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THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, April 23, 1564. His ancestors are mentioned as “gentlemen of good figure and fashion." His father was a considerable dealer in wool, and had been the high-bailiff or mayor of the body corporate of Stratford. He held also the office of justice of the peace, and at one time, it is said, possessed lands and tenements to the amount of £500 ; but he must have been greatly reduced in the latter part of his life, as he was excused the trifling weekly tax of fourpence, levied on all aldermen, and subsequently resigned the office to another individual. His wife was the daughter and beiress of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote, in Warwickshire, “ a gentleman of worship.” This lady brought him ten children; of whom William, onr poet, was the eldest. At a proper age be was sent to the freeschool in Stratford, to which he was indebted for whatever learning he may bave possessed; though his father had apparently no design to make him “a scholar," as he took bim, at an early period, into his own business. Mr. Malone, on the contrary, conjectures, that he was placed in the office of some country attorney, after leaving school, or with the seneschal of some mapor court, where he picked up those technical law phrases that so frequently occur in bis plays, and could not bave been in common use unless among professional men. However this may be, he resolved to write "man" earlier than usual, and before he was eighteen, married Anne Hathaway, eight years older than himself, the daughter of John Hathaway, who is said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. Before the expiration of bis minority he became the father of three children, a son and two daughters, bis wife producing bịm twins. Nothing is known of bis domestic economy or professional occupation at this time; though Mr. Capell supposes that this early marriage prevented bis being sent to some university. Shortly after the birth of bis youngest child, he lest Stratford for the metropolis : bis motive for doing so, as well as his connexion and prospects in London, are involved in considerable obscurity. It is said that he became acquainted with a gang of deer-stealers, and being detected with them in rubbing the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, was prosecuted with so much rigour as to be obliged to take shelter in London; baving first revenged himself upon the knight by writing a satirical ballad. This was affixed to Sir Thomas's park-gates, and being liberally circulated in the neighbourhood, excited considerable attention, though it does no bonour to our poet's genius, and was manifestly unjust. Some writers have asserted, that Sbakspeare escaped with impunity after his first offence; but that, repeating it audaciously, be was prosecuted by Sir Thomas, whom he grossly lampooned that to escape a prison, be fled to London, where, as might be expected from a man of wit and humour in similar circumstances, he threw himself among the players, and made bis first appearance on the stage in a very subordinate character. This account (according to a modern publication) is not entitled to full credence ; for though lie may have associated with some idle youths, either for the sake of catching deer, or for some less difficult and hazardous enterprise, yet the story seems improbable, and comes in sach a questionable shape, that it ought to be strongly corroborated before it be believed. Without depending on this circumstance, or supposing that “ he held horses at the door of a theatre for his livelihood," a rational motive for his visiting London may be found in the circumstance, that be had a relative and townsman already established there ; Thomas Green, " a celebrated comedian.” The statement of John Aubrey, a student in the university of Oxford only twenty-six years after our poet's death, strongly substantiates this view of the case, though it differs in some particulars from the commonly accepted opinions respecting his parentage and occupation. “ His father (says Aubrey) was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore, by some of the neighbours, that when lie was a boy lie exercised his father's trade, but when he killed a calfe, he would doe it in a high style, and make a speeche. This William, (meaning Shakspeare,) being naturally inclined to poetry and acting, came to London, I guesse about eighteen, and was an actor at one of the play-houses, and did act exceedingly well. He began early to make essayes at dramatique poetry, which at that time was very lowe, and his playes tooke well.” This is good to a certain extent; but the truth probably is, tbat some freak, or it might be, selony, determined Shakspeare promptly to embrace that profession to which bis habits and inclinations had for a long time previously inclined him. The Mayful entbnsiasm of his
