready money unto 
him the sum of twenty shillings." On the 5th of January, 1598, Henslowe 
records in the same way the trifling loan of five shillings. An advance is also 
made by Henslowe to his company on the 13th of August, 1598, "to buy a 
book called ' Hot Anger soon cold,' of Mr. Porter, Mr. Chettle, and Benjamin 
Jonson, in full payment, the sum of six pounds." We thus see, that in 1597 
and 1598 there was an intimate connection of Jonson with the stage, but not 
with Shakspere's company. It can scarcely be supposed that Jonson was a 
writer for the stage earlier than 1597, and that the "remarkable piece of hu 
manity and good nature " recorded of Shakspere took place before the con 
nection of Jonson with Henslowe's theatre. He was born, according to Gifford, 
in 1574. In January, 1619, he sent a poetical "picture of himself" to Drum- 
mond, in which these lines occur : 

" My hundred of grey hairs 
Told six and forty years." 

This would place his birth in 1573.f Drummond, in narrating Jonson's ac 
count of " his own life, education, birth, actions," up to the period in which we 
have shown how dependent he was upon the advances of a theatrical manager, 

' Life of Shakspeare,' 

f See ' Jonson's Conversations with Drummond,' published by the Shakespeare Society. 
384 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

thus writes : " His grandfather came from Carlisle, and, he thought, from 
Annandale to it: he served King Henry VIII., and was a gentleman. His 
father lost all his estate under Queen Mary, having been cast in prison and for 
feited ; at last turned minister : so he was a minister's son. He himself was 
posthumous born, a month after his father's decease ; brought up poorly, put to 
school by a friend (his master Camden) ; after, taken from it, and put to another 
craft (I think was to be a wright or bricklayer), which he could not endure ; 
then went he to the Low Countries ; but returning soon, he betook himself to his 
wonted studies. In his service in the Low Countries, he had, in the face of 
both the camps, killed an enemy and taken opima spolia from him ; and since 
his coming to England, being appealed to the fields, he had killed his adver 
sary which had hurt him in the arm, and whose sword was ten inches longer 
than his ; for the which he was imprisoned, and almost at the gallows. Then 
took he his religion by trust, of a priest who visited him in prison. Thereafter 
he was twelve years a Papist." Aubrey says in his random way, " He killed 
Mr. Marlowe the poet on Bunhill, coming from the Green Curtain Playhouse." 
We know where Marlowe was killed, and when he was killed. He was slain at 
Deptford in 1593. Gifford supposes that this tragical event in Jonson's lifa 
took place in 1595 ; but the conjecture is set aside by an indisputable account of 
the fact. Philip Henslowe, writing to his son-in-law Alleyn on the 26th of 
September, 1598, says, "Since you were with me I have lost one of my com 
pany, which hurteth me greatly, that is Gabrell [Gabriel], for he is slain in 
Hogsden Fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer ; therefore I 
would fain have a little of your counsel, if I could."* This event took place 
then, we see, exactly at the period when Jonson was in constant intercourse 
with Henslowe's company ; and it probably arose out of some quarrel at the 
theatre that he was " appealed to the fields." The expression of Henslowe, 
" Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer," is a remarkable one. It is inconsistent with 
Jonson's own declaration, that after his return from the Low Countries he " be 
took himself to his wonted studies." We believe that Henslowe, under the 
excitement of that loss for which he required the counsel of Alleyn, used it as 
a term of opprobrium, that was familiar to his company. Dekker, who was a 
writer for Henslowe's theatre, and who in 1599 was associated with Jonson in 
the composition of two plays, ridicules his former friend and colleague, in 1602, 
as a " poor lime and hair rascal," as one who ambled " in a leather pilch by a 
play-waggon in the highway" "a foul-fisted mortar-treader " " one famous 
for killing a player "one whose face " looks for all the world like a rotten 
russet-apple when it is bruised "whose "goodly and glorious nose was blunt, 
blunt, blunt" who is asked, " how chance it passeth that you bid good bye to 
an honest trade of building chimnies and laying down bricks for a worse handi- 
craftness?" who is twitted with "dost stamp, mad Tamburlaine, dost stamp; 
thou think'st thou'st mortar under thy feet, dost?" one whose face was 
"punched full of eyelet-holes like the cover of a warming-pan "" a hollow- 
cheeked scrag." It is evident from all this abuse, which we transcribe as the 

Letter in Dulwich College, quoted in Collier's Memoirs of Alleyn.' 
LIFE. 2 C 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

