« VorigeDoorgaan »
company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing engag'd him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, 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 tho' this, probably the first essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig'd to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.” This exploit is recorded also by Archdeacon Davies of Saperton in Gloucestershire in the latter part of the seventeenth century; and corroboration of a different kind is found in the supposed allusion to Lucy and his coat of arms in the “ dozen white luces" on Shallow's "old coat” in The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1. i. 1-23. The date of the poaching affair is unknown, but is generally conjectured to have been 1585, and his departure is placed by many biographers in that year or the next. Belief in a germ of truth in the legend, however, does not carry with it the necessity of supposing that Shakespeare's migration to London was due to Lucy's persecution. Interest in the stage, with which he seems to have become connected soon after bis arrival in the metropolis, may bave begun before he left home. While he was still a small boy, the actors of the Queen's Company and of the Earl of Worcester's Company were officially received in Stratford by his father as High Bailiff; and four companies visited the town in 1587. Those who place his removal as late as 1587, do so chiefly in order to find in the visit of the theatrical companies in that year a possible motive and occasion for the change.
The circumstances and occupation of Shakespeare on his first arrival in London are as uncertain as the date and cause of his leaving Stratford. Various late traditions unite in assigning to him some humble office in connection with the theatre, that of his holding horses outside the door being first printed in 1753. It is known, bowever, that by 1592 he had achieved considerable reputation as an actor and bad begun to write. The company of which he was early a member, and to which he belonged during the greater part, if not the whole, of his career, was that known successively as the Earl of Leicester's (-1588), Lord Strange's (1588-92), Lord Derby's (1592–94), the Lord Chamberlain's (1594-July, 1596), Lord Hunsdon’s (July, 1596-March, 1597), the Lord Chamberlain's (1597–1603), and finally, His Majesty's (1603-). Of the two playhouses in London at the beginning of his career, The Theatre is the one in which bis later associations make it probable that he first acted. Others in which this company performed were The Rose, Newington Butts, The Curtain, and, after 1599, The Globe. It is doubtful whether Shakespeare was often on the stage after his company began to occupy The Blackfriars about Christmas, 1609. To these must be added the scenes of the performances given in many provincial towns while the company was touring, from Dover to Bristol and from Richmond to Coventry. There is no satisfactory evidence that Shakespeare ever accompanied any of the English actors who performed in Scotland or on the Continent, or, indeed, that he was ever out of England at all. As to his skill as an actor, Chettle stated in 1592 that he was “exelent in the qualitie he professes," and a later report, recorded by Aubrey, says that he acted “exceedingly well.” His name ranks high in the actors' lists of his time; he played in Jonson's Every Man in his Humour and Sejanus ; and tradition associates his name with the parts of the Ghost in Hamlet and of Adam in As You Like It, neither character, it must be allowed, being one likely to be assigned to the leading performer. That be had thought deeply and wisely on the purpose and methods of theatrical art is proved by the speech of Hamlet to the players.
As early as 1592, Shakespeare's success in theatrical matters was sufficiently marked to call forth an envious attack from Robert Greene, who died in September of that year. Addressing his fellow playwrights, Greene speaks of the actors as “those puppits that speake from our mouths; those anticks garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they al bave beene beholding, is it not like that you to whome they all have beene beholding, sball, were ye in that case that I am now, be both at once of them forsaken? Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the only Shake-scene in a countrie. . . . Let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions; ... for it is pittie men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes." The words italicized are a parody on the line, "O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide !” which occurs in both The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke and 3 Henry VI, 1. iv. 137; and the word-play in “Shake-scene "confirms the interpretation which finds in the passage a denunciation of Shakespeare for his work in revising plays such as Henry VI, of the earlier forms of which Greene and his friends had presumably been the authors. A Groats-worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance, in wbich the passåge occurs, was published after Greene's death by Henry Chettle, who in December of the same year issued an apology in the prefatory address to his own Kind-Harts Dreame. "I am as sory," he says, and he is understood to be speaking of Shakespeare, " as if the originall fault had been my fault, because myselfe have seene his demeanor no lesse civill, than be exelent in the qualitie be professes; — besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writting, that aprooves his art.”