disposition, when directed not to the useful purposes of life, but to “ poetry and acting," was calculated to encourage habits of idleness or improvidence, with a taste for those wild and irregular associations, which commence by despising order, and generally terminale in a defiance of law. When he made Falstaff a deer-stealer, and played the battery of his wit so keenly upon Justice Shallow, the recollection of his own adventure was probably uppermost in bis mind; and if there were any doubt on the subject, the circumstance of his having given to Shallow the identical quarterings of Sir Thomas Lucy, (his Warwickshire prosecutor,) would effectually set it at rest. The balance of evidence, therefore, preponderating greatly against “ this amiable man and supereminent author," bis admirers may be content to have him charged with an act of poaching, since it was the apparent cause of his producing those immortal dramas, which bave rendered him the delight of successive ages. It is not agreed in what situation he was first employed at the theatre, and Mr. Rowe has not been able to discover any character in which he appeared to more advantage than that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player, and orber passages of his works, evince an intimate acquaintance with the science of acting, and shew that he studied nature in it, as much as in writing ; but all this might be mere theory. The situation of an actor neitber deserved por engaged his attention, and was far from adequate to the prodigious powers of his mind; he turned it to a higher and nobler use ; and having, by practice and observation, acquainted himself with the mechanical part of a theatre, his native genius inspired all the other essentially superior qualities of a play-wright. The date at wbich his first play appeared is anknown, and the greatest uncertainty prevails with respect to the cbronological order in which the whole series was written, exbibited, or published. As no certain authority could be adduced upon this point, recourse has been had to internal evidence; and by searching for those marks of progressive excellence, wbich are supposed to result from exercise and improvement, the dates of each play have been pretty positively fixed.
Though Shakspeare continued to write till the year 1614, he had probably declined appearing as an actor long before that period; as no mention of his name can be found among the list of players subsequent to the production of Ben Jonson's Sejanus in 1603. He now succeeded in obtaining a license from king James to exbibit comedies, tragedies, bistories, &c. at the Globe Theatre or elsewhere, and was enabled to acquire, during bis dramatic career, properly to a considerable amount. Gildon (in his Letters and Essays,” 1694) estimated the amount at £300 per annum, a sum at least equal to £1000 in our days; but Mr. Malone thinks it could not exceed £200, which yet was a considerable fortane in those times. It is sapposed that he might have derived £200 per annum from the theatre, while he continued on the stage. Besides his thirty-five plays, Shakspeare wrote some poetical pieces, which were published separately, viz. Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Passionate Pilgrim, A Lover's Complaint, and a volume of Sonnets. The Earl of Southampton, with whom he was a great favourite, is said to have presented him with a sum of £1000, to enable him to complete a parchase---an act of munificent patronage, which has never been exceeded. He enjoyed in a great degree the personal favour of Queen Elizabeth ; and King James the First “ was pleased with bis own band to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare,” in return (as Dr. Farmer supposes) for the compliment paid to bim in Macbeth; where allusion is made to the kingdoms of England and Scotland being united under one monarchi, and James's having began to touch for the king's evil. Having acquired such a fortune as suited his views and wishes, he quitted the stage and all other business, and passed the reinainder of bis life in an honourable ease, at his native town of Stratford. or the exact time when this took place, nothing certain is known; but Mr. Theobald supposes be did not resign the theatre before 1610, since, in bis Tempest, be mentions the Bermuda islands, which were unknown to the English till 1609, when Sir Jobn Sumners discuvered them on bis voyage to North America. He lived in a very bandsome house of his own purchasing, to which, baving repaired and modelled it to his own mind, he gave the name of New Place; and be bad the good fortune to save it from the flames in the dreadful fire which shortly afterwards laid waste the town. During Sbakspeare's abode in this house, bis wit and good-bamour engaged bim the acquaintance and entitled him to the friendship of all the surrounding gentry. He was (says Aubrey) a handsome, well-shaped man, verie good companie, and of a verie ready, pleasant, and smooth wit. It is not difficult, indeed, to suppose that Shakspeare was a man of humour and a social companion, and that he excelled in that species of minor wit not ill adapted to conversation, of which it is to be wished he had been more sparing in bis writings. In the beginning of the year 1616 he made his will, wherein be testified his respect to his quondam theatrical partners, appointing his youngest daughter, jointly with her husband, his executors, and bequeathing them the bulk of bis estate, which came into their possession pot lang afterwards. It is inferred from this document, that our poet's lady did not enjoy much of bis afection, as bis "second-best bed, with the
furniture," constituled the only bequest to her. It is not known what particular malady terminated, at po very advanced age, the life and labours of tbis incomparable genius; but he died on the 23d of April, 1616, being the anniversary of bis birth-day, wben be exacuy completed his fifty-second year. He was interred among bis ancestors, on the north side of the chancel, in the great charch of Stratford, and a handsome monument, bearing the following Latin distich, was erected to his memory:
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus mæret, Olympus habet.
Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
And carst be lie that moves my bones. In the year 1741, another very noble and beaatiful monument was raised to his memory, at the public expense, in Westminster Abbey, under the direction of the Earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It stands near the south door of the Abbey, in wbat is called Poets' Corner, and was the work of Scheemaker, after a design of Kent's. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter took nothing for the ground.
Mrs. Shakspeare survived ber husband eight years, dying in 1623, at the age of sixtyseven. Or Shakspeare's family, the son died in 1596; the eldest daughter, Susanna, mar. ried Dr. John Hall, a physician of Stratford, who is said to have obtained much reputation and practice. She brought her husband an only child, Elizabeth, who was married, first to Thomas Nashe, Esq. and afterwards to Sir Jobn Barnard, of Abingdon, in Northamptonshire, bot bad no issue by either of them. The second daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney, a gentleman of good family, by whom she had three children; bat as none of them reached their twentieth year, they left no posterity. Hence our poet's last descendant was Lady Barvard, who was buried at Abingdon, Feb. 17, 1669-70. Dr. Hall, lier father, died Nov. 25, 1635, and her mother, Joly 11, 1619, and were botb interred in Stratford church. Our poet's house and lands continued in the possession of his descendants to the time of the Restoration, when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family, the original proprietors. Sir Hagh Clopton, who was knighted by King George the First, died in 1751, and his executor sold the estate to a clergyman of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, and in consequence of a disagreement with his neigue bours respecting a parochial assessment, peevishly pulled down the house, sold the materials, and left the town. To defeat the curiosity of the numerous strangers who were led to visit this classic ground, he had some time before cut down the mulberry-tree, wbich Shakspeare is known to bave planted, and bad piled it as a stack of firewood, to the great vexation, loss, and disappointment, of the inhabitants of Stratford. But an honest silversmith bought the whole stack, and converted it into a number of toys and implements, wbich were eagerly purchased by the carious. The purpose to which one of these trilles was applied gave rise to an occurrence, harmless, and perhaps laudable in itself, though by many considered as verging on the mock-heroic. The corporation of Stratford baving presented Garrick with the freedom of the town in a box made from the wood of the tree, this incident suggested to him the idea of a festival in commemoration of Shakspeare, upou the very spot where he was born; and the plan was carried into execution in the autumn of 1769. Temporary buildings were raised--entertainments suited to every taste were provided and company of all ranks, from the most distant parts of the kingdom, assembled to celebrate the memory of the poet. The jubilee lasted tbree days ; but the weatber was exceedingly unfavourable, and the pleasure enjoyed was by no means equal to that which the enthusiastic admirers of Sbakspeare had anticipated, though Garrick exerted all his talents to gratify both the eye and the understanding. He composed several songs for music, with an ode of considerable length to the honour of his hero; and having expended a large sum of money upon various parts of the entertainment, took a method of reimbursing himself, which gives a laughable finale to ibis overflow of entha
a siasm :--the jubilee was converted into a dramatic representation, during the following winter, in London, and became so popular, that it was repeated night after night to the most crowded audiences.
