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I. THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born at Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, in April, 1564, perhaps on the 23d day of that month. A picture is here given of the house in Henley Street that is thought to have been the place of his birth. He was the first one of the children of John and Mary Shakespeare who lived to grow up. He had three brothers and one sister who reached maturity, Gilbert, Richard, Edmund, and Joan.
Warwickshire, "the heart of England," was filled with the choicest rural and woodland scenery. The thickly wooded portion of the county north of the river Avon was called Arden. South of the lovely Avon meadows were rich pasture lands. Stratford, with about fourteen hundred inhabitants, was the center and chief market of an agricultural and grazing district. Shakespeare's works show us that he was familiar with all phases of country life. Hon. D. H. Madden has made a special study of those passages in the plays and poems which refer to hunting, hawking, angling, woodcraft, and horsemanship. He tells us of his "amazement at Shakespeare's knowledge of the most intimate secrets of woodcraft and falconry, and, above all, of the nature and disposition of the horse." Shakespeare knew all the phases and incidents of life in the forest; he understood the work of the farm and the care of cattle; he loved the wild flowers. We may be sure that he was welcome at the farms of his grandfather, his uncle, and the other relatives and friends of the family in the hamlets near Stratford. He
knew all the folk-lore of the country-side, listening eagerly to stories of the pranks of Robin Goodfellow; he learned the folk-songs concerning "old Robin Hood of England' and his life with his merry men "under the greenwood tree"; he delighted in the May-day games, the Whitsun sports, and the festival of the sheep-shearing, the shepherd's harvest-home. It was surely of his own idyllic boyhood that Shakespeare was thinking when he made one of his characters speak of himself and the playmate of his early days as
"Two lads that thought there was no more behind
And to be boy eternal.
We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun,
The Winter's Tale, I, i, 63-65, 67–68.
Shakespeare often refers to the Scripture plays which were acted by the craftsmen in many parts of England, the so-called mystery plays; these were nowhere presented more elaborately than in Coventry, eighteen miles from Stratford. Shakespeare conceived the history of the Wars of the Roses in a vital, interesting way which forces us to realize that the battle of Bosworth Field was fought on the very border of Warwickshire, seventy-nine years before the birth of the dramatist, and that local history in those days was handed down in vivid form from father to son. And was not the great Earl of Warwick, the King-maker, almost the leading figure in those wars?
In good measure Shakespeare enjoyed the advantages of both town life and country life. Says ten Brink : —
"The great advantage of a simple, primitive mode of life is that it guards a person from developing some of his talents at the expense of the others. .. Shakespeare was preserved from such one-sidedness both by his nature and his educa
tion. He lived in a little town where rural work was combined with town occupations. His father was a farmer and merchant. Already in early youth he was brought into close contact with many forms of human activity. He accustomed himself to observe them all, to inquire into the aims, the methods, the implements, of each. And this habit he retained in later life. Thus it is that he knows the technical name of every object in every field of activity, that he can represent with such exactness every detail of work, complicated though it may be, in any trade."
The young Shakespeare probably learned at the Free Grammar School of Stratford all the knowledge of books which he gained within school walls. What boy would be given a better opportunity than the son of John Shakespeare the high bailiff? mayor we should call him. In this school we suppose that the boy gained a knowledge of Latin which afterward revealed itself in his use of English (see the notes on produce, III, i, 229; and content, IV, ii, 41). At some time, probably later than his school days, he acquired a good knowledge of French, and some acquaintance with Italian. He wrote an entire scene of Henry V in French. He certainly had no university education; but the training at the English universities in the sixteenth century was so narrow and lacking in vitality that it would have been almost certain to do him more harm than good. "We can safely maintain," says Halleck, "that if Shakespeare had had much more of the current book-learning, he could never have written his plays."
In 1582 the eighteen-year-old boy was married to Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years older than himself. Their first child, Susanna, was baptized May 26, 1583; and in 1585 twins, Hamnet and Judith, were born to them. It seems clear, too, that since 1578 John Shakespeare had been steadily getting poorer and more embarrassed. The outlook for the young husband and father was dark.
We hear nothing further about Shakespeare until 1592.
In that year Robert Greene speaks of him in his Groatsworth of Wit in a way that shows us that Shakespeare was succeeding both as an actor and as a writer of plays. The best companies of actors in the kingdom visited Stratford during Shakespeare's youth, and we naturally conjecture that their influence was powerful with him. Certainly he had gone to London, had joined one of the companies of players, and had speedily pushed his way to the front. In March, 1595, "William Kempe, William Shakespeare, and Richard Burbage" were paid £20 "for two several comedies or interludes showed by them before her Majesty in Christmas time last past." The young dramatist had come to enjoy the patronage of the nobility; his poems, - Venus and Adonis, 1593, and Lucrece, 1594, were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton.
Shakespeare's only son Hamnet died in 1596. In 1597 he bought New Place, the largest house in Stratford; and he afterward made other purchases of Stratford property. He was already planning to spend his last days in the home of his boyhood. "The tie that bound the first endures the
Shakespeare's father shared in his son's prosperity. In 1596 John Shakespeare made application to the heralds' college for a coat-of-arms, and this was subsequently granted. In 1597 he tried to recover the possession of an important piece of property which he had mortgaged nearly twenty years before.
In 1598 Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, speaks of Shakespeare as "the most excellent" English. writer of both comedy and tragedy, and mentions twelve of his plays by name as already in existence. In 1599 the Globe Theater was built. This was a very large and prosperous playhouse, and Shakespeare had a fixed share of the receipts. Lee believes that "Shakespeare drew from the Globe Theater, at the lowest estimate, more than £500
a year as actor's salary and profits, and that he was earning in all ways “above £ 600 a year." This was an unusually large income for those days. As nearly as we can estimate, this amount was equivalent to an annual income of about $24,000 at the present time. In 1601 Shakespeare's father died. In 1607 his daughter Susanna was married to Dr. John Hall of Stratford; in the same year he lost his younger brother Edmund, a London actor like himself. In 1608 occurred the birth of the only grandchild that Shakespeare saw, Elizabeth Hall; and in the same year the poet lost his mother. About 1610, it is supposed, the dramatist once more made Stratford his home. In February, 1616, his daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney of Stratford. In March of this year the poet made his will; and on April 23 he died. He was buried under the floor of the church at Stratford; his bust looks at us from the wall, and may be seen in the accompanying picture; and the stern inscription upon the stone that covers his remains' has kept them undisturbed.
In 1623 the poet's friends and fellow-actors Heminge and Condell edited his plays in folio form. They dedicated the volume to the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Montgomery, on the ground that they had shown "much favour" to the author while living. The last direct descendant of the dramatist was his grandchild, Elizabeth Hall, who died in 1670 as Lady Barnard.
It is pleasant to know that Shakespeare was very generally admired and honored. Ben Jonson, though often severe and hard to please, says of him, "I loved Shakespeare and do honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature."
1 Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare