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and plays-returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried." The truth undoubtedly is, that there are scarcely any of his distinguished contemporaries, regarding the events of whose lives we are not better informed. I supplied a few novel particulars. in the work from which I have already quoted, and I am now about to add others, with which I have since become acquainted, of a most authentic kind, and of considerable importance.
I should begin by stating that the most interesting of them are derived from the manuscripts of Lord Ellesmere, whose name is, of course, well known to every reader of our history, as keeper of the great seal to Queen Elizabeth, and lord chancellor to James I. They are preserved at Bridgewater House; and Lord Francis Egerton gave me instant and unrestrained access to them, with permission to make use of any literary or historical information I could discover. The Rev. H. J. Todd had been there before me, and had classed some of the documents and correspondence; but large bundles of papers, ranging in point of date between 1581, when Lord Ellesmere was made solicitor-general, and 1616, when he retired from the office of lord chancellor, remained unexplored, and it was evident that many of them had never been opened from the time when, perhaps, his own hands tied them together.
Among these, in a most unpromising heap, chiefly of legal documents, I met with most of the new facts respecting Shakspeare, which are the occasion of my present letter. I shall accompany the statement of them with other illustrative information, relying upon your love for literary antiquarianism to allow for any false importance which my zeal in the pursuit of such matters may attach to comparative trifles to me it seems impossible to consider any point, even remotely connected with the history and character of our great Dramatist, a trifle.
To make the matter more intelligible, I must carry you back to the period when our drama was first represented in buildings constructed for the purpose.
The most ancient of these were "the Theatre" and "the Curtain" in Shoreditch, which I imagine were built about the year 1570. The Blackfriars playhouse (where, in the winter, Shakspeare's dramas were acted, the performances at the Globe, which was open to the sky, being necessarily confined to the spring, summer, and
autumn) was erected by James Burbage, the father of Richard Burbage, in 1576. As early as 1579, the city authorities endeav ored to dislodge the players from this place of refuge, to which they had been driven by the refusal of the lord mayor, aldermen, and common council, to allow dramatic representations within the boundaries of their jurisdiction.
The Blackfriars was supposed to be a privileged precinct, to which the power of the lord mayor did not extend, the exemption being derived from times when the site was occupied by the dwelling and grounds of a religious fraternity. In 1579, the corporation en deavored to establish a right of executing process there, and of intruding a regular police. Certain inhabitants of the Blackfriars also presented a petition to the privy council at the same date, which, perhaps, led that body to require the opinion of the two chief justices of the King's Bench and Common Pleas, Sir Christopher Wray and Sir James Dyer, upon the disputed question. Their decision is among the papers of Lord Ellesmere, and, without quoting it, for it affords no information, it may be stated that it was in favor of the claim of the city magistrates. Notwithstanding this powerful support, it is quite clear that no step was taken founded upon the opinion of these great lawyers, and that James Burbage and his associates continued their performances at the Blackfriars theatre. They were no doubt backed by the powerful interest of the Earl of Leicester, who had obtained for them the patent of the 7th of May, 1574; and the following is a copy of the order issued in their behalf by the privy council, with which I have only recently been made acquainted :—
"At the Court 23rd of December 1579.
"It is ordered that the Playeres of the Erle of Leycestre be not restrained, nor in any wise molested in the exercise of their qualitye at the Blackfryars or els where throughout the realme of England, so that they be enabled the better to perforine before her Maiestie for her solace and recreation this
It is not likely that Shakspeare joined James Burbage's company seven or eight years subsequent to 1579: he came to London
for that purpose in 1586 or 1587, according to the most probable conjecture, and did not begin to write for the stage, even by the alteration of older plays, until 1590 or 1591. The earliest date at
which his name has hitherto been mentioned in connection with the Blackfriars theatre, is 1596, in a petition to the privy council, which I first printed in the "History of Dramatic Poetry," i., 298; but the MSS. at Bridgewater House now enable me to furnish, not only the name of Shakspeare, but the names of the whole company of sharers seven years earlier, and only two or three years after our great Dramatist made his first appearance in the metropolis. Shakspeare, in November, 1589, had made such way in his profession, as to establish himself a sharer with fifteen others, eleven of whose names precede his in the list, and only four follow it. They stand thus, and the enumeration is on other accounts remarkable :
This information seems to me to give a sufficient contradiction to the idle story of Shakspeare having commenced his career by holding horses at the playhouse door: had such been the fact, he would hardly have risen to the rank of a sharer in 1589, as it indisputably appears he was, on the authority of the subsequent document, which must have been transmitted to Lord Ellesmere with others of which I shall speak hereafter.