The nature and extent of Sbakspeare's biblical learning will form a necessary introduction to the review of his dramatic writings ; especially as there is no question connected wirb his history, opon wbich more ingenious speculation bas been hazarded. There las always prevailed a tradition that Shakspeare wanted learning, and Ben Jonson, who wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of our poet were known to multitades, affirms that he bad small Latin, and less Greek. Dr. Farmer, in a curious essay upon this subject, bas proved that his imaginary imitations from numerous old writers were derived from English books, to which he bad easy access. It is surprising how much angry argument has been employed by snch as are opposed to this opinion. Mr. Upton calis it the pride and periness of dunces, wbilst be very amusingly points out the skill with wbich Shakspeare has given “ the trochaie-dimeter-brachy-catalectic, commonly called the ithyphallic measure,” to the witches in Macbeth ; and says that now and tben a halting verse affords " a most beautiful instance of the pes proceleusmaticus !" Dr. Grey declares that Shakspeare's knowledge of Greek and Latin cannot reasonably be doubted ; and another writer doubts wbether Truepenny might not be derived from Touravov ; quoting, at the same time, with much parade, an old scholiast on Aristoplanes. Indeed, plagiarisms bave been discovered in every natural description and every moral sentiment ; a business which may be effected with very little time or sagacity, as Addison has sbewn in bis dissertation on Chevy Chase, and Wagstaff in bis comment on Tom Thumb. To cite even a portion of the passages wbich Dr. Farmer has proved to be suggested by old chronicles, translations, or books of poetry, instead of being taken directly from writers in the dead languages, would be impossible ; but one result of his inquiries may be adduced as a specimen of the wbole. “ Dr. Grey and Mr. Wballey assure us, that for the play of Hamlet, Shakspeare must bave read Saxo Grammaticus in Latin, no translation having been made into any modern language. But the truth is, that he did not take it from Saxo at all; a norel, called the Historie of Hamblet, was bis original; a fragment of which in black letter is now in my possession." Upon the same principle, Sbakspeare's allusion to the darts of Cupid in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where he says that some are tipped with gold and others with lead, does not prove bis acquaintance with Ovid, any more than his allusions to Dido establish bis knowledge of Virgil. Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate, had already song the fate of the love-sick queen, and Marlowe had even introduced her on the stage ; wbilst Surrey, Sidney, and Spenser, had defined in their amatory sonnets every characteristic distinction in Cupid's arrows. The Comedy of Errors is taken from the only play of Plautus which was then in English ; and upless those which were not translated were inaccessible to him, there is no single reason wl:y, if he copied one, be should not bave copied more. He probably bad learnt sufficient Latin to make him acquainted with construction, though be never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman authors. Concerning bis skill in modern languages, as no imitations of French or Italian authors have been discovered, ibough Italian poetry was then in high esteem, it would seem that be read Englisi only, and chose for bis sables merely such tales as he found translated. Sume Italian words and phrases appear, it is true, in his works, but they are not of his own importation. With these opinions, the reader will form his own decision upon the acquired learning of our poet; and with Drayton, the countryman and acquaintance of Shakspeare, will probably attribute bis excellence to “ the naturall braine only."
As a first impression, it naturally excites surprise, that the dramatic writings of Sbakspeare, productions so agreeable to the age that witnessed their birth, and distinguished by such unequivocal marks of popular approbation, were not more diffusely circulated from time to time through the medium of the press; or at all events secured, by the author himself, from the direct ravages of piracy or ignorance, the common accompaniments of successful genius. It is certain that Shakspeare did not himself print any one of his plays; nor was a collection of tbem published until 1623, seven years after bis death, by Hepinge and Condale, his former fellow-managers. From that period to 1664, an interval of forty-one years, only two editions were disposed of; the numerical amount of which did not probably exceed one thousand copies! Dillerent commentators bare assigned different reasons for this apparent retrocession of the national taste ; but Mr. Chalmers bas offered the most simple, and consequently the most satisfactory, solution of the circumstance, in a series of statements which it may be useful to lay before the reader, though necessarily in a condensed form. Shakspeare was the promoter of an amusement just emerging from barbarism, and one, moreover, which has ever had such a strong tendency to deviate from moral propriety, that the force of law bas been in all ages necessary to preserve it within the bounds of common decency. The church, in particular, has at all times been unfriendly to the stage ; and at this particular period, it required all the policy and circumspection of the court, to establish the reformed faith firmly in the affections of the people. To this important end the controversial efforts of the Puritans were greatly conducive, and nothing was more obnoxious to their tenets, than the toleration of dramatic amusements. Thus Elizabeth, and her successor, James, though privately disposed 10 patronize and foster the stage, as a pleasing addition to their courtly recreations, were yet under the necessity of loading it with some operous resirictions, whilst the bishops themselves publicly committed to the flames all the poetrv und