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SHAKSPERE was born at Stratford-on-Avon, in 1564-it is generally supposed, on the 23d of April. He was the eldest son of John Shakspere, a man of good yeoman stock, who moved from Snitterfield to Stratford somewhere about 1551, and started in business as a glover, according to one story; as a butcher, according to another; and as a produce merchant-a dealer in corn, malt, wool, meat, skins-according to a third. All accounts agree that this business, whatever its nature, was prosperous; furthermore, John Shakspere's marriage to Mary, daughter of Robert Arden, a rich farmer of Wilmcote, added materially to his fortunes, for Robert Arden, on his death in 1556, left this daughter Mary not only a legacy in money, but the fee-simple of Asbies, his chief property in Wilmcote, in addition to an interest he had previously given her in some Snitterfield property. It is probable, therefore, that at first the parents of the poet could well afford to maintain him at the Stratford grammar school, and here he must have acquired the "small Latin and less Greek" Ben Jonson credits him with knowing; bits of Latin found in his plays come largely from textbooks used by schoolboys of that time. The French and the Italian scattered through his work may have been learned in later life. Ordinarily a boy's training at this school would have continued from his seventh to his four
teenth year; but it is assumed that Shakspere left in his thirteenth year, to prop the falling fortunes of his family. Before this, John Shakspere had risen to a position of considerable influence in the town. In 1561, he was one of the two chamberlains of Stratford; in 1565, alderman; and finally, in 1568, high bailiff; from 1567 the corporation archives give him the honourable prefix "Mr." In 1575, he bought two houses in Stratford, one of them doubtless the alleged birthplace of the poet in Henley Street. But in 1578 he was unable to pay various corporation taxes. On November 14 of that year he was forced to mortgage Asbies for £40, and a year later to dispose of his wife's property at Snitterfield. Things went from bad to worse. In 1585 and 1586, a creditor found that John Shakspere had no goods on which distraint could be levied; finally, on September 6, 1586, the elder Shakspere was deprived of his alderman's gown because of his long absence from the council's meetings. It is quite likely, then, that he may have removed from school his oldest son to help him in business; and this business may have narrowed down to the one branch of butchering suggested in the tradition that makes the youthful poet once to have been a slayer of cattle. "When he killed a calf," Aubrey quaintly tells us, "he would do it in a high style and make a speech."
In 1582, in spite of the distresses of his father, Shakspere married Anne Hathaway, daughter of a well-to-do yeoman of Shottery. Of this union three children were born. His wife was eight years his senior, and there are grounds for believing the marriage an uncongenial one. This fact, and the desire to help his family, probably, led Shakspere to seek his fortune in London, about 1585. Tradition, however, has always assigned, as the immediate cause of departure, a poaching expedition to the deer preserves of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote Hall.
There is a further tradition to the effect that Shakspere's first connection with the theatre was purely external; he watched over the horses of gallants who rode to the play. Within the playhouse he was at first but a servant of the actors, a prompter or call-boy; from this humble position he became actor and afterwards shareholder in the company to which he belonged. To just what theatre he was first attached is not known; but after 1599 his fortunes were definitely and finally cast with the famous Globe Theatre. He was, after the accession of James I, one of the King's Players. His plays were frequently acted at court before both Elizabeth and James.
He began his work by adapting old plays, and these early efforts retain many of the crudities of the originals on which they were founded. But, as the years went on, Shakspere developed a style entirely his own, like—yet very unlike what we call the Elizabethan style. It should always be remembered that Shakspere was the greatest of a great school of dramatists, and that Marlowe, Massinger, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ford, Webster, and Chapman had gifts and graces far too distinguished to be eclipsed by any but the greatest. From "Romeo and Juliet," in the early nineties of the sixteenth century, Shakspere's fame was assured.
His fortunes also rose. The Earl of Southampton was his patron, and is said to have helped him once with the princely gift of £1,000. Moreover, his profits from the theatre were large. He is known to have bought one house in London. Nevertheless his thoughts were ever turning toward his native town. He longed most for the life of a country gentleman; to that end, he strove to reestablish the family fortunes. He bought and lived in the pretentious New Place at Stratford; and his father's success, on applying for a coat-of-arms, finally enrolled the Shaksperes among the rural gentry. To support this posi