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The volume in which this anecdote is found, is not much to be relied upon; for the author has been, in several in, stances, detected as too credulous in receiving the reports of others, or as actually criminal, in giving the reins to his imagination, and supplying the want of facts by the resources of his invention. The verses, however, which prove not to have been, as was originally supposed, part of the first satirical effusion, but the fragment of another jeu d'esprit of the same kind, and on the same subject, sufficiently authenticate themselves. The quibble on the word deer, is one that was familiar with our author; and, says Whiter, " the lines may be readily conceived to have proceeded from our young bard, before he was removed from the little circle of his native place.” Besides, the author of the book in which they were first published must have possessed an intrepidity of falsehood unparalleled in the history of literary forgeries, if he had dared, so soon after the death of Joshua Barnes, to advance a story of this kind as a notorious fact, when, had it been a fiction, any of the professor's friends would have had an opportunity of contradicting him. Malone considers these verses, as well as the first, a forgery; and cites the epitaph erected by Sir Thomas Lucy, in praise of his wife, as evidence of their spuriousness. Exaggerated censure is the very essence of a satire: exaggerated praise is the universal characteristic of the epitaph. Each is equally wide of the truth: it is probable, that the real character of Lady Lucy neither warranted the panegyric of her husband, nor the severity of Shakspeare. But it would, at the present day, puzzle the ingenuity of an Edipus, to determine which was most likely to afford the fairest estimate of her worth.
The contest between Shakspeare and Sir Thomas Lucy was equal; and the result was such as might have been anticipated, from the disproportion that existed between the strength and weapons of the opposing parties. The poet might irritate by his wit; but the magistrate could wound by his authority. It is recorded by Mr. Davies, that the knight " had him oft whipt, and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made him fly his native country.” That the severity was undue, there can be little room for doubting. Every contemporary who has spoken of our author, has been lavish in the praise of his temper and disposition. “ The gentle Shakspeare seems to have been his distinguishing appellation. No slight portion of our enthusiasm for his writings, may be traced to the fair picture which they present of our author's character: we love the tenderness of heart - the candor and openness, and singleness of mind the largeness of sentiment the liberality of opinion, which the whole tenor of his works prove him to have possessed : his faults seem to have been the transient aberrations of a thoughtless moment, which reflection never failed to correct. The ebullitions of high spirits might mislead him; but the principles and the affections never swerved from what was right. Against such a person, the extreme severity of the magistrate should not have been exerted. His youth-his genius - his accomplishments — his wife and children, should have mitigated the authority that was armed against him. The powerful enemy of Shakspeare was not to be appeased: the heart of the Puritan or the game-preserver is very rarely “framed of penetrable stuff.” Our author fled from the inflexible persecutions of his opponent, to seek a shelter in the metropolis ; and he found friends, and honor, and wealth, and fame, where he had only hoped for an asylum. Sir Thomas Lucy remained to enjoy the triumph of his victory; and he yet survives in the character of Justice Shallow, as the laughingstock of posterity, and as another specimen of the exquisite skill, with which the victim of his magisterial authority was capable of painting the peculiarities of the weak and the vain, the arrogant and the servile.
