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FAMILY variously named Shaxper. Shakespeare, Shakspere and Shakspeare 2), was spread over the woodland part of Warwickshire in the sixteenth century. They were tradesmen and husbandmen, and their property was at least respectable; different depositories of legal writings proving it to have been frequently the subject of judicial controversy and testamentary disposition.
Of that particular branch of the family whence the poet descended, nothing whatever is known beyond his immediate parent 3), John Shakspeare, who was originally a glover 4), and, subsequently, a butcher 5), and also a dealer in wool in the town of Stratford 6). He filled various municipal offices in the borough; among the records of which his name first appears in 1555, in an account of the proccedings of the bailiffs.court. In Michaelmas, 1557, or some time very slightly subsequent 7), he was admitted a member of the corporation. In September, 1561, he was elected one of the chamberlains, and filled that office during two successive years. In 1565 he was invested with an alderman's gown; and in 1568 he attained the supreme honours of the borough, by serving as high-bailiff from Michaelmas in that year to the same festival in the following. Two years afterwards, 1571, he was elected and sworn chief alderman for the ensuing year 8).
The progress of John Shakspeare in municipal distinctions is an implication of respectability which is supported by other considerations. His charities rank him in the second class of the townsmen of Stratford 9); a public document, referring to the year of his magistracy, states him to have been possessed of
1) Note A.
2) Note B. 3) Rowe's account of the family is this: “It appears by the register, and other public writings of Stratford, that the poet's family were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen. “ This is extremely inaccurate.
4) A manuscript of the proceedings of the Bailiff's Court in 1555, which so describes him. 5) Aubrey.
6) Rowe. 7) On Michaelmas day, 1557, John Lewis was the last on the list of burgesses, and there were then four vacancies. The next existiug enumeration of burgesses is one dated 1564, in which Joha Shakspeare stands next but one to Lewis: he, therefore, probably, was elected into one of the vacancies mentioned. On this occasion Malone says, in the text of his Life of Shakspeare, “It appears from a paper inserted below, etc." We look below, and are met by, “See Appendix.“ We look in the Appendix, and search in vain for the promised document. Similar disappointment is occasioned in the two succeeding pages, 76, 77.
8) Pegist, Burg. Strat. Whatever respectability the corporation of Stratford boasted, their claims to erudition must have been most humble: ont of nineteen members of that body who signed a paper in 1564, only seven could write their names, and among the twelve who set their mark, is John Shakspeare; he is kept in countenance, however, by the then chief magistrate, whose cross is ostentatiously termed “the sign manual of the high bailiff.”
9) In a subscription for the relief of the poor in 1564, out of twenty-four persons, twelve gave more, six the same, and six less than John Shakspeare: in a second subscription by fourteen persons, eight gave more, five the same, and one less.
perty to the amount of five hundred pounds 1); so early as 1556 he was the holder of the leases of two houses, one in Greenhill, the other in Henley-street, Stratford, and in 1570 hc rented fourteen acres of land, called Ingon, or lngton, meadow 2). His prosperity was undiminished in 1574, when he purchased two houses, with a garden and orchard annexed to each, in Henley-street, Stratford 3).
While in the exercise of his magisterial office, John Shakspeare obtained from the Herald's College a concession of arms.
From some unexplained cause, he made another application for a grant of arms in 1596, with similar success; and, in 1599, procured a confirmation, or exemplification, of the former grants, with permission, in consideration of his marriage with Mary Arden, to impale his own with the arms of that ancient family 4). Some property in money, an estate in land, and an exaltation in rank, were the beneficial consequences of this alliance 5).
Mary was the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilmecote in Warwickshire. The Arden family was of great antiquity, and, in the reign of Henry the Seventh, in particular, of some consideration. Sir John Arden, the elder brother of Mrs. Shakspeare's great-grand-father, was squire for the body of that king; her grandfather was groom, or page, of the bedchamber to the same monarch, who rewarded his fidelity by constituting him keeper of the park of Aldercar, and bailiff of the lordship of Codnore 6).
In 1574, John Shakspeare's affairs began to fall into decay. In 1578, he mortgaged the small estate he cujoyed through his wife, for forty pounds 7); and his difficulties were so well known to his brothers of the corporation, that they remitted to him, in the same year, the payment of half the sum of six shillings and eight pence levied upon each alderman, and entirely exempted him from a weekly contribution of four pence to the poor 8). At the same time, also, he was indebted five pounds to a baker at Stratford, and compelled to obtain collateral securities for its payment 9). In the following year his name is among the defaulters to a contribution for the purchase of defensive armour and weapons 10). In 1585-6, a distress was issued for the seizure of his goods, which his poverty, however, rendered nugatory, it being returned “Joh’es Shackspere nihil habet unde distr. potest levari” 11). He was shortly after dismissed from the corporation for a neglect of attendance at the halls for the seven preceding years 12); and, in 1587, subjected to an action for debt 13). The precise state of his affairs during the ten succeeding years is not known, but it does not seem likely, from his describing himself in 1597 as of “very small wealth and very few friends,” that the sun of prosperity ever again shone upon him 14); and a supplication from the bailiff and burgesses of Stratford, in 1590, records the bopeless depression of the once highly prosperous trade of a woolstapler. The town had then “fallen into much decay for want of such trade, as heretofore they had by clothing and making of yarn, employing and maintaining a number of poor people by the same, which now live in great penury and misery, by reason they are not set at work as before they have been” 15).
John Shakspeare died in 1601. His family was numerous: Jone, Margaret,
1) Grant of arms to John Shakspeare, 1596.
in 3) Chirograph of a fine levied to John Shakspeare, bv Edmund Hall, and Emma his wife, 1574. Deed executed by Elizabeth and Thomas Nash in 1699.
4) Note C.
6) Grant of arms to John Shakspeare. Fuller's Worthies. Dugdale's Antiq. Sir John Arden's will, 1526, Prerog. 08. Grants to Robert Arden. An Inquisition made in 1591.
7) Johu Shakspeare's bill of complaint against John Lambert.
William, Gilbert, Jone, Ann, Riehard, and Edmund 1). The first born, Jone, died in earliest infancy, and Margaret when only five months old.
William was the poet. Of Gilbert nothing appears after the registry of his baptism 2): the register, indeed, mentions the burial of “Gilbert Shakspeare, adolescens,” in 161112, who might, or might not, have been the son of the elder Gilbert. Jone married William Hart, a hatter in Stratford. She died in 1646, leaving three sons 3). She was remembered in her immortal brother's will by a contingent legacy of fifty pounds to her and her children; a bequest of twenty pounds, all his wearing apparel, and the house which she then occupied, at a ycarly rent of one shilling, for her life. The Harts have continued in Stratford during the two centuries which have elapsed since the poet's death. In 1794, one of Shakspeare's two houses in Henley-street was the property of Thomas Hart, a butcher, the sixth in descent from Jone. Ann Shakspeare died in infancy 4). Richard was buried in 1612-13. 5) Edmund Shakspeare embraced the calling of an actor, influenced, probably, in his choice by the connection of his brother with the theatre. He was a player at the Globe, lived in St. Saviour's, and was buried in the church of that parish on the 31st of December, 1607. 6)
William SHAKSPEARE was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in April, 1564 7), a fact which comprises the whole of the poet's history, till he is found, "for some time,” at the free grammar school of his native town 8), where he, doubtless, acquired the Latin, “the small Latin, " that his friend Ben Jonson assures us he was master of. The narrowness of his parent's circumstances was an insuperable bar against the progress of his education, and he was summoned home to assist in the occupation of his father 9), which, at the period now spoken of, was that of a butcher, it'the tradition is to be credited which relates, that young Shakspeare killed a calf in “high style," and graced his slaughter by a speech 10). The same authority assigns also to his younger years the occupation of a schoolmaster in the country 11).
Shakspeare had scarcely attained the age of eighteen, when he married. His wife was Anne, the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford 12). She was twenty-six years of age, (eight years older ihan her husband,) who neither bettered his circumstances, nor elevated himself in society by the connection. In the following year, 1583, his daughter Susanna was born; and about cighteen months afterwards his wife bore twins, a son and a daughter, who were baptized by the names of Hamnet and Judith 13).
