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Shakespeare his superiority; but he forgave at least one of them his envy; for when, a few
years after, he wrote As You Like It, he made Phebe say of Marlowe, quoting a line from Hero and Leander,
“Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?'” Greene sank into his grave, his soul eaten up
with envy as his body with disease; but he was spared the added pang of foreseeing that his own name would be preserved in the world's memory only because of his indirect connection with the man at whom he sneered, and that he would be chiefly known as his slanderer. Had he lived to see his book published, he would have enjoyed such base and pitiful satisfaction as can be given by revenge. His little arrow reached its mark, and the wound smarted. As the venom of a sting often inflicts more temporary anguish than the laceration of a fatal hurt, such wounds always smart, although they rarely injure; and few men are wise and strong enough to bear their suffering in dignity and silence. Whether, if Greene had been alive, Shakespeare would have publicly noticed his attack, can only be conjectured ; but I feel sure that he would have been kept from open wrangle with such an assailant by his reticence and self-respect. Yet, although he was above petty malice and recrimination, he was sore and indignant; and he, and others for him, protested against the wrong which had been done him in Greene's pamphlet.
He did not protest in vain; for Chettle, Greene's editor, although he treated with great contempt a like complaint of disrespect on the part of Marlowe, whom Greene had also slurred, apologized to Shakespeare in a tract called The Kind Heart's Dream, which he published immediately afterward, saying that, although he was personally guiltless of the wrong, he was as sorry as if the original fault had been his own to have offended a man so courteous, so gifted, and one who, by his worth and his ability, had risen high in the esteem of many of his superiors in rank and station.* Greene died in the autumn of 1592, and his pamphlet and Chettle's were both published in the same year. Thus Shakespeare, within six or seven years of his departure from Stratford a fugitive adventurer, had won admiration from the public, respect from his superiors, and the consequent hate of some, and, what is so much harder of attainment, the regard of others, among those who were his equals, except in his surpassing genius.
These two pregnant passages, which we owe to the malice of a disappointed rival, are the first public notice of Shakespeare, and our earliest authentic record of his presence in London.t By
* See Chettle's apology in full and verbatim in the Essay on the Authorship of King Henry the Sixth, Vol. VII. p. 410, as above.
t In 1835 Mr. John Payne Collier published a small volume entitled New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare, in which he brought to notice six documents as having been found at Bridgewater House among the papers of Lord Ellesmere, who was
this time he had produced, in addition to his contributions to partnership plays and to old ones partly rewritten, The Comedy of Errors, Love's La
Chancellor in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. One of these documents was an unsigned certificate or memorandum, intended apparently for the Privy Council, exculpating the players at the Black-friars Theatre from a charge of having meddled in matters of state and religion, which had been brought against the theatres generally in 1589. Among the names of the players mentioned in this paper as sharers in the theatre appears that of William Shakespeare, which stands twelfth on the list. The document is as follows:
“These are to sertifie yor right honorable Ll., that her Mats poore playeres James Burbidge Richard Burbidge John Laneham Thomas Greene Robert Wilson John Taylor Anth. Wadeson Thomas Pope George Peele Augustine Phillippes Nicholas Towley William Shakespeare William Kempe William Johnson Baptiste Goodale and Robert Armyn being all of them sharers in the blacke Fryers playehouse haue neuer given cause of displeasure, in that they haue brought into their playes maters of state and Religion, vnfitt to be handled by them or to be presented before lewde spectators neither hath anie complainte in that kinde ever beene preferrde against them, or anie of them Wherefore, they trust most humblie in yor Lls consideracion of their former good behauiour being at all tymes readie and willing to yeelde obedience to any comaund whatsoever yor Ll in yor wisdome may thinke in such case meete, &c.
Until recently this memorandum was received as genuine ; and were it so, it would show us that, within three years after his arrival at London, William Shakespeare had advanced from the position of servitor, apprentice, or hired man in the Lord Cham. berlain's company to that of a sharer in the receipts of the company, not that of a proprietor of the theatre. But suspicion of the genuineness of the documents brought forward by Mr. Col. lier having been excited, this, among the others, was carefully
bor's Lost, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, his earliest original productions. He was already thriving, with prosperity in prospect. But he had
examined by the most eminent palæographists in London, some of them holding high official positions, and all pronounced it a forgery. The facts in regard to the investigation of the character of these documents will be found in Mr. N. E. S. A. Hamilton's Inquiry, &c., 4to, London, 1860 ; Dr. Mansfield Ingleby's Complete View of the Shakespeare Controversy, London, 1861 ; Mr. Duffus Hardy's Review of the Present State of the Shakespearian Controversy, London, 1860; and in The Shakespeare Mystery, in the Atlantic Monthly, Sept., 1861. It is possible, though very improbable, that the judgment pronounced by such high palæographic authorities may be incorrect; but the documents are put by this decision out of question as evidence of the bare and meagre facts in Shakespeare's life which they profess to establish.
In Spenser's Teares of the Muses, printed in 1591, a passage beginning with the lines,
“And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate,
Our pleasant Willy, ah, is dead of late,”. has been held to refer to Shakespeare; chiefly, it would seem, because of the name, Willy. But that, like “shepherd,” was not uncommonly used merely to mean a poet, and was distinctly applied to Sir Philip Sidney in an Eclogue preserved in Davidson's Poetical Rhapsody, published in 1602. And the Teares of the Muses had certainly been written before 1590, when Shakespeare could not have risen to the position assigned by the first poet of the age to the subject of this passage, and probably in 1580, when Shakespeare was a boy of sixteen in Stratford. Indeed, the notion that Spenser had him in mind would not merit even this attention, were it not that my readers might suppose that I had passed it by through inadvertence. All that ingenuity and persistent faith can urge in support of it the reader will find in Mr. Knight's and Mr. Collier's biographies of the poet.
literary ambition which play-writing did not satisfy (for that he did as a conveyancer draws deeds, -as business); and he had a poem written ; so he still looked about for a patron. Now, there was at this time in London a nobleman of high rank and large wealth, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, who had a genuine love of letters, and who was just upon the threshold of a lordly life. As yet he had not exhibited in any marked degree the high spirit, the fine capacity of appreciation, the graciousness, and the generosity which made him afterward admired and loved of all men at the court of Queen Elizabeth. For at the publication of Greene's pamphlet he was but nineteen years old, and Shakespeare was nine years his senior. Loving literature and the society of men of letters, he had a special fondness for the drama, and, being a constant attendant upon the theatre, he saw much of Shakespeare and his plays; and there can be no doubt that he was one of those “divers of worship” whose respect for the poet's “ uprightness of dealing” and admiration of his "facetious grace in writing" Chettle assigns as one reason for his apology to a man whom, it is very easy to see, he did not think it prudent to offend.* Shakespeare must have had
* The meaning of the word “facetious” in this well-known passage has been very generally misunderstood, and by none more completely than by Miss Bacon, who rested her misapprehension of Shakespeare's rank among his contemporaries much on Chet