We thus find Shakespeare at the age of twenty-eight a person of some importance in theatrical circles, and recognized as a man to be reckoned with both as actor and as writer. In the two following years his versatility showed itself still farther in the publication of the highly popular Venus and Adonis and Lucrece ; and the suggestion of good relations with men of rank contained in Chettle's phrase, "divers of worship,” is made more definite by the terms of the dedications of these poems to the Earl of Southampton. The history of his next few years is mainly contained in the list of the dramas he produced; but there are other evidences of steady progress in fortune and repute. Already in 1594 he had been summoned to play before the Queen along with the most distinguished actors of the day; and from 1595 till long after his death, appeared a series of publications
, poems as well as plays, with which he had nothing to do, but to which unscrupulous publishers attached his name or initials, thus testifying to the market value of his reputation.
Meantime, in Stratford, his father's affairs were going from bad to worse, until in 1596 the stopping of all actions for debt suggests that the dramatist had returned and restored the family fortunes. In August of that year his only son Hamnet died. In that year, too, an attempt to increase the family prestige was made in the name of John Shakespeare, though probably on the initiative of the poet, by applying to the College of Heralds for the grant of a coat of arms. Two drafts of such a grant are extant dated 1596, assigning to John Shakespeare a shield described thus: "Gould on a bend sable a speare of the first, steeled, argent; and for his creast or cognizance a faulcon, his winges displayed argent, standing on a wrethe of his coullors, supporting a speare gould steeled as aforesaid, sett upon a healmett with mantelles and tasselles as hath been accustomed.” The grant
does not seem to have been issued at this time; but three years later an application was made for an “exemplification” of the coat, the previous right to wear it being taken for granted. This application was successful, and the Shakespeares were henceforth regarded as entitled to the style of “gentlemen.” A more substantial evidence of the improved status of the family was afforded in 1597, when the dramatist bought and repaired New Place, then the largest house in Stratford. He did not, however, take up bis permanent residence there till several years later. Various other legal and financial transactions indicate that he bad come to be regarded as a man of substance; and his profession was sufficiently remunerative easily to account for this. It has been reckoned that his income as an actor must have averaged before the end of the century about £130 a year, and to this must be added about £20 annually from bis plays. After The Globe was built in 1599 he became a shareholder, and the profits from this source are likely to have more than doubled his income. Gifts from patrons were not uncommon, and there may be some ground for the tradition handed down by Rowe from D'Avenant, that Shakespeare received from Southampton the gift of £1000. Money is usually reckoned to have had at that period from five to eight times its present purchasing power; but the difficulty of determining this with certainty, and the fragmentary and inconclusive nature of the bases of our information as to the financial side of the Elizabethan theatre, make it necessary to receive with caution the results of the calculations that have been made of Shakespeare's gains. There is no doubt, however, that he was an extremely successful man, that his affairs were conducted with much practical sense and shrewdness, and that he died rich. In his will be left £350 in money, with a considerable amount of real estate and other property. There is in his life, certainly, no evidence that he shared the alleged incapacity of men of imaginative genius for practical affairs.
Along with this material prosperity, Shakespeare gained steadily in literary reputation. As early as 1598, Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia or Wit's Treasury, wrote “ A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets with Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets;" and here be awards the highest praise to Shakespeare as both poet and playwright. “As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare; witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, bis sugred Sonnets among his private friends, etc. As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latines, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labors Lost, his Love Labours Wonne, bis Midsummer Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy, his Richard the 2., Richard the 3., Henry the 4., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet.
“ As Epius Stolo said that the Muses would speake with Plautus tongue, if they would speak Latin, so I say that the Muses would speak with Shakespeares fine filed phrase, if they would speake English.”
References by his literary contemporaries are fairly numerous, and are in general in this enthusiastic vein. Allusions to his personality reflect a kindly feeling in the speakers, and indicate a genial disposition in the poet, with a love of wit and good fellowship. Legendary gossip suggesting occasional extreme conviviality need not be taken too seriously, and probably implies nothing more than a fondness for making merry with his friends.
The documentary records of the later years of Shakespeare's life are concerned chiefly with law-suits and the investment of money. They are of interest chiefly as showing in Shakespeare some of his father's tendency to litigiousness, and that carefulness of his pe
cuniary interests already referred to. His father died in 1601; his mother in 1608. He was
Of Shakespeare's immediate family there survived him his wife, his two daughters, and
, and died in 1649, leaving one child, Elizabeth. This Elizabeth Hall, later Mrs. Thomas Nash, and still later Lady Barnard, died in 1670 without issue. The younger daughter, who married Thomas Quincy of Stratford, died in 1662, having outlived her three sons. Lady Barnard was thus the last surviving descendant of the poet.
The chronology of the works of Shakespeare is, except in the case of the two long poems and a few plays, the result of inferences of varying degrees of certitude. Four main divisions are generally recognized, and each of them has a fairly distinctive content. The first stretches from the undated beginnings of his work as a dramatist till about 1594, and it contains probably a greater variety of kinds of production than any other. It is no mere guesswork to call this a period of experiment. Besides the poems, we find in it representatives of all three kinds of drama then in vogue, Comedy, History, and Tragedy. In the last of these kinds he created no entirely original work, but in Titus Andronicus and the first draft of Romeo and Juliet he apparently made over plays which had already been performed. From whatever reason, he seenis after these experiments to have laid aside Tragedy for a time, to take it up again after he had mastered the more technical elements of his art, and had a larger experience of life on which to draw. In History also he began with the revision of the work of others in the three parts of Henry VI; and when he constructed plays for himself he was clearly under the influence of Marlowe. In Richard III, conception of theme and manipulation of character are alike Marlowesque; and both in that play and in King John the echo of the “mighty line
Marlowe is clearly discernible in the versification. Richard II, in spite of its parallelism in theme to Marlowe's Edward II, shows, both in the treatment of the futile king and in his highly poetic utterances, abundant indications of Shakespeare's own characteristic
In Comedy the lines of experiment are drawn with singular clearness. Love's Labour's Lost is a playful burlesque upon current fashions, and it derives its interest mainly from its clever and amusing dialogue, characterization and plot being alike slight. In The Comedy of Errors the interest of the experiment changes from diction to the manipulation of plot and situation; for Shakespeare here found his model in the Latin Comedy, and contented himself, as Plautus did, with a treatment of character typical rather than individual. In the light of his later achievement The Two Gentlemen of Verona is more significant than the two other comedies of this first period, for here he is clearly interested in character, and it was in this respect that he later achieved his preëminence in Comedy. Of the ten or eleven plays, collaborated, revised, or original, with which Shakespeare bad to do in the early nineties of the sixteenth century, The Two Gentlemen of Verona most clearly lays down the lines on which he was first to create masterpieces.
The period from 1594 to 1601 is mainly occupied with Comedy, and the Histories written in this period are more than leavened with Comedy. Henry IV, though its serious plot is filled with war and rebellion, owed its popularity to the comic elements centring in Falstaff, and constituting about half of the scenes. Henry V is free from any note of tragedy. From A Midsummer-Night's Dream to Twelfth Night we have a succession of plays of unexampled brilliance, surpassing in structure and dialogue anything that had hitherto been produced on the English stage, and in the creation of character still unrivalled. Touches of seriousness undoubtedly occur in these plays. Again and again, in the midst of the love-in-idleness with which they are chiefly occupied, we are reminded of the real business of life presently to be taken up; not infrequently the humor is mingled with pathos or grave reflection; sometimes the folly of Claudio or the fate of Shylock brings us perilously near the brink of tragedy. Yet all this does not invalidate the statement that the temper of the plays written in the last six years of the century is prevailingly that of Comedy.
Equally undeniable are the change of temper and change of theme after 1601. The intrusion of Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, and All's Well that Ends Well among the great Tragedies cannot be regarded as an objection to the calling of this the tragic period, since their presence serves in no degree to lighten the gloom. It is clear that for eight or nine years Shakespeare's dominant artistic interest was tragic; that is, he was immersed in the problem of presenting dramatically the results of certain elements of weakness and vice in human character.
About 1610 the tone changes once more. In the so-called Dramatic Romances we continue to see pictured the suffering brought about by sin and weakness; but the colors used are less sombre, and in the end the evil men turn from their ways and live.
All this has often been summed up before; and it is done here once more partly to gather and make more significant the chronological details scattered through the special introductions, partly to make intelligible the standing discussion as to whether from this arrangement of Shakespeare's literary activity there can be drawn evidence as to his emotional and spiritual history. The meaning of the experimental period will hardly be disputed. The collaborated and revised plays show that Shakespeare at the beginning of his career was glad to take what work was given him to do; and the original plays show him trying his hand upon all the chief dramatic types in vogue. His Venus and Adonis