passages occur in Dekker's ' Satiro-Mastix/ that the poverty, the personal 
appearance, and, above all, the original occupation of Jonson, exposed him to 
the vulgar ridicule of some of those with whom he was brought into contact at 
the theatre. They did not feel as honest old Fuller felt, when, describing 
Jonson, being in want of maintenance, as " fain to return to the trade of his 
lather-in-law," the old chronicler of the Worthies says "Let not them blush 
that have, but those who have not, a lawful calling." We can thus understand 
what Henslowe means when he says " Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer." In the 
autumn of 1598 the bricklayer-poet was lying in prison. At the Christmas of 
that year ' Every Man in his Humour,' greatly altered from the original sketch 
produced by Henslowe's company, was brought out by the Lord Chamberlain's 
company at the Blackfriars. The doors of Henslowe's theatre on the Bankside 
were probably shut against the man who had killed Gabriel, " whose sword was 
ten inches longer than his." There seems to have been an effort on the part of 
some one to console the unhappy prisoner under his calamity. He was a writer 
for a rival theatre, receiving its advances up to the 13th of August, 1598. 
His improved play was brought out by the company of a theatre which stood 
much higher in the popular and the critical estimation a few months after 
wards. There was an ac* of friendship somewhere. May we not believe that 
this proud man, who seems to have been keenly alive to neglect and injury 
who says that " Daniel was at jealousies with him," that " Drayton feared 
nim " that " he beat Marston, and took his pistol from him " that " Sir 
William Alexander was not half kind unto him " that " Markham was but a 
Ijase fellow " that " such were Day and Middleton," that " Sharpham, Day, 
Dekker, were all rogues, and that Minshew was one," that " Abraham Francis 
was a fool"* may we not believe that some deep remembrance of unusual 
kindness induced him to write of Shakspere, " I loved the man, and do honour 
his memory on this side idolatry as much is any. He was indeed honest, and 
of an open and free nature?" We have no hesitation in abiding by the com 
mon sense of Gifford, who treated with ineffable scorn all that has been written 
about Jonson's envy, and malignity, and coldness towards Shakspere. We 
believe with him " that no feud, no jealousy ever disturbed their connection ; 
that Shakspere was pleased with Jonson, and that Jonson loved and admired 
Shakspere." They worked upon essentially different principles of art ; they 
had each their admirers and disciples ; but the field in which they laboured was 
large enough for both of them, and they each cultivated it after his own fashion. 
With the exception of such occasional quarrels as those between Jonson and 
Dekker, the poets of that time lived as a generous brotherhood, whose cordial 
intercourse might soften many of the rigours of their worldly lot. Jonson was 
by nature proud, perhaps arrogant. His struggles with penury had made him 
proud. He had the inestimable possession of a well-educated boyhood ; he had 
the consciousness of great abilities and great acquirements. He was thrown 
amongst a band of clever men, some of whom perhaps laughed, as Dekker un 
worthily did, at his honest efforts to set himself above the real disgrace of earn 

All these passages are extracted from hia conversations with Drummond. 

ni 




[Jonson.J 

ing his bread by corrupt arts ; who ridiculed his pimpled face, his " one eye 
lower than t'other," and his " coat like a coachman's coat, with slips under the 
arm-pits." So Aubrey describes him who laid down laws of criticism, and 
married music and painting to the most graceful verse. But when the brick 
layer had the gratification of seeing his first comedy performed by the Lord 
Chamberlain's company, to 

" Sport with human follies, not with crimes," 

there was one amongst that company strong enough to receive with kindliness 
even the original prologue, in which the romantic drama, perhaps some of his 
own plays, were declaimed against by one who belonged to another school of 
art. Shakspere could not doubt that a man of vigorous understanding had 
arisen up to devote himself to the exhibition of "popular errors," humours 
passing accidents of life and character. He himself worked upon more endur 
ing materials ; but he would nevertheless see that there was one fitted to deal 
with the comedy of manners in a higher spirit than had yet been displayed. 
Not only was the amended ' Every Man in his Humour ' acted by Shakspere's 
2 C 2 387 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

company, Shakspere himself taking one of the characters ; but the second comedy 
from the same satirist was first produced by that company in 1599. When the 
author, in his Induction, exclaims 

" If any here chance to behold himself, 
Let him not dare to challenge me of wrong ; 
For, if he shame to have his follies known, 
First he should shame to act 'em : my strict hand 
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe 
Squeeze out the humour of such spongy soula 
As lick up every idle vanity," 

the poet who "was not for an age, but for all time," he, especially, who never 
once comes before the audience in his individual character, might gently smile at 
these high pretensions. But he would stretch out the hand of cordial friendship to 
the man ; for he was in earnest his indignation against vice was an honest one. 
Though a little personal vanity might peep out though the satirist might " venture 
on the stage when the play is ended to exchange courtesies and compliments with 
gallants in the lord's rooms, to make all the house rise up in arms and to cry, 
.That's Horace, that's he, that's he, that's he, that pens and purges humours and 
diseases," * Shakspere's congratulations on the success of Asper for so Jonson de 
lighted to call himself would come from the heart. An evening at the Falcon 
might fitly conclude such a first play. 

The things " done at the Mermaid " were not as yet. Francis Beaumont, who 
has made them immortal by his description, was at this period scarcely sixteen 
years of age. His ' Letter to Jonson ' may, however, give us the best notion of 
the earlier convivial intercourse of some of the illustrious band to whom the young 
dramatist refers : 

" Methinks the little wit I had is lost 
Since I saw you ; for wit is like a rest 
Held up at tennis, which men do the best 
With the best gamesters : what things have we seen 
Done at the Mermaid ! heard words that have been 
So nimble, and so full of subtile Same, 
As if that every one from whence they came 
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest, 
And had resolv'd to live a fool the rest 
Of his dull life ; then when there hath been thrown 
Wit able enough to justify the town 
For three days past wit that might warrant be 
For the whole city to talk foolishly 
Till that were cancell'd : and when that was gone, 
We left an air behind us, which alone 
Was able to make the two next companie. 
Right witty : though but downright fools, mere wise." 

The play at the Blackfriars would be over at five o'clock. The gallants who 
came from the ordinary to the playhouse would have dined ; and so would the 
players. At three the play commenced ; and an audience more rational than 

* Satiro-Mastix. 
388 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

those of our own times as to the quantity of amusement which they demanded 
would be quite satisfied with the two hours' exhibition : 

" Those that come to see 
Only a show or two, and so agree 
The play may pass, if they be still and willing, 
I "11 undertake may see away their shilling 
Kichly in two short hours." * 

Out of the smoke and glare of the torches (for in the private theatres the win 
dows were closed so as to exclude the day) would the successful author and 
his friends come forth into the grey light of a January evening, f The Black- 
friars Stairs are close at hand. John Taylor the water-poet was then a very 
young man ; but the apprentice of the Thames might be there, with the ambi 
tion already developed to be the ferryman to the wits and actors from the Black- 
friars to the Bankside. The "gentlemanlike sculler," as he was subsequently 
called, might listen even then with a chuckling delight to the sallies of " Master 
Benjamin Jonson," whom some eighteen years afterwards he wrote of as " my 
long-approved and assured good friend" generous withal beyond his means, 
for " at my taking leave of him he gave me a piece of gold and two-and-twenty 
shillings to drink his health." J The merry party are soon landed at Paris 
Garden, and walking up the lane, which was a very little to the east of the 
present Blackfriars Bridge, they turn eastward before they reach the old stone 
cross, and in a minute or two are on the Bankside, close to the Falcon Inn, in 

* Prologue to Henry VIII. 

t It would appear from the Epilogue that ' Every Man out of his Humour* was acted at the 
Globe ; and perhaps for the first time there. We are of course only here attempting a generalization 
not literally accurate. 

J Taylor's ' Penniless Pilgrimage.' 




[John Taylor.] 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : 

the liberty of the Clink. At a very short distance from this is the Bear Gar 
den, and a little farther eastward the Globe. Part of the Falcon Tavern was 
standing in 1805, a short distance from the north end of Gravel-lane. Tradi 
tion holds it to have been the favourite resort of Shakspere and his companions. 
It is highly probable. He was a householder in the Clink liberty ; but his 
disposition was eminently social, and sociality was the fashion of those days 
in moderation, not a bad fashion. Gifford has noticed this with great justness : 
" Domestic entertainments were, at that time, rare ; the accommodations of a 
private house were ill calculated for the purposes of a social meeting ; and 
taverns and ordinaries are therefore almost the only places in which we hear of 
such assemblies. This, undoubtedly, gives an appearance of licentiousness to 
the age, which, in strictness, does not belong to it. Long after the period of 
which we are now speaking, we seldom hear of the eminent characters of the 
day in their domestic circles."* Jonson laughs at his own disposition to con 
viviality in connection with his habitual abstemiousness : " Canary, the very 
elixir and spirit of wine ! This is that our poet calls Castalian liquor, when 
he comes abroad now and then, once in a fortnight, and makes a good meal 
among players, where he has caninum appetitum ; marry, at home he keeps a 
good philosophical diet, beans and buttermilk ; an honest pure rogue, he . will 
take you off three, four, five of these, one after another, and look villainously 
when he has done, like a one-headed Cerberus. "f He puts these words into 
the mouth of a buffoon. In his own person he speaks of himself in a nobler 
strain : 

" I that spend half my nights, and all my days, 

Here in a cell to get a dark pale face, 
To come forth worth the ivy and the bays ; 
And, in this age, can hope no other grace." J 

The alternations of excessive labour and joyous relaxation belong to the ener 
gies of the poetical temperament. Jonson has been accused of excess in his 
pleasures. Drummond ill-naturedly says, "Drink is one of the elements in 
which he liveth." But no one affirmed that in his convivial meetings there was 
not something higher and better than sensual indulgence . 

"Ah, Ben! 
Say how, or when 
Shall we thy guests 
Meet at those lyric feasts, 

Made at the Sun, 
The Dog, the Triple Tun ? 
Where we such clusters had, 
As made us nobly wild, not mad ; 

And yet each verse of thine 
Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine." 



* ' Memoirs of Ben Jonson,' p. cxc. 
f ' Every Man out of his Humour.' J ' The Foetaiiter.' 

Herrick's ' Hesperidea.' 
390 



A BIOGKAPHT. 

