« PreviousContinue »
the narrowness of his circumstance, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language.” We cannot tell, however, what William's pursuits were after he left school. The parish clerk of Stratford in 1693, who was then eighty years old, told a visitor to Shakespeare's grave, that William“ was apprenticed to a butcher ;” and Aubrey says, “His father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of his neighbours, that, when he was a boy, he exercised his father's trade; but when he killed a calfe, he would do it in a high style and make a speech." There is reason to think that there is some truth in this tradition. Malone thought, but without good foundation, that Shakespeare must have been an attorney's clerk, and Aubrey says that he was at one time “a schoolmaster in the countrey.”
Under any circumstances, we may be quite sure that our poet was at this period, a bright, handsome, noble-hearted, and rather precocious youth, for we find him at an early age playing the part of “the lover sighing like furnace with a woful ballad to his mistress' eyebrow ;” and, as is the case almost invariably with young
men of ardent nature and poetic temperament, the object of his early affection was considerably older than himself. It was Anne Hathaway who first inspired tho young poet with love; and to her, no doubt, the earliest efforts of his muse were addressed. Tradition says that Anne was very beautiful. She was the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a substantial yeoman of the picturesque hamlet of Shottery.
Shakespeare's nuptials were celebrated in the latter part of the year 1582, when he was eighteen, and his bride was twenty-five, in the very bloom of womanhood. The marriage bond is dated the 28th of November, 1582. It licences the marriage of “William Shakspeare and Ann Hathaway, maiden, with once asking of the banns of matrimony," and“ Fulks Sandells and John Richardson,” described as husbandmen, bind themselves in fifty pounds as securities to the Bishop against any legal consequences. This bond is preserved at Worcester.
No entry of Shakespeare's marriage occurs in the Stratford register: he must, therefore, have been married elsewhere in the diocese of Worcester. The search for the record has, however, been fruitless.
It was towards the close of the year 1582 that Anne was led from the rustic home of her childhood, to become the wife of William Shakespeare. What his circumstances were, and what his occupation was at this time, it is impossible to decide ; but we may conclude that the Poet and his bride commenced housekeeping in a very homely way. But they were rich in each other's love, and we may be
quite sure that "sweete Anne” was as good as she was lovely; for Shakespeare, with
Shakespeare's poaching adventure in Sir Thomas Lucy's Park, is recorded by
“ Shakespeare had by a misfortune common enough to young fellows fallen into ill-company, and amongst them some that made a frequent practice of deer-stealing. He engaged with them more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought somewhat too severely, and in order to revenge that ill-usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter that it redoubled the persecution against him to that degree that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some time, and shelter himself in London.” The relations of Davies and Rowe agree in all material points.
It was about the year 1586, then, that William Shakespeare first went to London - to escape the persecution of Sir T. Lucy, as some of his biographers say—or as is more probable, he took that step with the idea of trying to advance himself, that he might be enabled better to support his family and assist his father, whose debts and difficulties had for some time been gradually increasing. John Shakespeare had become involved in a chancery suit, and had even been imprisoned for debt ; and in 1586, when a distraint was levied on him, it was discovered there were no goods to distrain. In the same year his name was struck off the roll of the corporation. This must have happened either just before or soon after our Poet's departure for London. The great change in John Shakespeare's circumstances was no doubt acutely felt by his eldest son.
There is every reason to believe that William left his wife and three infant children in Stratford, and went forth bravely and alone with an earnest determination to raise the sinking fortunes of his family. It must be remembered that at this time he was still young; he had but recently attained his majority. Perhaps his only acquaintances in the metropolis were to be found among the various companies of players, who year after year had been in the habit of visiting Stratford. They had been especially encouraged by John Shakespeare in the day of his prosperity, as we have shown, and had no doubt been always heartily welcomed by William. All his early biographers say that he sought employment at the theatres, and was “received into the play-house as a serviteur." It is impossible to trace our dramatist's career in London. We do not know even where he lodged. His brother Edmund became an actor, and lived and died in Southwark; perhaps the brothers lived together.
It is evident that William made rapid advances. The income from his labours as an actor, and from the sale of his plays and publication of his poems, must have been considerable. He soon became a shareholder in the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres.
Simultaneously with his popularity and success in London, we find his father's position improving. This is shown by deeds preserved at Stratford.
Everything tends to prove that William was always inspired by intense love for his home and devotion to his family. Tradition says that during the period of his residence in London he passed a portion of every year in Stratford. In 1596, John Shakespeare applied to the Herald's College for a grant of arms, on the strength of his wife being a co-heiress of the Ardens, a family of worship." We
may conclude that it was William who induced his father to apply for this distinction. All was going on prosperously with the Shakespeare family, when a new and terrible trouble came. Little Hamnet, the Poet's only son, died in his twelfth year, on the 11th of August, 1596. Perhaps it was for this boy's sake that Shakespeare had especially wished to obtain the coat-of-arms, which was granted early in the year 1597.
By this time (1597) William Shakespeare, who was only thirty-three years of age, had become so wealthy that he was enabled to purchase “ The Great House,” in his native town. It was the best house in Stratford. Shakespeare repaired and modelled it to his own mind, and changed its name to New Place; and we can imagine with what delight he led his beloved wife and his two little daughters to their new home. In the same year he assisted his father to recover the Ashbies estate, Mary Arden’s dower.
In 1598, when there was a scarcity of grain in Stratford, a list was made of the amount of corn and malt held by the townsmen. William Shakespeare, of the
Chapple Streete Warde, held no less than x. quarters. His neighbour and friend, Julius Shawe, held vii. quarters.