About the year 1587, in the twenty-third of his age, Shakspeare arrived in London. It is not possible to discover the inducements which led our poet, after his flight from Stratford, to seek his home and his subsistence in the neighborhood of a theatre. Probably, in the course of their travels, he might have formed an acquaintance with some of the performers, during the occasional visits which they had made to Stratford. Heminge and Burbage, distinguished performers of the time, were both Warwickshire men, and born in the vicinity of Stratford. Greene, another celebrated comedian of the day, was the townsman, and he is thought to have been the relation, of Shakspeare. On arriving in the metropolis, these were, perhaps, his only acquaintance, and they secured his introduction to the theatre. It seems, however, agreed, that his first occupation there was of the lowest order. One tradition relates, that his original office was that of call-boy, or prompter's attendant; whose employment it is, to give the performers notice to be ready to enter, as often as the business of the play requires their attendance upon the stage ; while another account, which has descended in a very regular line from Sir William D'Avenant to Dr. Johnson, states, that Shakspeare's first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those who rode to the theatre, and had no servants to take charge of them during the hours of performance. It is said, “that he became so conspicuous in this office, for his care and readiness, that in a short time, every man as he alighted called for Will Shakspeare; and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse, while Will Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his. inspection, who, when Will Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, I am Shakspeare's boy, sir. In time, Shakspeare found higher employment, but as long as the practice of riding to the play-house continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakspeare's boys. That the above anecdote was really communicated by Pope, there is no room to doubt. This fact Dr. Johnson states upon his own authority, and coming from such a source, the story is certainly deserving of more respect than the commentators have been inclined to attach to it. It was originally related by D'Avenant,' who, if the frequenters of the theatre had been in the habit of riding to the play, must have remem bered the time; and if at that time, the lads who took charge of the horses were, as he affirmed, called Shakspeare's boys, that circumstance the strongest possible corroborar tion of the story. But it was known to Rowe, and rejected by him; and Steevens advances this omission as a proof that our author's first biographer considered the anecdote incredible, and wholly undeserving his attention. Rowe's suppres; sion of the fact may, however, have originated in some other cause than his suspicion of its truth. Might he not have been actuated by that absurd spirit of refinement, which is only too common among the writers of biography, as well as history, and which induces them to conceal or misrepresent every occurrence which is at all of a humiliating nature, and does not accord with those false and effeminate notions so generally entertained respecting the dignity of that peeuliar class of composition? But, however inferior the situations which Shakspeare occupied on first entering upon his dra. matic career,
his talents were not long buried in obscurity. He rapidly rose to the highest station in the theatre; and, by the power of his genius, raised our national dramatio, poetry, then in its merest infancy, to the highest state of perfection which it is perhaps capable of reaching.
It is impossible for any art to have attained a more rapid growth, than was attained by the art of dramatic writing in this country. The people had, indeed, been long accustomed to a species of exhibition called MIRACLES, or MYSTERIES, founded on sacred subjects, and performed by the ministers of religion themselves, on the holy festivals, in or near the churches, and designed to instruct the ignorant in the leading, facts of sacred history. From the occasional introduction of allegorical characters, such as Faith, Death, Hope, or Sin, into these religious dramas, representations of another kind, called MORALITIES, had by degrees arisen, of which the plots were more artificial, regular, and connected, and which were entirely formed of such personifications ; but the first rough
draught of a regular tragedy and comedy that appeared, Lord Sackville's Gorboduc, and Still's Gammer Gurton's Needle, were not produced till within the latter half of the sixteenth century, and but little more than twenty years previous to Shakspeare's arrival in the metropolis.
About that time, the attention of the public began to be more generally directed to the stage; and it throve admirably beneath the cheerful beams of popularity. The theatrical performances which had, in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth, been exhibited on temporary stages, erected in such halls or apartments as the actors could procure, or, more generally, in the yards of the great inns, while the spectators surveyed them from the surrounding windows and galleries, began to be established in more convenient and permanent situations. About the year 1569, a regular playhouse, under the appropriate name of The Theatre was built. It is supposed to have stood somewhere in Blackfriars; and three years after the commencement of this establishment, yielding to her inclination for the amusements of the theatre, and disregarding the remonstrances of the Puritans, the queen granted license and authority to the Servants of the Earl of Leicester, “to use, exercise, and occupie the arte and facultie of playinge comedies, tragedies, interludes, stage-playes, as well for the recreation of our lovinge subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall thinke good to see them, throughoute our realme of England.” From this time, the number of theatres increased with the ripening taste and the increasing demands of the people. Various noblemen had their respective companies of performers, who were associated as their servants, and acted under their protection; and during the period of Shakspeare's theatrical career, not less than seven principal play-houses were open in the metropolis.
Of these the Globe, and the play-house in Blackfriars, were the property of the company to which Shakspeare was himself attached, and by whom all his productions were exhibited. The Globe appears to have been a wooden building, of a considerable size, hexagonal without, and circular within; it was thatched in part, but a large portion of the