Amongst the group that might be assembled at the Falcon, let us first trace . 
the lineaments of Thomas Dekker. He has not yet quarrelled with Jonson. 
He has no tbeen held up to contempt as Demetrius in the ' Poetaster/ nor re- 
turned the satire with more than necessary vehemence in the Satiro-Mastix 
He is one who has looked upon the world with an observant eye ; one of whom 
it has been said that his "pamphlets and plays alone would furnish a more 
complete view of the habits and customs of his contemporaries in vulgar and 
middle life than could easily be collected from all the grave annals of the 
times."* His 'Gull's Horn-Book' has not yet appeared; but its writer can 
season his talk with the most amusing relations of the humours of Paul's Walk, 
of the ordinary, of the playhouse, of the tavern. He was not a very young man 
at the period of which we write. In 1631 he says, " I have been a priest in 
Apollo's temple many years; my voice is decaying with my age." He is con 
fident in his powers ; and claims to be a satirist by as indefeasible a title as 
that of his greater rival: "I am snake-proof; and though, with Hannibal, 
you bring whole hogsheads of vinegar-railings, it is impossible for you to 
quench or come over my Alpine resolution. I will sail boldly and desperately 
alongst the shores of the isle of Gulls ; and in defiance of those terrible block 
houses, their loggerheads, make a true discovery of their wild yet habitable 
country." f He has many a joke against the gallants whom he has noted even 
that afternoon sitting on the stage in all the glory of their coxcombry on the 
very rushes where the comedy is to dance, beating down the mews and hisses 
of the opposed rascality. The proportionable leg, the white hand, the love 
lock of the essenced fop, have none of them passed unmarked. The red beard 
artistically dyed according to the most approved fashion supplies many a 
laugh ; especially if the wearer had risen to be gone in the middle of the scene, 
saluting his gentle acquaintance to the discomfiture of the mimics. He, above 
all, is quizzed who hoards up the play scraps upon which his lean wit most 
savourily feeds in the presence of the Euphuesed gentlewomen. Dekker has 
been that morning in Paul's Walk, in the Mediterranean Aisle. He has noted 
one who walks there from day to day, even till lamp -light, for he is safe from 
his creditors. One more fortunate parades his silver spurs in the open choir, 
that he may challenge admiration as he draws forth his perfumed embroidered 
purse to pay the forfeit to the surpliced choristers. Another is waited upon 
by his tailor, who steps behind a pillar with his table-book to note the last 
fashion which hath made its appearance there, and to commend it to his wor 
ship's admiration. Equally familiar is the satirist with the ordinary. He tells 
of a most absolute gull tha 41 he has marked riding thither upon his Spanish 
iennet, with a French lacquey carrying his cloak, who having entered the 
public room walks up and down scornfully with a sneer and a sour face to pro 
mise quarrelling; who, when he does speak, discourses how often this lady has 
sent her coach for him, and how he has sweat in the tennis-court with that 
lord. An unfledged poet, too, he has marked, who drops a sonnet out of the 
.arge fold of his glove, which he at last reads to the company with a pretty 

* ' Quarterly Review.' t ' Gull's Hornbook.' 

391 



WILLIAM SHAKSPKlii: : 

counterfeit lothness. He has a story of the last gull whom he saw there, 
skeldered of his money at primero and hazard, who sat as patiently as a dis 
armed gentleman in the hands of the bailiffs. At the tavern he has drawn out 
a country gentleman that has brought his wife to town to learn the fashions, 
and see the tombs at Westminster, and the lions in the Tower ; and is already 
glib with the names of the drawers, Jack and Will and Tom : the tavern is to 
him so delightful, with its suppers, its Canary, its tobacco, and its civil hostess 
at the bar, that it is odds but he will give up housekeeping. Above all, " the 
satirical rogue" is familiar with the habits of those who hear the chimes at 
midnight. He knows how they shun the waking watch and play tricks with 
the sleeping, and he hears the pretenders to gentility call aloud Sir Giles, or 
Sir Abraham, will you turn this way ? Every form of pretence is familiar to 
him. He has watched his gull critical upon new books in a stationer's shop, 
and has tracked him through all his vagaries at the tobacco ordinary, the 
barber's, the fence-school, and the dancing-school. Thomas Dekker is certainly 
one of those who gather humours from all men ; but his wit is not of the 
highest or the most delicate character ; yet is he listened to and laughed at by 
many of nobler intellect who say little. He knows the town, and he makes 
the most of his knowledge. Though he is a " high flyer in wit," as Edward 
Philipps calls him, yet is he a poet. At this very time he is engaged with 
Henry Chettle and William Haughton in the composition of ' Patient Grissil ' 
for Henslowe's theatre, in earnest of which they received three pounds of good 
and lawful money on the 19th of December, 1599. There is one of the partners 
in this drama who has drunk his inspiration at the well of Chaucer. The ex 
quisite beauty of ' The Clerk's Tale ' must have rendered it exceedingly difficult 
to have approached such a subject ; but a man of real genius has produced the 
serious scenes of the comedy, and it is difficult to assign them to any other of 
the trio but Dekker. Might not some Jack Wilson* have, for the first time, 
touched his lute to the following exquisite song, for the suffrages of the gay 
party at the Falcon ? 

" Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers ? 

Oh, sweet content ! 
Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed ? 

Oh, punishment 1 

Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vexed 
To add to golden numbers, golden numbers ? 

Oh, sweet content 1 Oh, sweet, Ac. 
Work apace, apace, apace, apace ; 
Honest labour bears a lovely face ; 
Then hey noney, noney, hey noney, noney. 

Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring ? 

Oh, sweet content I 

Swimm'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears ? 
Oh, punishment ! 



A singer of Shakspere's company. See Much Ado about Nothing, Introductory Notica 
392 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

Then he that patiently want's burden bears, 
No burden bears, but is a king, a king ! 

Oh, sweet content ! &c. 
Work apace," &c. 