Additional evidence of William Shakespeare's prosperity at this period, and of his intense love for the haunts of his boyhood, is shown by a letter dated January 24th, 1598, from Abraham Sturley to Richard Quiney, in the course of which the former writes: “It seemeth that our contriman, Mr. Shakspeare, is willing to disburse some monei, upon some od yard of land or other att Shottre, or near about us."
William Shakespeare continued to visit London occasionally, and it is said that he furnished the theatres with two plays every year from this time. In 1598, Shakespeare's friendship with Ben Jonson is said to have arisen out of the following circumstance :-Ben Jonson, who was at that time unknown to fame, offered an amended copy of his “Every Man in his Humour,” to the players at the Blackfriars Theatre; it had been performed at the Green Curtain, in 1596. The players at Blackfriars refused it. Fortunately, Shakespeare interposed, and, after reading the
play, recommended it so heartily, that it was accepted, and our Poet's name occupies the head place in the list of the “principal comedians” who represented the Dramatis Persona. Shakespeare is said to have taken the part of Old Knowell.
It is said that Shakespeare and Beaumont used to meet Ben Jonson at the “ Mermaid Inn." The Boar’s Head,” in Eastcheap, which was unfortunately destroyed in the great Fire of London, is immortalized in the first part of “Henry the Fourth.” Of the “Falcon Tavern,” Bankside, another resort of the Poet and his dramatic companions, we give a representation. There are many old inns still in existence with large court-yards and galleries, in London, and in old provincial towns, which carry us back to Shakespeare's time.
Oldys in his MS. collections for a life of Shiakespeare, tells us, on the authority of Pope, that Shakespeare often baited at the “ Crown Inn,” [near Carfex Church,] Oxford, in his journeys to and from London. The landlady was a woman of great beauty and original wit, and her husband, Mr. John Davenant (afterwards mayor of the city), a grave melancholy man, who, as well as his wife, used much to delight in Shakespeare's pleasant company. Their son, young Will Davenant (afterwards Sir William), was then a little schoolboy in the town, of about seven or eight years old, and so fond, also, of Shakespeare, his godfather, that whenever he heard of his arrival, he would fiy from school to meet him.
Shakespeare's affection for his native county shines through all his works. The birds which sing, and the flowers which blossom on his pages, are of true Warwickshire growth. He often employed in his dramas the names of his friends and neighbours, and of people with whom he was familiar in his youth. Bardolf, Fluellen, and Parsons were well known in Stratford ; and the names of Sly, Herne, Brome, Page, and Ford are found in old records relating to the vicinity.
Again, the name of Isabel, the novice, in “Measure for Measure,” is, I beliere, a memorial of a member of the Shakespeare family. In “A Register of the Guild of St Anne of Knolle," a part of which is published in Mr. Halliwell's Life of Shakespeare, the following entry occurs :-" The 19th of llenry 7th. Pray for the soul of Isabella Shakspere, quondam Priorissa da Wraxale."
Many pleasant stories are told of Shakespeare's reputation at Court. Queen Elizabeth took great delight in attending the performance of his plays. One evening, when Shakespeare was acting the part of Henry the Fourth, the Queen sat behind the scenes. In the course of the play, while Shakespeare was speaking, her Majesty crossed the stage ; but he took no notice. Presently she returned, and, as she passed him, dropped her glove ; the poet stooped, picked it up, and said (in character),
"And though now bent on this high embassy.
Yet stoop we to pick up our cousin's glove." The words so immediately followed the conclusion of his speech that they seemed to belong to it. The Queen was greatly pleased.
A little volume might be filled with poems and sonnets written during this period in praise of Shakespeare. He had many warm-hearted friends among his brother poets. Ben Jonson says, with all the energy of truth, “ I loved the man on this side of idolatry." Michael Drayton, Leonard Digges, George Chapman, Nathaniel Field, John Marston,-indeed, most of the eminent literary men of the day,--speak of him in affectionate terms. He is called “gentle Shakspere,” “Sweet Will,” “Swan of Avon,” and “gentle Willie.”
Honoured by princes and nobles, lovingly lauded by his brother poets, esteemed by his fellow actors, respected in his native town, and above all, happy in his beautiful home at New Place, William Shakespeare seemed to be crowned with prosperity. His eldest daughter Susannah had married Dr. John Hall, a physician of Stratford, and the poet was evidently well pleased with his son-in-law.
In 1602 Shakespeare purchased of Walter Getley a house situated in Dead Lane (now called Chapel Lane), near to New Place. The house was standing about thirty years ago. The document of surrender is in the Shakespeare Museum.
In 1605 the Poet made the largest purchase he ever completed, giving the sum of £410 to Raphe Huband, for the unexpired term of a lease of the tithes of Stratford, Old Stratford, Bishoptown, and Welcombe. This bond is also preserved in the Museum.
In March 1612-13, William Shakespeare bought a house in Blackfriars, from
Henry Walker, "abutting upon a streete leading downe to Pudle Wharffe on the east part, right against the Kinges Majesties Wardrobe;" part of which tenement was erected over a great gate leading to a “capitall mesuage,” in the “tenure or occupation of the Right Honourable Henry Earl of Northumberland.” The counterpart of the original conveyance of this house to Shakespeare, is preserved in the library of the Corporation of the City of London at Guildhall. The document is printed in extenso in Halliwell's Life of Shakespeare, page 348, with a fac-simile of the Poet's signature.
Before Shakespeare had attained his forty-eighth year, he had lost both his parents and his three brothers. They were all buried at Stratford Church, with the exception of his youngest brother, Edmond, who died in Southwark, in December, 1607, and was buried in the Church of St. Saviour's. He is entered in the register as “ Edmond Shakspeare, a player.” On this occasion twenty shillings were paid for a “forenoon knell of the great bell," probably by William, who was most likely present at his interment.
Thus Shakespeare was bereft of all his near male relatives. His only son