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This freedom was shared by the INTERLUDE, a form not always to be distinguished from the Morality, but one in which the tendency was to substitute for personified abstractions actual social types such as the Priest, the Pardoner, or the Palmer. A feature of both forms was the Vice, a humorous character who appeared under the various disguises of Hypocrisy, Fraud, and the like, and whose function it was to make fun, chiefly at the expense of the Devil. The Vice is historically important as having bequeathed some of his characteristics to the Fool of the later drama.
John Heywood, the most important writer of Interludes, lived well into the reign of Elizabeth, and even the miracle play persisted into the reign of her successor in the seventeenth century. But long before it finally disappeared it had become a mere medieval survival. A new England had meantime come into being and new forces were at work, manifesting themselves in a dramatic literature infinitely beyond anything even suggested by the crude forms which have been described.
The great European intellectual movement known as the Renaissance had at last reached England, and it brought with it materials for an unparalleled advance in all the living forms of literature. Italy and the classics, especially, supplied literary models and material. Not only
were translations from these sources abundant, but Italian players visited England, and performed before Queen Elizabeth. France and Spain, as well as Italy, flooded the literary market with collections of tales, from which, both in the original languages and in such translations as are found in Paynter's Palace of Pleasure (published 1566-67), the dramatists drew materials for their plots.
These literary conditions, however, did not do much beyond offering a means of expression. For a movement so magnificent in scale as that which produced the Elizabethan Drama, something is needed besides models and material. In the present instance this something is to be found in the state of exaltation which characterized the spirit of the English people in the days of Queen Elizabeth. Politically, the nation was at last one after the protracted divisions of the Reformation, and its pride was stimulated by its success in the fight with Spain. Intellectually, it was sharing with the rest of Europe the exhilaration of the Renaissance. New lines of action in all parts of the world, new lins of thought in all departments of scholarship and speculation, were opening up; and the whole land was throbbing with
In its very beginnings the new movement in England showed signs of that combination of native' tradition and foreign influence which was to char
acterize it throughout. The first regular English comedy, Udall's Ralph Roister Doister was an adaptation of the plot of the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus to contemporary English life. After a short period of experiment by amateurs working chiefly under the influence of Seneca, we come on a band of professional playwrights who not only prepared the way for Shakspere, but in some instances produced works of great intrinsic worth. The mythological dramas of Lyly with the bright repartee of their prose dialogue and the music of their occasional lyrics, the interesting experiments of Greene and Peele, and the horrors of the tragedy of Kyd, are all full of suggestions of what was to come. But by far the greatest of Shakspere's forerunners was Christopher Marlowe, who not only has the credit of fixing blank verse as the future poetic medium for English tragedy, but who in his plays from Tamburlaine to Edward II. contributed to the list of the great permanent masterpieces of the English drama.
It was in the professio gal society of these men that Shakspere found himself when he came to
London. Born in the provincial S town of Stratford-on-Avon in the
heart of England, he was baptized on April 26, 1564 (May 6th, according to our reckoning). The exact day of his birth is unknown. His father was John Shakspere, a fairly prosperous tradesman, who may be supposed
to have followed the custom of his class in educating his son. If this were so, William would be sent to the Grammar School, already able to read, when he was seven, and there he would be set to work on Latin Grammar, followed by reading, up to the fourth year, in Cato's Maxims, Aesop's Fables, and parts of Ovid, Cicero, and the medieval poet Mantuanus. If he continued through the fifth and sixth years, he would read parts of Vergil, Horace, Terence, Plautus, and the Satirists. Greek was not usually taught in the Grammar Schools. Whether he went through this course or not we have no means of knowing, except the evidence afforded by the use of the classics in his works, and the famous dictum of his friend, Ben Jonson, that he had “small Latin and less Greek.” What we are sure of is that he was a boy with remarkable acuteness of observation, who used his chances for picking up facts of all kinds; for only thus could he have accumulated the fund of information which he put to such a variety of uses in his writings.
Throughout the poet's boyhood the fortunes of John Shakspere kept improving until he reached the position of High Bailiff or Mayor of Stratford. When William was about thirteen, however, his father began to meet with reverses, and these are conjectured to have led to the boy's being taken from school early and set to work. What business he was taught we do not know, and indeed we have little more information about him till the date of his marriage in November, 1582, to Anne Hathaway, a woman from a neighboring village, who was seven years his senior. Concerning his occupations in the years immediately preceding and succeeding his marriage several traditions have come down,-of his having been apprenticed as a butcher, of his having taken part in poaching expeditions, and the like—but none of these is based upon sufficient evidence. About 1585 he left Stratford, and probably by the next year he had found his way to London.
How soon and in what capacity he first became attached to the theatres we are again unable to say, but by 1592 he had certainly been engaged in theatrical affairs long enough to give some occasion for the jealous outburst of a rival playwright, Robert Greene, who, in a pamphlet posthumously published in that year, accused him of plagiarism. Henry Chettle, the editor of Greene's pamphlet, shortly after apologized for his connection with the charge, and bore witness to Shakspere's honorable reputation as a man and to his skill both as an actor and a dramatist.
Robert Greene, who thus supplies us with the earliest extant indications of his rival's presence in London, was in many ways a typical figure among the playwrights with whom Shakspere worked during this early period. A member of both universities, Greene came to the metropolis while