« PreviousContinue »
chases. In 1602, he gave 3201. for 107 acres of land, which he connected with his former property in New Place. In 1605, he bought, for 440., the lease of a moiety of the great and small tithes of Stratford 1); and, in 1613, a house in Blackfriars for 140l. A singularity attendant upon this purchase is, that only 801. of the money were paid down, the remainder being left as a mortgage upon the premises 2).
The Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery vied with Lord Southampton in patronizing Shakspeare 3); and he was also distinguished by the notioc of two successive sovereigns, in a manner not less flattering than unusual.
The delicacy of even a “virgin queen" was not shocked by the grossness of that keen-witted voluptuary, Falstaff; and so thoroughly did Elizabeth relish the humour of the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded the appearance of Falstaff under the influence of love. To this incident in the poet's life the world is indebted for the Merry Wives of Windsor; a play, it is said, written in the short space of a fort-night 4). The extension of the poet's fame was a necessary consequence of the public approbation of his sovereign, and thus, in all probability, was the greatest benefit which resulted to him from her patronage. Of the “many gracious marks of her favour,” which Rowe makes no doubt Elizabeth conferred on Shakspeare, no vestige remains in the shape of reward more substantial than praise, on which to found a belief that the case of our poet formed an exemption to the almost invariable parsimony which charaa terized Elizabeth's conduct to literary men 5); though the dramatist was no niggard of his flattery, the most grateful incense that could be offered at the shrine of her prodigious vanity.
The drama found in James a sincere and useful patron. In 1599 he received some English comedians under his protection in Edinburgh, and scarcely was he seated on the English throne, when he effected a complete revolution in theatrical affairs. An act of parliament of the first year of his reign 6), deprived the nobility of the power of licensing comedians, and their several meagre companies then became concentrated in three regular establishments, under the patronage of the royal family. Prince Henry was the patron of Lord Nottingham's company, whicli played at the Curtain; the servants of the Earl of Worcester, who occupied the Red Bull, were transferred to the Queen, and subsequently distinguished by the designation of Children of the Revels: the King appropriated to himself the company of the Lord Chamberlain. His Majesty's licence 7) to Laurence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage, and others, constituting them his servants, confirmed them in the possession of their usual house, the Globe, and autherised their exhibition of every variety of dramatic entertainment, ini all suitable places throughout his dominions. The Globe, it appears from this document, was the general theatre of the Lord Chamberlain's company; but they had long enjoyed a sort of copartnership in the playhouse in Blackfriars, with “the Children, and subsequently became the purchasers of that house. At one or other of these theatres all Shakspeare's dramas were produced, the Globe being the summer, the Blackfriars the winter, theatre of the company to which he attached himself. Like the other servants of the household, the per
1) Wheeler's Guide to Stratford.
5) Elizabeth's treatment of Richard Robinson, the translator of the Gesta, who solicited a recompence for the Harmony of King David's Harp, which he dedicated to her by permission, may be quoted in illustration. “ Your Majesty thanked me for my good-will; your Highness was glad you had a subjeet could do so well, and that I deserved commendations. Bat for any gratification for any such labour, your Majesty was not in mynde to bestow any such relief upon me, for your Highness bad care of the chargeable voyage to come, of relieving your needy soldiers and requiting of their pains. Finally, your Highness set me not on work, and therefore you were not to pay me my wages. British Bibliographer, vol. i. p. iii. If the reader possesses any curiosity to see instances of the gross flattery used to Elizabeth, he may consult the same work and rolume, 6) Chap. VII.
7) Dated May 19, 1603.
formers enrolled in the King's company were sworn into office, and each was allowed four yards of bastard scarlet cloth for a cloak, and a quarter of a yard of velvet for the cape, every second year.
With occasional variation in the number of companies, with the rise of one establishment, and the decline of another, circumstances of little influence on the general complexion of theatrical affairs, the theatre continued pretty much on the footing on which it was placed by James, till it was buried by fanaticism amidst the ruins of monarchy and civil order. From gratitude for the honour conferred upon
company, or in compliance with the prevailing fashion of the time, Shakspeare paid his court in flattery to a monarch fully susceptible of its blandishments. Contrary to all historical authority, Banguo, the ancestor of James, is represented noble in mind, and guiltless of participation in the murder of his sovereign. The delicacy of the compliment, and the skill of its execution, well mcrited the reward it is said to have earned, -a letter from the monarch penned with his own hand 1). The delight afforded by Shakspeare to both his sovereigns, was a fact familiar to his contemporaries.
“Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were
That so did take Eliza and our James" 2). Though Elizabeth and her successor were admirers of Shakspeare. and of theatrical amusements generally, neither of them apparently ever visited the public theatres, but gratified their tastes by directing the attendance of the comedians at court. These performances before royalty usually took place at night, an arrangement which did not interfere with the other engagements of the actors. The customary fee for an exhibition in London was 6l. 135.4d., and royal bounty graciously added an additional 3l. 6s. 8d. When, however, the company attended at any palace in the vicinity of the metropolis, and consequently lost the morning performance at their own theatre, the remuneration was doubled.
