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“Chi ruba un corno un cavallo un anello,
E simil cose, ha qualche discrezione,
E tanto più odio e pena è degno
Canto LI. St. 1.
Now, when we consider that the faculty and habit of assimilating what he read was one of Shakespeare's mental traits, and that both these passages of his, so identical in thought and in expression with others in two Italian poets who wrote on kindred subjects, occur in a play founded upon an Italian novel which had not been rendered into our language in his day, can we reasonably doubt that he was sufficiently an Italian scholar to read Ariosto, Berni, and Giraldi Cinthio in the original ? †
* As no English translation has been made of the Orlando Innamorato, I must ask the reader who cannot command the original to be content with this rendering of the above stanza :
The man who steals a horn, a horse, a ring,
Or such a trifle, thieves with moderation,
But he who takes away a reputation,
His deed is robbery, assassination,
† Mr. Halliwell in his Life of William Shakespeare, p. 190, quotes from a MS. entitled The New Metamorphosis, which was
The consideration of this subject has diverted us from the course of Shakespeare's life, and has given us an anticipatory glance of one of its few landmarks; which, however, are so well known, that I have not sought and shall not seek solicitously to follow them in due order.
John Shakespeare's prosperity hardly lasted to his eldest son's adolescence. Betterton heard a tradition, that the narrowness of his circumstances and the need of his son's assistance at home forced him to withdraw William from school; and the evidence of town registers and of court records corroborates the story. In 1578, when the young poet was but fourteen years old, his father mortgaged the farm at Ashbies for forty pounds to Edmund Lambert. That this step was taken, not to raise money for a venture in trade or for a new purchase, but on account of serious embarrassment, is shown by a concur
written "by J. M. Gent. 1600," the following lines, which he, not having Berni's stanza in mind, naturally regards as an imitation of the passage of Othello in question, and therefore, of course, as evidence that that play was written before the date of the MS. :
“The highwayman that robs one of his purse
And in exchange give obloquy and shame.” But J. M.'s lines are, on the contrary, a manifest imitation of Berni’s, rather than Shakespeare's; and if they have any bearing at all upon the question of the date of Othello, (which in my opinion they have not,) they show that it was written after 1600.
rence of significant events, all pointing in the latter direction. In the same year when his fellow-aldermen assessed themselves 6s. 8d, each towards the equipment of pikemen, billmen, and an archer, he is set down as to pay only 35. 4d. Again in that year when the aldermen paid 4d. each a week for the relief of the poor, it was ordered that John Shakespeare should not be taxed to pay anything. In March, 1578-9, the inhabitants of Stratford having been assessed for the purchase of arms, he failed to contribute his quota. In October, 1579, he sold his wife's share in the Snitterfield property, and in 1580 a reversionary interest in the same, — the latter for forty pounds. Six years afterwards his little wealth had found such wings that, a distraint having been issued against him, the return made upon it was, that he had nothing upon which to distrain ; whereupon a writ of capias was issued against his person, — he who as high bailiff had but a short time before issued such writs against others.* He seems even to have been in hiding about this time; for the town records show that in 1586 he was deprived of his alderman's office, the reason given being that "Mr. Shaxpere dothe not come to the halles when they be warned, nor hathe not done of longe tyme"; and it appears, on the same authority, that he had thus absented him
* The Shakespeare Society of London was in possession of two such writs.
self for seven years. But before March of the next year he had been arrested, and was imprisoned or in custody, doubtless for debt, according to the barbarous and foolish practice of which our brethren in the mother country have not yet rid themselves. This we know by his suing out a writ of habeas corpus in the Stratford Court of Record. Perhaps he suffered this indignity on account of his kindness to his brother Henry, before mentioned, who had much money trouble, and for whom he became surety to one Nicholas Lane for ten pounds. Henry not having duly paid this sum, Lane sued John Shakespeare for it in February, 1587. To follow his sad fortunes yet further, in 1592 a commission, upon which were Sir Thomas Lucy and Sir Fulke Greville with six others, which had been appointed to inquire into the conformity of the people of Warwickshire to the established religion, with a special eye to Jesuits, priests, and recusants, reported many persons "for not comming monethlie to the churche, according to hir Majestie's lawes”; and among them was John Shakespeare. But the commissioners specially note as to him and eight others, that “it is sayd that these last nine coom not to churche for fear of processe for debtte."
Thus low in fortune and estate had sunk the once prosperous high bailiff of Stratford, in the veins of whose children ran the blood of men who
had owned half the county through which he skulked, a bailiff-hunted debtor. Those very children added largely to his anxiety and his cares. For since Margaret's death six had been born to him : William ; Gilbert, born in 1566; a second Joan, in 1569; Anne, in 1571; Richard, in 1573-4; and Edmund, in 1580. Rowe, upon Betterton's authority, says that John Shakespeare had “ten children in all.” But Betterton only reported tradition; and the Stratford parish register, better authority on such a point, records the baptism of no more than eight, two of whom, as we have seen, died before their father reached the height of his prosperity; and Anne died at the beginning of his troubles. At her burial there were both pall and bell, for which it has been discovered that eight pence were paid, while other children buried in the same year (1579) were honored with only half the ceremony, the bell, at half the price. This has been accepted as evidence that John Shakespeare had money to spare. He doubtless meant that it should be so regarded ; and he deceived even posterity. As long as funeral ceremonies are deemed important, they will be the last as to which poverty will compel retrenchment. In 1579 John Shakespeare had not abandoned the struggle to keep up appearances. Had his purse been fuller, or his position lower, he might have been willing to save the four pence. But a few years later five little mouths to feed,