There is one, we may believe, in that company of poets who certainly " is 
thought not the meanest of English poets of that time, and particularly for his 
dramatic writings." George Chapman, as Anthony Wood tells us, " was a 
person of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate, qualities rarely meet 
ing in a poet." Anthony Wood has a low notion of the poetical character, as 
many other prosaic people have. He tells us of an unhappy verse-maker of 
small merit who was " exceedingly given to the vices of poets." Chapman was, 
however, the senior of the illustrious band who lighted up the close of the six 
teenth century, and might be more reverend than many of them. He was 
seven years older than Shakspere, being born in 1557. Yet his inventive 
faculties were brilliant to the last. Jonson told Drummond, in 1619, that 
" next himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a masque." He said 
also, what was more important, that " Chapman and Fletcher were loved of 
him." No one can doubt the vigour of the poet who translated twelve books of 
the Iliad in six weeks, the daring fiery spirit of him who, in the opinion of 
the more polished translator, gave us a Homer such as he might have been before 
he had come to the years of discretion. This is meant by Pope for censure. 
Meres, in 1598, enumerates Chapman amongst the "tragic poets," and also 
amongst the "best poets for comedy." We have no evidence that he wrote 
before the period when Shakspere raised the drama out of chaos. He had not 
the power to become a great dramatist in the strict sense of the word ; for his 




[George Chapman.l 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

genius was essentially didactic. He could not go out of himself to paint &.U 
the varieties of passion and character in vivid action; but he could analyze the 
passion, exhibit its peculiarities, describe its current, with wondrous force and 
originality, throwing in touches of the purest poetry, clothed in the most 
splendid combinations of language. Dryden has not done justice to him, when 
he says that " a dwarfish thought dressed up in gigantic words is his charac 
teristic." There are the gigantic words, but the thought is rarely dwarfish. 
Had he become a dramatist ten years earlier, as he well might from the period 
in which he was born, we should have found more extravagance and less poeti 
cal fire. Shakspere rendered the drama not so easy of approach by inferior 
men, as it was in the early days of the Greenes and Peeles. Chapman with his 
undramatic mind has done wonders in his own way. 

Beside the man of reverend aspect sits a young scholar, who is anxious to 
say, I too am a poet. John Fletcher was born in 1576. His father, the 
Bishop of London he who poured into the ears of the unhappy Mary of Scots 
on the scaffold that verbosam orationem, as Camden has it, which had more re 
gard to his own preferment than the Queen's conversion he who, marrying a 
second time, fell under his royal mistress's displeasure, and died of grief and 
excessive tobacco, in 1596, " seeking to lose his sorrow in a mist of smoke," * 
he has left his son John to carry his " sail of phantasy " into the dangerous 
waters of the theatre. The union of real talent with fashionable pretension, 
which in time made him one of the most popular of dramatists, and the lyrical 
genius which will place him for ever amongst the first of English poets, were 
budding only at the close of the sixteenth century. We can scarcely believe 
that his genius was only called out by the " wonderful consimility of fancy " 
between him and Francis Beaumont ; and that his first play was produced only 
in 1607, when he was thirty-one and Beaumont twenty-one. It is possible 
that in his earlier days he wrote in conjunction with some of the veterans of 
the drama. Shakspere is held to have been associated with him in the ' Two 
Noble Kinsmen.' We have discussed that question elsewhere ; and it is scarcely 
necessary for us to attempt any summary here, for the reason of our belief that 
the union, if any there were, was not with Shakspere. At this period Fletcher 
would be gathering materials, at any rate, for some of those pictures of manners 
which reveal to us too much of the profligacy of the fine people of the beginning 
of the seventeenth century. The society of the great minds into which he 
would be thrown at the Falcon, and the Mermaid, and the Apollo Saloon, 
would call out and cherish that freshness of his poetical nature which survives, 
and indeed often rides over, the sapless conventionalities and frigid licentious 
ness of his fashionable experience. In the company of Shakspere, and Jonson, 
and Chapman, and Donne, he would be taught there was something more in the 
friendship, and even in the mere intercourse of conviviality, of men of high in 
tellect, than the town could give. He would learn from Jonson's ' Leges Con- 
vivales,' that there was a charm in the social hours of the " entditi, urbani, 
hi/ares, honesti," which was rarely found amidst the courtly hunters after plea- 

Fuller's ' Worthies.' 
394 




[John Fletcher.] 



sure ; and that a festival with them was something better than even the excite 
ment of wine and music. A few years after this Fletcher ventured out of the 
track of that species of comedy in which he won his first success, giving a real 
poem to the public stage, which, with all its faults, was a noble attempt to 
emulate the lyrical and pastoral genius of Shakspere. To our minds there is as 
much covert advice, if not gentle reproof, to Fletcher, as there is of just and 
cordial praise, in Jonson's verses upon the condemnation of 'The Faithful 
Shepherdess' by the audience of 1610 : 

" The wise, and many -headed bench, that sits 

Upon the life and death of plays and wits, 

(Compos' d of gamester, captain, knight, knight's man, 

Lady, or pucelle, that wears mask or fan, 

Velvet, or taffata cap, rank'd in the dark 

With the shop's foreman, or some such brave spark 

That may judge for his sixpence) had, before 

They saw it half, damn'd thy whole play, and more : 

Their motives were, since it had not to do 

With vices, which they look'd for, and came to. 

I, that am glad thy innocence was thy guilt, 

And wish that all the Muses' blood were spilt 

In such a martyrdom, to vex their eyes, 

Do crown thy murder'd poem : which shall rise 

A glorified work to time, when fire 

Or moths shall eat what all those fools admire." 