At the end of a few years Shakspeare obtained a commanding voice in the management of the theatre. As a sharer he no longer received the recompence, inerely, of an actor or author for services performed, but participated, additionally, in the profits of the company. What annual income he derived from that source, it is impossible to estimate with any pretensions to precision. It is alike unknown, how many shares the property of the theatre was divided into, and how many shares Shakspeare'was possessed of. Supposing him, however, and the supposition is more than sufficiently diffident, to have stood on a footing with Heminges, who is associated with him in James's licence, we have the authority of his partner for asserting, that “a good yearly profit” 3) accrued to him from the concern, and his interest in it was as perfectly at his disposal by salc, gift, or bequest, as any thing else in his possession. It was in consequence, probably, of his elevation that Shakspeare ceased about this time to make his appearance as an actor, a profession which he followed without eminent success, and, apparently, with considerable disgust 4). In the list of the performers of Jonson's Sejanus, produced in 1603, the name of Shakspeare occurs for the last time as a comedian; and henceforth he may be supposed to have given his undivided attention to the management of the theatre, and the cultivation of dramatic literature, till he retired froin the cares of active life.
Including those plays which he either rewrote, or so materially modified as to stamp thein as his own, Shakspeare was the undoubted author of thirty-four dramas between the period of his departure from, and final return to, Stratford. Of the order in which they made their appearance little that is decisive is known; and the most ardent investigator of the subject, after a laborious search for contemporary notices of, and allusions to, Shakspeare's dramas, and for indications of time in his works themselves, has not ventured to designate the result of his
1) Davenant possessed the letter, and related the circumstance to Sheffield, Dukė of Buckingham. Oldys. 2) Ben Jonson.
3) Heminges' will. 4) Sonnets 110, 111.
labours by any other title than “An attempt to ascertain the order in which
1600 19 Merry Wives of Windsor
1601 20 Troilus and Cressida
1611 84 Tempest Some positions of this chronology rest on distinct and positive testimony, many are just deductions from certain premises, but others are the result of conjectures so refined, on allusions so obscure and dubious, as to mock the name of evidence.
Malone's arrangement was succeeded by the belief that the order of Shakspeare's plays exhibited the gradual expansion of their author's mind. But how stands the fact? In Shakspeare's long career of authorship, the brightest period is indisputably that which commences with the composition of Hamlet in 1600, and closes with Macbeth in 1606:- it was between those years that Lear and Othello were produced. Before the composition of Hamlet are found Richard II. and III., the Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, King John, a Midsummer Night's Dream, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V., As You Like It, and Much Ado about Nothing And what is the merit of Shakspeare's compositions, subsequently to the Macbeth, which transcends the excellence of these? Thé claims of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, which come under the last division, may be met by the two Richards and Henry V.: King John, an early play, is cqual to Timon; the Two Gentlemen of Verona is a drama scarcely inferior to Cymbeline; and the Merchant of Venice of more merit than the Winter's Tale. Twelfth Night, written in 1607, is indeed a coinedy of the highest excellence; but is Much Ado about Nothing lower in the rubrick? Nor is the Tempest, the last of Shakspeare's compositions, and admirable in its kind, without a rival in Midsummer Night's Dream, which is among the earliest productions of his muse. The merits of Romeo aud Juliet, the two parts of Henry IV., and the Taming of the Shrew, all early plays, still remain to be urged, and they surely throw a weight into the scale more than sufficient to
counterbalance any exceptions that can be taken against the justice of the comparisons already made.
Many of the subjects of Shakspeare's dramas are foreign, and hence, and from the frequent knowledge he displays of classic history, mythology, and poetry, an idea has been indulged, that his knowledge of languages was extensive. Ben Jonson, however, laments that his friend was master of small Latin and less Greek.” He acquired his Latin at the school at Stratford; for that language was taught in all the grammatical institutions in England: with the source of his Greek we are rot acquainted. Before the conclusion of the reign of Elizabeth, the most important works of the poets, historians, and philosophers of Greece and Rome were accessible to English readers; and though rude and uncritical, yet the early translations were sufficiently accurate for purposes of general information. Of these Shakspeare was an inquisitive and diligent reader, and hence he acquired that knowledge which has been sometimes hastily received as a proof of his classical attainments. With the languages of continental Europe his acquaintance did not perhaps extend beyond the French. His play of Henry V. proves his knowledge of that language, and all the tales whereon he grounded his plots existed either in French or English. Many of them were of Italian origin, and Italian literature was in high favour in his time; but as Shakspeare might have become acquainted with them through a French or English translation, we cannot absolutely infer his knowledge of the originals.
