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responding spot was Canterbury, to which pilgrims flocked to visit the tomb of Thomas Becket; but Shakspeare is the saint of Modern England, or rather the saints have been displaced by a poet.
It is appropriate that Stratford should be the shrine of Shakspeare, because he was a true Stratford-onAvonian, the place of his birth exercising a strong spell over his heart. Though his fame now fills the world, there was a time when to himself it was of immeasurable consequence to be well spoken-of by the gossips in the streets of Stratford, and, in spite of the flight of his fancy, embracing the entire realm of nature, he had in unusual degree the desire, by which ordinary men are haunted, when they have gone forth into the world in search of fortune, to be an owner of property in the place of his birth, as well as to return thither for repose, after the battle of life had been successfully fought out. An additional appropriate ness may perhaps be discerned in the relation of the place to the rest of England. On the outer wall of the pump-room at Leamington there is a large map of the surrounding neighbourhood, on which a spot is marked as being the centre of England, and this is only a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon; so that he who was destined to voice most successfully the sentiments of Englishmen was born at the very heart of their country.
At Stratford-on-Avon, then, William Shakspeare was
born in the month of April, 1564. The precise day is not known; only the date of his baptism, 26 April, being preserved in the church-register. The twentythird is usually assumed to have been the day of birth, perhaps to correspond with the day of his death, which was 23 April, 1616. He was the third of the seven children of John Shakspeare, glover, corn-merchant or butcher-he may have been all three—and there is an old tradition that William, in early youth, assisted his father in his trade, though, according to other traditions, he is said to have been in his youth a schoolmaster or a lawyer's clerk. The father was a man of repute in the little community, advancing so far as to be a councillor and even treasurer and chief magistrate of the town; but, in the midtime of life, his private fortunes declined, until they were restored through the prosperity of his famous son. Of the
1 In Shakespeare Puritan and Recusant the Rev. T. Carter has endeavoured to prove that the poverty into which John Shakspeare sank was due to the fines imposed upon him as a Puritan, especially for non-attendance at the meetings of the Corporation, from which he absented himself when the business to be done—that of persecuting his co-religionists—was contrary to his convictions. He is of opinion, besides, that it was partly feigned, the persecuted man transferring his property nominally to relatives, in order to escape the demands of the law; and there is certainly a discrepancy, difficult to explain, between the notices of his poverty and the property he is known to have held at the same time. Mr. Carter appears to me to have proved that the father of the poet did not adhere to the old religion, as has been frequently assumed; he has made out a plausible case also for his Puritan
mother we would gladly know more than we do, genius being so often inherited from that side of the stock. It is probable that she was of somewhat better social condition than her husband, as she brought him a property situated in the neighbouring hamlet whence she came, which, however, slipped from his grasp in the decline of his affairs.
Ben Jonson's well-known remark has been already quoted that Shakspeare had little Latin and less Greek; but it was of immense consequence for his subsequent career that he had a little of both. This he obtained at the Free Grammar School, which existed before his time on an ancient foundation; and the position of the father was such as to assure to his son the best education obtainable there. French and Italian would have been useful to him in subsequent life, in the collection of such materials as are required by a dramatist for the purposes of his profession; and it is probable that he may have been sufficiently acquainted with either or both of these languages to ism; but, when he goes on to conjecture that the son's adventure among Sir Thomas Lucy's deer may have been an act of revenge for the persecution inflicted on his father by a bench on which this Justice sat, he seems to have nothing solid to go upon. Mr. Carter's book, however, sheds a flood of light on the religious history of Warwickshire at that time; and, when one sees how much can be learned, through the diligent investigation of local records, about a man so obscure as Shakspeare's father, one ceases to be surprised at the completeness with which the biography of the son has been pieced together.
be able to dig out the information they concealed. As, however, his was an age when, in the flush of the Renaissance, not only the literatures of the ancient world but the literary masterpieces of Italy and France were being zealously translated into English, it is seldom certain whether Shakspeare went to the originals or contented himself with translations. His references to schoolmasters are not over-respectful; but from this it would not be safe to underestimate the debt he owed to them. Though he missed the advantages of a university education, he enjoyed as good opportunities, short of these, as the times afforded.
It is useless to indulge in conjectures as to the kind of scholar he must have been, though one may wonder what was thought of him by the schoolmasters whose names local antiquarians are still able to supply. His precocity manifested itself in a different way when, at the age of eighteen, he married a woman several years older than himself. This was Anne Hathaway, who resided, as has been already remarked, in the neighbouring hamlet of Shottery; and her social position appears to have differed little, if anything, from his own. Very soon there was born to them a daughter, and a son and another daughter followed.
What means Shakspeare had at this time for supporting a wife and family we do not know; but the next incident in his life is one which betokens either extreme necessity or a recklessness ill-befitting the
condition of the head of a family. He was caught deer-stealing on the estate of Charlecote—the local chauffeur will undertake to point out to the visitor the very spot where this took place—and was brought as a culprit before Sir Thomas Lucy, the owner of the property, who, though satirised, as Justice Shallow, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, would appear to have been a gentleman of credit and cultivation. The estate is still in the family, and in the parks round the mansion-house are to this day to be seen numbers of deer, the successors of those on which the larceny of the youthful Shakspeare was practised.
The consequence of this escapade was that Shakspeare fled the country, not taking his family with him; and he turned up in London in a penniless condition. His first occupation there, tradition alleges, was to hold the horses of the gentry visiting the theatre. Soon, however, he found his way inside, becoming a player of minor parts; and from these he advanced by degrees to be a regular member of the theatrical company, though he never specially shone as an actor, being excelled by others, especially by Richard Burbage, the most renowned actor of the day. With him and others he at length became a joint-proprietor?; and in 1599 they opened a new theatre, the Globe, on the south side of the Thames, where their business flour
1 Or at least joint-participant in the receipts.