Shakspeare's marriage was no proof of his worldly prudence, nor was the next great event in his life of a wiser character.
His associates, it is recorded, were dissolute, and some of them made a frequent practice of deer-stealing. Shakspeare was, on one more than one occasion, induced to join them in their incursions on the property of Sir Thomas Lucy,
1) Note D.
2) The text states the fact literally; but I have no doubt, that Gilbert lived till after the Restoration of Charles II., and was that brother of Shakspeare of whom Oldys reports, that he saw the dramatist perform the character of Adam in As You Like It. See Note N. 3) Parish Register of Stratford.
5) Ibid. 6) Register of Saint Saviour's parish.
7) Parish Register. He was baptized on the 26th, and the day of his birth is said to have been the 23d, but on no sufficient authority. 8) Rowe.
10) Rowe. 9) Aubrey. A good story is seldom good enough for Aubrey. He adds, “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.'
11) Aubrey. Note E.
12) Rowe says, "the daughter of one Hathaway.” The inscription on her tomb-stone, in Stratford church, proves her christian name and her age. “Here lyeth interred the body of Anne, wife of William Shakspeare, who departed this life the 6th August, 1623, being of the age of 67 years." The date of Shakspeare's marriage is only known by reference to the birth of the first child. Note F.
13) Parish Register.
of Charsecofe, in the neighbourhood of Stratford. The opinions of the injurer and the injured, in a case of this sort, were not very likely to accord; and it, therefore, excites no surprise that, on detection, Shakspeare imagined himself too harshly treated. In revenge, he affixed a scurrilous ballad to the gate of the owner of the stolen deer 1). One stanza of the oil'ensive pasquinade has descended in connection with the story of its author's indiscretion:
“A parliament member, a justice of peace,
He thinks himself greate,
Yet an asse in his state
Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it” 2). This aggravation of injury by insult was productive of the very natural consequence of increased severity on the part of Sir Thomas Lucy, and proceedings were urged so far against the youthful offender, as to induce him to fly from the place of his nativity, the seat of his business and the bosom of his family 3). The date of his departure is uncertain. It might have been previous to 1585, though histwin children were baptized at Stratford in the February of that year; and il miglit, with, perhaps, greater probability, be assigned to a subsequent period.
The inhabitants of Stratford were great lovers of theatrical amusements. No less than four-and-twenty visitations were made them by companies of comedians between 1569, when Shakspeare was five years old, and 1587. The names of Burbage and Green occur, both in the London companies of actors and in the lists of the townsmen of Stratford 4). From his earliest childhood, therefore, to his advancement into manhood, the attention of Shakspeare was directed to the stage, by frequently recurring attraction, and in all probability, by an acquaintance and association with comedians. When a change of life became unavoidable, it is natural to suppose that he yielded to the predilection of his youth. His fugitive steps were directed to London: he there embraced the occupation of a player, and, subsequently, of a writer for the stage 5).
Shakspeare's arrival in the metropolis is an era in the history of the theatre, and I shall therefore trace the national drama from its birth, through its slow and sickly growth, to the time of which I am writing. A natural curiosity will be similarly gratified by the collection and arrangement of the scaltered and various information we possess relative to the theatres and theatrical usages of Shakspeare's time; for who can be indifferent respecting the circumstances under which his works were first introduced, and exhibited, upon the stage 6)?
Mysteries, or miracle-plays, were mostly founded on the characters and events of sacred writ, or on the superstitions with which the fair form of religion was surrounded. On the personification of the Deity, of Christ, and the Iloly Ghost; and on the representation on the stage of the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, and Ascension, not a syllable need he said; nor is the appearance of Adam and Eve, in one scene, naked and not ashamed, and in the next covered with lig leaves, exactly a topic for criticism. The Devil was a particular favourite with the audience; usually displaying horns, a very wide mouth, large eyes and nose, a flame-coloured beard, a cloven foot, and a tail. A nimble personage, called the Vice, was his constant companion, whose wit consisted in juinping on the devil's back, and in the buffoonery of chastising him with a wooden sword, till his satanic majesty bellowed lustily under the infliction. The altercation of
2) Jones of Tarbick, - related by Oldys and Capell. The ballad has, at last, been discovered entire; but unaccompanied by any allusion to the occasion of its composition. The lines in the text are printed as two stanzas in the entire ballad.