It happened to Shakspeare, as to many other eminent characters, to have works assigned to him of which he was not the author: these it is necessary to mention, though not to dwell upon. It will be seen from the essay on Henry VI., why the play denominated the “first” of the three parts is omitted in the preceding list, though printed in the first folio. Titus Andronicus is also included in that collection, but the internal evidence of its spuriousness would outweigh the testimony of fifty Heminges and Condells in its favour, and the same remark would have been extended to Locrine, The London Prodigal, The Puritan, Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cromwell, and the Yorkshire Tragedy, had they appeared in the first folio instead of the third, a book of no authority whatever. The first editors of Shakspeare denied Pericles a place among his works, though it is now usually printed with his undisputed productions. The honour of this association has not been granted from any conviction of the authenticity of the play, but in complaisance to some trifling amendments made in it by Shakspeare. His hand is visible in a few scenes of Pericles, but only in particular passages of the dialogue, not in the construction of the plot or the formation of the characters. Oiher dramas have been attributed to Shakspeare, but all on insufficient grounds. Besides his plays, he was indisputably the author of the poems of Venus and Adonis, the Rape of Lucréce, the Passionate Pilgrim, the Lover's Complaint, and 154 Sonnets.
'The early-formed wish of the bard to pass the evening of his days on the spot of his nativity is intimated by his purchase of New Place in 1597. In the garden of that mansion he planted, with his own hand, a mulberry-tree which long flourished under the fame of such an honourable distinction 1); and thither in 1613, or the following year, he withdrew for the repose, and the calm enjoyments of a country life 2). We learn from Aubrey that it was Shakspeare's practice to visit Stratford once a year; but up to 1596 the place of his residence in London is not known. He then lived near the Bear-Garden in Southwark; and
1) The authority for the story of the mulberry-tree is that of Mr. Hugh Taylor, an alderman of Warwick, who was eighty-five years old at the end of the last century, and had lived, when a boy, at the next house to New Place. His family had resided there for three hundred years, and it was a tradition among them that the trec in question was planted by Shakspeare's hand Note M.
2) The period of Shakspeare's retirement is not exactly ascertained: Rowe's account runs, "he spent some years before his death at his vative Stratford;" but the discovery of the mortgage on his house in Blackfriars proves that he was in London in March, 1612-13, and, consequently, makes it doubtful, whether he ceased to be a resident in the metropolis as early as had been supposed.
it-is on presumptite evidence alone, that he is said to have continued in the same abode till he finally retired to the country 1).
Shakspeare's associates were such as his connection with the theatre, and his literary pursuits led him into intimacy with. His fellows, Heminges, Burbage, and Condell, enjoyed a large portion of his affection 2). Augustine Phillips, whose name is included in King James's licence, marked his respect for the bard by a bequest of a thirty shilling piece of gold 3). With Fletcher, the literary associate of Beaumont, he was on terms of such 'friendly intimacy, that it has not been thought unreasonable to represent them as jointly concerned in the composition of the Two Noble Kinsmen. Though there is no proof of his having assisted Ben Jonson in the production of Sejanus, no doubt exists of the intimacy and friendship that subsisted between them. On the death of Shakspeare, Jonson composed an elegy on his friend; he inscribed his resemblance with his praise, and wrote (there is good ground for the belief,) the preface to the first edition of his works. Nor did time dininish his regard, or efface the remembrance of his companion from his mind. Many years afterwards, he, with warmth, exclaimed, "I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as inuch as any.” Yel with these and other literary associates, in an age of free and generous expression of friendship, it is a remarkable fact, that, with one exception, Shakspeare has not left a commendatory line on any contemporary author or publication. He joined Jonson in some verses printed at the end of a little volume of poems by Robert Chester ).
Shakspeare retired into the country at an age little past the prime of life. No hint is any where to be met with of the failure of his constitution, and the execution, in “perfect health and memory, ” of his will, on the 25th of March, 1616, raises no expectation of his speedy dissolution. He had then, however, reached the last stage of his existence. He died on the 23d of April, the anniversary of his birth, having exactly completed his fifty-second year.
On the 25th of April his body was consigned to its native earth under the north side of the chancel of the great church at Stratford. A flat stone, covering all that is mortal of the remains of Shakspeare, conveys his benediction to the respecter, and his curse to the violator, of the peace of the grave:
“Good frend, for Jesus sake forbeare
And curst be he that moves my bones. Within seven years a monument, executed with no mean skill by an unknown artist, was erected to his memory 5). He is represented under an arch in a sitting posturc; a cushion is spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left resting on a scroll of paper. Immediately under tho cushion is engraved the Latin distich,
"Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus moeret, Olympus habet;" and, on a tablet underneath,
“Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.” Of the family of Shakspeare something remains to be said. His wife survived him seven years, and died on the 6th of August, 1623, being sixty-seven years
1) What is advanced here rests on the authority of Malone, who asserted in 1796 (Inquiry, p. 213-14) that he was in possession of two documents establishing the above facts, and which he intended to adduce in his Life of Shakspeare. He lived till 1812, but never finished his work. In 1821 all that Malone had written on the subject was published by Boswell, with a large addition of illustrative papers, but without the documents in question. 2) Shakspeare's will.
3) Phillips's will. 4) A remark of the last editor of Jonson.
5) Leonard Digges published some encomiastic verses on Shakspeare before the expiration of seven years from the poet's death, in which he speaks familiarly of the “Stratford Monumeut.