There is another young poet who has fairly won his title to a place amongst 
the most eminent of his day. John Donne is there, yet scarcely seven-and- 
twenty ; who wrote the most vigorous satires that the English language had 
seen as early as 1593. No printed copy exists of them of an earlier date than 
that of his collected works in 1633 ; but there is an undoubted manuscript of 
the three first satires in the British Museum, bearing the title " Ihon Dunne 

395 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

his Satires, Anno Domini 1593." No one has left a more vigorous picture of 
this exact period than has Donne, the student of Lincoln's Inn, who has already 
looked upon the world with the eye of a philosopher. He stands in the middle 
street and points, as they pass along, to the " captain bright parcel gilt " to 
the " brisk perfumed pert courtier " to the 

"Velvet justice, with a long 
Great train of blue-coats twelve or fourteen strong "- 

to the " superstitious Puritan " with His " formal hat." He and his friend, the 
" changeling motley humourist," take their onward way, and thus he paints the 
characters they encounter. The condensation of the picture is perfect : 

" Now we are in the street : he first of all, 
Improvidently proud, creeps to the wall, 
And so imprison'd and hemm'd in by me, 
Sells for a little state his liberty ; 
Yet though he cannot skip forth now to greet 
Every fine silken painted fool we meet, 
He them to him with amorous smiles allures, 
And grins, smacks, shrugs, and such an itch endures 
As 'prentices or school-boys, which do know 
Of some gay sport abroad, yet dare not go ; 
And as fiddlers stoop lowest at highest sound, 
So to the most brave stoops he nigh'st the ground ; 
But to a grave man he doth move no more 
Than the wise politic horse would heretofore ; 
Or thou, elephant or ape ! wilt do 
When any names the king of Spain to you. 
Now leaps he upright, jogs me, and cries, Do you see 
Yonder well-favour'd youth ? Which ? Oh ! 't is he 
That dances so divinely. Oh ! said I, 
Stand still ; must you dance here for company T 
He droop'd, we went, till one (which did excel 
Th' Indians in drinking his tobacco well) 
Met us : they talk'd ; I whisper'd Let us go ; 
It may be you smell him not ; truly I do. 
He hears not me ; but on the other side 
A many-colour'd peacock having spy'd, 
Leaves him and me : I for my lost sheep stay ; 
He follows, overtakes, goes on the way, 
Saying, Him whom I last left all repute 
For his device in handsoming a suit, 
To judge of lace, pink, panes, print, cut and phut. 
Of all the court to have the best conceit : 
Our dull comedians want him ; let him go." 

There is something in these Satires deeper than mere satirical description ; for 
example : 

" Sir, though (I thank God for it) I do hate 
Perfectly all this town, yet there 'a one state 
In all ill things so excellently best, 
1 That hate towards them breeds pity towards the rest." 

Donne's genius was too subjective for the drama ; yet his delineations of indi- 
896 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

vidual character are full of humour. Take the barrister, who " woos in Ian- 
guage of the Pleas and Bench :" 

" A motion, lady ! Speak, Coscus. I have been 
In love e'er since tricesimo of the queen. 
Continual claims I 've made, injunctions got 
To stay my rival's suit, that he should not 
Proceed ; spare me, in Hilary term I went ; 
You said, if I return'd next 'size in Lent, 
I should be in remitter of your grace : 
In th' interim my letters should take place 
Of affidavits." 

Jonson well knew Donne's powers. Drummond records that "He esteemeth 
John Donne the first poet in the world in some things : his verses of the ' Lost 
Chain ' he hath by heart ; and that passage of the ' Calm,' ' That dust and fea 
thers do not stir, all was so quiet.' Affirmeth Donne to have written all his 
best pieces ere he was twenty-five years old." That " passage of the Calm " to 
which Jonson alludes, is found in his poetical letters " from the Island voyage 
with the Earl of Essex." Never were the changing aspects of the sea painted 
with more truth and precision than in the two ' Letters ' of ' the Storm ' and ' the 
Calm.' He made this island voyage in 1597. He is now again in London. 
What a life is before him of the most ardent love, of married poverty, of dedi 
cation to the sacred profession for which his mind was best fitted, of years of 
peace and usefulness ! Jonson said that Donne, " for not being understood 
would perish." Not wholly so. There are some who will study him, whilst 
less profound thinkers are forgotten. 




WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

The diary of Henslowe during the last three years of the sixteenth century 
contains abundant notices of Michael Drayton as a dramatist. According to 
this record, of which we have no reason to doubt the correctness, there were 
extant in 1597 'Mother Red Cap/ written by him in conjunction with Anthony 
Munday ; and a play without a name, which the manager calls a " book wherein 
is a part of a Welchman," by Drayton and Henry Chettle. In 1598 we have 
' The Famous Wars of Henry I. and the Prince of Wales,' by Drayton and Tho 
mas Dekker ; ' Earl Goodwin and his three Sons,' by Drayton, Chettle, Dekker, 
and Robert Wilson ; the ' Second Part of Goodwin,' by Drayton ; ' Pierce of 
Exton/ by the same four authors ; ' The Funeral of Richard Coeur de Lion/ by 
Wilson, Chettle, Munday, and Drayton ; ' The Mad Man's Morris/ ' Hannibal 
and Hermes/ and ' Pierce of Winchester/ by Drayton, Wilson, and Dekker ; 
' William Longsword/ by Drayton ; ' Chance Medley/ by Wilson, Munday, 
Drayton. and Dekker : ' Worse Afeard than Hurt/ ' Three Parts of the Civil 
Wars of France/ and ' Connan, Prince of Cornwall/ by Drayton and Dekker. 
In 1600 we have the 'Fair Constance of Rome/ in two parts, by Munday, Hath- 
way, Drayton, and Dekker. In 1601, 'The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey/ by 
Munday, Drayton, Chettle, and Wentworth Smith. In 1602, 'Two Harpies/ 
by Dekker, Drayton, Middleton, Webster, and Munday. This is a most extra 
ordinary record of the extent of dramatic associations in those days ; and it is 
more remarkable as it regards Drayton, that his labours, which, as we see, were 
not entirely in copartnership, did not gain for him even the title of a dramatic 
poet in the next generation. Langbaine mentions him not at all. Philipps 
says nothing of his plays. Meres indeed thus writes of him : " We may truly 
term Michael Drayton Tragediographus, for his passionate penning the down 
falls of valiant Robert of Normandy, chaste Matilda, and great Gaveston." 
But this praise has clearly reference to the ' Heroical Epistles ' and the ' Legends.' 
If ' The Merry Devil of Edmonton ' be his, the comedy does not place his dra 
matic powers in any very striking light ; but it gives abundant proofs, in com 
mon with all his works, of a pure and gentle mind, and a graceful imagination. 
Meres is enthusiastic about his moral qualities ; and his testimony also shows 
that the character for upright dealing which Shakspere won so early was not 
universal amongst the poetical adventurers of that day : " As Aulus Persius 
Flaccus is reported among all writers to be of an honest and upright conversa 
tion, so Michael Drayton (quern toties honoris et amoris causa nomino), among 
scholars, soldiers, poets, and all sorts of people, is held for a man of virtuous 
disposition, honest conversation, and well-governed carriage, which is almost 
miraculous among good wits in these declining and corrupt times, when there 
is nothing but roguery in villainous man, and when cheating and craftiness is 
counted the cleanest wit, and soundest wisdom." The good wits, according to 
Meres, are only parcel of the corrupt and declining times. Yet, after all, his 
dispraise of the times is scarcely original: "You rogue, here's lime in this 
sack too. There is nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man." ! 
Jonson was an exception to the best of his contemporaries when he said of 
Drayton that " he esteemed not of him." That Shakspere loved him we may 

* Henry IV., Part I., Act n., Sc. IV. 




[Drayton.] 

readily believe. They were nearly of an age, Drayton being only one year his 
elder. They were born in the same county they had each the same love of 
^natural scenery, and the same attachment to their native soil. Drayton ex 
claims 

" My native country then, which so brave spirits hath bred, 
If there be virtues yet remaining in thy earth, 
Or any good of thine thou bred'st into my birth, 
Accept it as thine own, whilst now I sing of thee ; 
Of all thy later brood th' unworthiest though I be." 

It is his own Warwickshire which he invokes. They had each the same fami 
liar acquaintance with the old legends and chronicles of English history ; the 
same desire to present them to the people in forms which should associate the 
poetical spirit with a just patriotism. It was fortunate that they walked by 
different paths to the same object. However Drayton might have been asso 
ciated for a few years with the minor dramatists of Shakspere's day, it may be 
doubted whether his genius was at all dramatic. Yet was he truly a great 
poet in an age of great poets. Old Aubrey has given us one or two exact par 
ticulars of his life : " He lived at the bay window house next the east end of 
St. Dunstan's Church, in Fleet Street." Would that bay window house were 
standing ! Would that the other house of precious memory close by it, where 
Izaak Walton kept his haberdasher's shop, were standing also ! He " who has 
not left a rivulet (so narrow that it may be stepped over) without honourable 
mention ; and has animated hills and streams with life and passion above the 
dreams of old mythology ; " * and he who delighted to sit and sing under the 
honeysuckle hedge while the shower fell so gently upon the teeming earth, 
they loved not the hills and streams and verdant meadows the less because 
they daily looked upon the tide of London life in the busiest of her thorough 
fares. There is one minute touch in Aubrey's notice of Drayton that must not 
pass without mention : " Natus in Warwickshire, at Atherstone-upon-Stour. 

* Charles Lamb. 

399 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

He was a butcher's son." The writers of biography have let Aubrey's testi 
mony pass. In spite of it they tell us he "was of an ancient and worthy 
family, originally descended from the town of Drayton, in Leicestershire, 
which gave name to his progenitors."* Not so indifferent has biography been 
to the descent of William Shakspere as recorded by the same historiographer: 
he " was born at Stratford-upon Avon, in the county of Warwick : his father was 
a butcher." The original record in each case is of precisely equal value. 

The ' Cleopatra ' of Samuel Daniel places him amongst the dramatic poets of 
this period ; but his vocation was not to the drama. He was induced, by the 
persuasion of the Countess of Pembroke, 

" To sing of elate, and tragic notes to frame." 

After Shakspere had arisen he adhered to the model of the Greek theatre. 
According to Jonson, " Samuel Daniel was no poet." Jonson thought Daniel 
"envied him," as he wrote to the Countess of Rutland. He tells Drummond 
that " Daniel was at jealousies with him." Yet for all this even with Jonsorj 
he was "a good honest man." Spenser formed the same estimate of Daniel's 
genius as the Countess of Pembroke did : 

" Then rouse thy feathers quickly, Daniel, 
And to what course thou please thyself advance : 
But most, meseems, thy accent will excel 
In tragic plaints, and passionate mischance." f 

Daniel did wisely when he confined his " tragic plaints " to narrative poetry. 
He went over the same ground as Shakspere in his 'Civil Wars; 1 and there 
are passages of resemblance between the dramatist and the descriptive poet 
which are closer than mere accident could have produced. J The imitation, on 
whatever side it was, was indicative of respect. 