"These are to certifie your right Honble Lordships that her Maiesties poore Playeres, James Burbadge, Richard Burbadge, John Laneham, Thomas Greene, Robert Wilson, John Taylor, Anth. Wadeson, Thomas Pope, George Peele, Augustine Phillipps, Nicholas Towley, William Shakespeare, Williamı Kempe, William Johnson, Baptiste Goodale, and Robert Armyn, being all of them sharers in the blacke Fryers playehouse, have never given cause of dis
pleasure, in that they have brought into theire playes maters of state and Religion, vnfitt to bee handled by them or to bee presented before lewde spectators: neither hath anie complaynte in that kinde ever bene preferrde against them or anie of them. Wherefore they trust moste humblie in your Lordships' consideration of their former good behaviour, being at all tymes readie and willing to yeelde obedience to any command whatsoever your Lordships in your wisdome may thinke in such case meete," &c.
A brief reference to the circumstances of the time will show how this certificate became necessary. In consequence of the license taken by several companies of players in London to introduce upon the stage religion and politics, by dramas having reference to the Martin-Marprelate controversy, Lord Burghley wrote to the lord mayor, in the beginning of November, 1589, directing him to make inquiry what companies of players had offended; and on the 12th of November of the same year, the privy council addressed letters to the archbishop of Canterbury, the lord mayor, and the master of the revels, for the appointment of three persons to examine into and to remedy the abuse. Upon this occasion it was that the preceding certificate was sent to the privy council, to exonerate the Queen's Players at the Blackfriars from the charge. These facts are given in detail in the "History of Dramatic Poetry," i., 271, &c.; and I wish I could there have added the very curious document I have above quoted.
Thus we see that, in 1589, Shakspeare's name is placed twelfth in the list of the sixteen members of the company. In 1596, he had so far advanced that it was inserted fifth, when only eight of the association were named: in 1603, he was second in the new patent granted by King James on his accession. How much weight is due to these locations, and what inferences we may fairly draw from them, it is not easy to decide, but they certainly show that Shakspeare, from the first, was gradually making his way to greater prominence of station.
James Burbage was buried in February, 1596-7, leaving to his son Richard (who had then risen to the highest eminence as an actor) his property in the Blackfriars theatre. This seems to have been thought a good opportunity for again endeavoring to dislodge the players; but, although it is indisputable that some of the principal
inhabitants of the exempted precinct petitioned the privy council for the removal of what they represented as a nuisance, there is no direct evidence to show that the corporation of London interfered upon this occasion. The attempt again failed, on the counter-petition of the company, the general good conduct of which, as asserted in the preceding certificate, added to the partiality of the queen and court for theatrical amusements, having enabled it to withstand the representations of very powerful opponents. At this date, her "Majesty's Servants" not only exhibited at the Blackfriars, but at the Globe in Southwark, which had been open for about two years. From the residence of Richard Burbage in Shoreditch, and from the possession of shares in the Curtain theatre by one or more of the chief actors associated with him and Shakspeare, it seems probable that, before the erection of the Globe, in 1594, they had occasionally used the Curtain theatre as well as the Blackfriars, perhaps in conjunction with the Lord Admiral's Servants.
The enmity between the corporation of London and the actors at the Blackfriars, seems never to have abated, but to have been constantly kept alive by the exertions of the civic authorities to remove the players, and by the endeavors of the players, now and then, to retaliate: the proverbial wisdom of the citizens, and the immaculate fidelity of their wives, are constant themes in many of our old plays; and, when Leonard Haliday was lord mayor, in 1605, a formal complaint was sent to the privy council, that some of the aldermen had been brought upon the stage by the company performing within the privileged precinct. Upon this point I have met with the following singular memorandum, which is worth preserving, though it does not directly illustrate the personal history of Shakspeare, and though, as his dramas are remarkably free from attacks of the kind, it is very improbable that he had any concern in the transaction.
"LENARD HALIDAY Maior 1605.
Whereas Kempe, Armyn and others, Plaiers at the Blacke Fryers, have again not forborne to bring vpon their stage one or more of the worshipfull Aldermen of the City of London, to their great scandall and to the lessening of their authority, the Lords of the right honorable the Privy Counsell are besought to call the said Players before them and to enquire into the same, that order may be taken to remedy the abuse, either by putting down or removing the said Theatre."