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TTTILLIAM SHAKSPERE was bora at Stratford-on-Avon, In 1564, the house where his birth took place being still preserved, and visited annually by hundreds of people. His father (John Shakspere) seems to have been in good circumstances, for, four years after William was bora' he held the position of chief magistrate of the town. He appears to have tilled some land, and to have joined with that the trades of wool-dealer, butcher and glover.
We have no definite knowledge as to where Shakspere received his education, but it is pretty certain that he attended the free Grammar School of his native place. At the age of fourteen however, he had to leave schoorand help to work, on account of his father's reduced circumstances and the size of the family, William being the eldest of ten children.
At an early age he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer.
Soon after this he left Stratford and went to London, becoming an actor and a writer^ of plays. Various opinions are given as to his reason for doing this. One is, that he fell into bad company and, having been engaged in some deer stealing, had to seek refuge in London. Another is, that he was not satisfied with his prospects at home, and went to Improve his fortune. The probability is that he was acquainted with some of the players'of the London Theatre before he left home (for one or two of them came from the same district), and
that he associated himself with them either because of his own leaning towards
their profession, or because they, perceiving his talent, persuaded him to accompany them. At any rate he made rapid progress, for we find that in 15S9, when he was twenty five years of age, he was one of the owners of the Blackfriars Theatre, in 1595'he was part proprietor also of another theatre called the Globe, and in 1597 he bought the best house in Stratford. His plays were so different from what had ever been written before, that they at once became very popular and Queen Elizabeth had several of them acted before her. The Earl of Southampton too was a good friend to Shakspere rendering him substantial service.
About 1604 Shakspere retired to Stratford, keeping his share in the Theatre and writing plays for it. He seems to have partially occupied his time also in rural pursuits. In 1616 he died and was buried in the parish church of Stratford, where a monument stands to his memory.
Shakspere is acknowledged to be one of the most wonderful writers that ever lived. His vast and varied information, his insight into human nature, his lofty intellect, his power of language, and his skill in constructing his works, show him to be a genius of the first rank. In addition to his 37 plays he wrote various poems, but his reputation rests chiefly upon his dramatic works. These are worthy of the study of the most powerful minds, and the language in which hey are expressed is a most valuable mine to every student of our English tongue.
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,1
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath : it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that t;ikes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre3 shows the force of temporal4 power,
The attribute' to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest6 God's
When mercy seasons7 justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation :8 we do pray for mercy; ■
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
1. These words are spoken by Portia in the trial scene of the Merchant of Venice. The Merchant ia apparently in the power of Shylock a Jew, who claims a pound of his flesh according to a bond. The bond is admitted, upon which Portia says, "Then must this Jew be merciful." Shylock exclaims "On what compulsion must I? Tell me that." Portia immediately answers him with the words given here to learn.
2. Strained—forced out of anyone. 3. Sceptre—a rod used as an emblem of authority on state occasions. 4. Temporal—belonging to time; earthly. 6. Attribute —that which goes along with, or belongs to anything. 6. Likest— Old superlative of like, liker, likest. 7. Seasons—mingles with; tempers. 8. None of us should see salvation.— It is entirely on account of God's mercy that we are saved. 9. We do pray for mercy—" Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us."