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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 Aubery 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
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
may have been the exception. One other passage from the plays has been cited as bearing on Shakepeare's marriage, that passage in The Tempest where Prospero, after he has given his daughter to Ferdinand as his future bride, cautions the Prince against " breaking her virgin-knot" before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
The Tempest was probably written to grace some noble wedding, and Shakespeare's mature wisdom of life, uttering itself through Prospero, recognized the fact that the sanctity of marriage can hardly be guarded with too great jealousy. Having closed the series of his dramatic works, perhaps with the very play in which this passage occurs, he returned to his home to find the happiness of his elder years in company with her whom he had loved in boyhood.
$7. For three or four years after his marriage Shakespeare continued to reside at Stratford, and in 1585 his wife gave birth to twins, a boy and girl, baptized (Feb. 2) Hamnet and Judith, doubtless after Hamnet
Sadler, a baker of Stratford, and Judith his wife. > For this Hamnet Sadler, presumably sponsor for
the boy, who, to the grief of his father, died before he had reached the age of twelve (buried August 11, 1596), Shakespeare retained a regard to the close of his life. He is remembered in the great dramatist's will, where the name appears in the form “Hamlett" Sadler, receiving a bequest of one pound six and eightpence “to buy him a ringe".
In what employments and with what recreations these years at Stratford, growing years of early man