* ' Biographia Britannica.' 
t ' Colin Clout 's come Home again.' J See Introductory Notice to Richard II. 




'Snnui'l Danie 



A BIOGRAPHY. 

In the company at the Falcon we may place John Marston, a man of original 
talent, who had at that period won some celebrity. He was at this time probably 
about five and twenty, having taken his Bachelor's degree at Oxford in 1592. 
There is very little known with any precision about his life ; but a pretty accurate 
opinion of his character may be collected from the notices of his contemporaries, 
and from his own writings. He began in the most dangerous path of literary 
ambition, that of satire, bitter and personal : 

" Let others sing, as their good genius moves, 
Of deep designs, or else of clipping loves. 
Fair fall them all that with wit's industry 
Do clothe good subjects in true poesy ; 
But as for me, my vexed thoughtful soul 
Takes pleasure in displeasing sharp control. 

Quake, guzzle-dogs, that live on spotted lime, 
Scud from the lashes of my yerking rhyme." * 

His first performance, 'The Metamorphoses of Pygmalion's Image,' has been 
thought by Warton to have been written in ridicule of Shakspere's Venus and 
Adonis. The author says, 

" Know, I wrot 

These idle rhymes, to note the odious spot 
And blemish, that deforms the lineaments 
Of modern poesy's habiliments." 

In his parody, if parody it be, he has contrived to produce a poem, of which the 
licentiousness is the only quality. Thus we look upon a sleeping Venus of Titian, 
and see but the wonderful art of the painter; a dauber copies it, and then beauty 
becomes deformity. He is angry that his object is misunderstood, as well it might 
be: 

" these same buzzing gnats 
That sting my sleeping brows, these Nilus rats, 
Half dung, that have their life from putrid slime, 
These that do praise my loose lascivious rhyme, 
For these same shades I seriously protest, 
I slubbered up that chaos indigest, 
To fish for fools, that stalk in goodly shape : 
What though in velvet cloak, yet still an ape ! " 

He had the ordinary fate of satirists to live in a state of perpetual warfare, and to 
have offences imputed to him of which he was blameless. The " galled jade " not 
only winces, but kicks. The comedy of 'The Malecontent/ written in 1600, 
appears to have been Marston's first play; it was printed in 1605. He says in the 
Preface, " In despite of my endeavours, I understand some have been most 
unadvisedly over-cunning in misinterpreting me, and with subtilty (as deep as hell) 
have maliciously spread ill rumours, which springing from themselves, might to 



* 'Scourge of Villainy; Three Books of Satire :' 1593. 
LIFE. 2 D 



WILLIAM SHAKSPERE: 

themselves have heavily returned." * Marston says in the Preface to one of his 
later plays, " So powerfully have I been enticed with the delights of poetry, and 
(I must ingenuously confess), above better desert, so fortunate in these stage- 
pleasings, that (let my resolutions be never so fixed, to call mine eyes unto myself) 
I much fear that most lamentable death of him 

' Qui niiiiis notua omnibus, 
Ignotus nioritur sibi.' " Seneca. 

He adds, " the over-vehement pursuit of these delights hath been the sickness 
of my youth." He unquestionably writes as one who is absorbed by his pur 
suit; over whom it has the mastery. In his plays, as well as in his satires, 
there is no languid task-work ; but, as may be expected, he cannot go out of 
himself. It is John Marston who is lashing vice and folly, whatever character 
may fill the scene ; and from first to last in his reproof of licentiousness we not 
only see his familiarity with many gross things, but cannot feel quite assured 
that he looks upon them wholly with pure eyes. His temper was no doubt 
capricious. It is clear that Jonson had been attacked by him previous to the 
production of ' The Poetaster.' He endured the lash which was inflicted on 
him in return, and became again, as he probably was before, the friend of Jon- 
son, to whom he dedicates 'The Malecontent ' in 1605. Gifford has clearly 
made out that the Crispinus of 'The Poetaster ' was Marston. Tucca thus de 
scribes him, in addressing the player : " Go, and be acquainted with him then ; 
he is a gentleman, parcel poet, you slave ; his father was a man of worship, I 
tell thee. Go, he pens high, lofty, in a new stalking strain, bigger than half 
the rhymers in the town again : he was born to fill thy mouth, Minotaurus, he 
was ; he will teach thee to tear and rand. Rascal, to him, cherish his muse, 
go ; thou hast forty forty shillings, I mean, stinkard ; give him in earnest, do, 
he shall write for thee, slave ! If he pen for thee once, thou shall not need to 
travel with thy pumps full of gravel any more, after a blind jade and a hamper, 
and stalk upon boards and barrel heads to an old cracked trumpet." Jonson, 
in the same play, has parodied Marston's manner, and has introduced many of 
his expressions, in the following verses which are produced as those of Cris 
pinus : 

" Ramp up, my genius, be not retrograde ; 
But boldly nominate a spade a spade. 
What, shall