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thest. Some knowledge of reading and writing was of equired at entrance; the usual age of pupils when madmitted was seven. When duly drilled in the Latin accidence (of which we have an amusing Shakespearian reminiscence in Sir Hugh Evans' examination of William Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor), the boy began to construe from the Sententiæ Pueriles, and, if he remained long enough at school, advanced as far as Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, and the Eclogues of Mantuanus. Much has been written on the subject of Shakespeare's learning. From Ben Jonson's scholarly point of view he may be said to have had "small Latin and less Greek". Perhaps the Greek was nothing or next to nothing; but Aubrey was probably not wrong when he stated on the authority of a Mr. Beeston that Shakespeare "understode Latine pretty well". In later years he seems to have acquired a little knowledge of French, and possibly a little knowledge of Italian.
§5. At what age Shakespeare was withdrawn from school we cannot tell. But we know that when he was thirteen years old his father was no longer a prosperous man, and that the fortunes of his house continued for a considerable time to decline. While John Shakespeare's means were first waxing and then rapidly waning, his family had increased in numbers. His son Gilbert, who afterwards became a haberdasher in London and who lived certainly to 1609, was born in 1566; Joan, who was married to William Hart, and whose name appears in the great dramatist's will, was born 1569; Anne, born in 1571, died in her eighth year; Richard, born in March 1573-74, lived to manhood, dying at Stratford
BOYHOOD AND YOUTH.
in 1613; John Shakespeare's last child, Edmund, born in 1580, became an actor, died in September 1607, and on the morning of his burial at St. Saviour's, Southwark, a knell of the "great bell" of the church was rung, a mark of respect secured only by the payment of a considerable fee. Thus with younger brothers and a sister requiring sustenance and education, and with narrowing means in the household, William Shakespeare at the age of thirteen may, as the tradition asserts, have been set to help his father in business. An old parish clerk of Stratford towards the close of the seventeenth century declared that Shakespeare was bound apprentice to a butcher; and according to Aubrey he performed the sacrificial rites with dramatic accompaniments, for "when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style and make a speech". According to another report he was a country schoolmaster, and Malone has argued from Shakespeare's frequent and exact use of law-terms that most probably he was for two or three years in the office of a Stratford attorney. We may indulge our imagination by picturing the future poet rather as a wool-stapler than as a butcher's lad.
What cannot be doubted is that his father had passed from wealth to comparative poverty. In 1578 he effected a large mortgage on the estate of Asbies; when he tendered payment in the following year it was refused until other sums due had been repaid; the money designed for the redemption of Asbies had been obtained by the sale of his wife's reversionary interest in the Snitterfield property. His taxes were lightened, nor was he always able
to pay those which were still claimed. He dropped off from attendance at the town-council, and in consequence was ultimately deprived of his alderman's gown (1586). He fell into debt, and was tormented with legal proceedings. A commission appointed to inquire respecting Jesuits, priests, and recusants reported his name in 1592 among those of persons who "come not to church for fear of process for debt". It does not appear, however, that he was obliged to part with his house in Henley Street, and, as we shall see, his eldest son was careful, when prosperity came to him in his dramatic career, to restore the fallen fortunes of his father.
§6. Before he was nineteen years old Shakespeare had a new and a powerful motive for trying to better himself in the world; he had taken to himself a wife. A bond given before the marriage, for the security of the bishop in licensing the marriage after once asking of the banns, is preserved in the registry at Worcester. It is dated November 28, 1582. The bride, Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a substantial yeoman, lately deceased, of Shottery hamlet in the parish of Stratford, was between seven and eight years older than her husband. The sureties of the bond were friends of the Hathaway family, and the seal of Anne's father was used on the occasion, whence it has been inferred that the Shottery folk rather than those of Henley Street were desirous of the match. Whether the consent of Shakespeare's parents was or was not given we have no means of ascertaining. Shakespeare's eldest child-Susanna-was baptized on May 26, 1583, just six months after the bond, preliminary to
marriage, had been signed. The ceremony of wedlock may have been preceded by precontract, which according to the custom of the time and place would have been looked on as having the validity of marriage, though as yet unsanctified by ecclesiastical rites. Halliwell-Phillipps has aptly pointed out that when Shakespeare's maternal grandfather, Robert Arden, "settled part of an estate on his daughter Agnes, on July the seventeenth, 1550, he introduces her as nunc uxor Thome Stringer, ac nuper uxor Johannis Hewyns, and yet the marriage was not solemnized until three months afterwards". It may be added that the words "wedded wife" were at this time in no way tautological; a woman duly espoused might be a wife though the priestly benediction of wedlock had not yet been bestowed.
The marriage of a boy of eighteen with a woman eight years his senior, of humbler rank than his own and probably uneducated, cannot be called prudent; but we have no evidence to prove that the union was unhappy. Shakespeare remained in Stratford with his wife until he went to seek his fortune in London. Although he did not bring her and her children to the capital, he certainly from time to time visited his home. He looked forward to returning to his native town, and living henceforth by her side, and he actually carried that long-contemplated purpose into effect. It may be, as Shakespeare's Sonnets seem to indicate, that for a season his heart was led astray by the intellectual fascination of a woman who possessed all those qualities of brilliance and cultured grace which perhaps were lacking in his wife; but if so, Shake
speare perceived his error, and in due time returned to the companion of his youth. In his will he leaves her only his "second best bed with the furniture", and this as an afterthought, for the words occur as an interlineation; but without special bequest she was sufficiently provided for by free-bench and dower; the best bed, as Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps suggests, was probably that reserved for strangers, the second best may have been that of the master and mistress of the house. We cannot suppose that the wife of his early choice, the daughter of a husbandman, could have followed Shakespeare in his poetical mountings of mind or in his profound dramatic studies of character, but there is a wide field for mutual sympathy and help in the common joys and sorrows and daily tasks of household life, and the greatest of men are sometimes they who can best value the qualities of homely goodness. We cannot think of Shakespeare's marriage as a rare union of perfect accord, but we are not justified in speaking of it as unfortunate. In A Midsummer Night's Dream Lysander has a reference to love "misgraffed in respect of years"; in Twelfth Night the Duke warns Viola, when disguised in the garb of a youth, against the danger of an unequal marriage:
Let still the woman take
An elder than herself; so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart.—(ii. 4. 30–32.)
Even if the lines were non-dramatic, they would prove no more than that the writer with good sense admitted as a rule that to which his own experience