“He thinks himself greate, yet an asse in his state,” forming the first line of the second stanza. Nute G. 3) Rowe.
4) Note H. 5) Note 1.
6) Note J.
Noah and his wife in the Deluge, is a specimen of the treatment of sacred subjects, wlien converted into mysteries. “Welcome, wife, into this boat,” is the polite salutation of the attentive husband on handing his lady into the ark; “ Take thou that for thy note," with the dutiful accompaniment of a box on the car, is the eloquent rejoinder of the mother of the modern world. These productions, wretched and impious as they seem to us, were deemed serviceable to the interests of religion. l'estivals and saints' days were selected for their performance; a pardon of one thousand days was awarded by the Pope, and forty additional days by the bishop of the diocese, to all who resorted in Whitsun week to the representation of the series of mysteries at Chester," beginning with the Creation and fall of Lucifer, and ending with the general judgment of the world.” Monasteries, abbeys, and churches, were the usual places of their exhibition, and, for some time, the clergy themselves the only performers; but, by degrees, many of the parts fell into the hands of the scholars and choir-boys, attached to the monastic establishments, and on them the entire performance ultimately devolved, the clergy being prohibited, by an injunction from the Mexican council, ratified at Rome in 1589, from ever playing in mysteries again. The parish-clerk 3 of London availed themselves of their ability to read, and performed spiritual plays at Skinner's Well, for three days successively, before Richard the Second, his queen, and the nobles of the realm.
The popularity of miracle-plays and mysteries continued through four centuries. Early in 1500 their performance was, however, more occasional than heretofore. The Chester mysteries were revived for the last time in 1574, and the exhibition, in the reign of James the Firsť, of Christ's Passion, on Good Friday, was the final degradation which subjects so solemn experienced on the stage:
The first departure in mysteries from the literal representation of scriptural und legendary stories, was the introduction of allegorical characters as auxiliary. to the main design. Some altention was then bestowed on plot, description of manners, and discrimination of character. Sin, death, faith, hope, charity, and the leading passions or vices of mankind, personified, at length became the principal agents, and dramas so constructed were called moralities, in contradistinction to mysteries. Moralities made their appearance about the middle of the fifteenth century, from which time they divided popularity pretty equally with mysterics, till the improved understanding of the audience drove both from the stage.
Mysteries naturally paved the way for the adoption of historical or romantie tales, as the subject of a drama; and from moralities, wherein the characters were allegorical, and the plot fanciful, the transition was easy to entertainments of nearer approach to the regular play.
The custom of exhibiting pageants on great public occasions, in honour, and for the recreation, of royalty, powerfully aided the introduction of the drama. Appropriately habited, historical and allegorical characters represented stories in dumb-shew on temporary moveable stages in the streets. In the reign of Henry the Sixth, dialogue and set speeches in verse were added. Hence may be deduced those most incongruous productions, masques; hence ideas were derived of the introduction of profane characters on the stage, and the mixture, subsequently met with, of pantomime and dialogue in the same play, and the allegorical representation in dumb shew of the matter of the scenes which followed.
It is to the universities, inns of court, and public seminaries, however, that we are indebted for the firsť regular dramas which our language boasts. The scholars of these establishments assiduously engaged in free translations of the classical models of antiquity, and in the composition and performance of plays constructed on their model. The earliest tragedy, Gorbodue, or Ferrex and Porrex, the joint effort of Sackville Lord Buckhurst, and Thomas Norton, was performed at the Inner Temple in 1561-2; and the first comedy, Gammar Gurton's Needle, a juvenile production of Bishop Still, was acted at Christ's Church, Cambridge, in 1566.
There is a general similarity between all the plays that preceded Shakspeare's dramatic efforts. Their authors had no notion of a plot comprehending one great design, nor of a plot consisting of several actions emanating from the same