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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
tion, Shakspere bought up a part interest in the tithes of Stratford; and that he was no laggard in business is further proved by suits he brought to recover money from two insolvent debtors. The father's misfortunes had made the son wary in his dealings. He offers a curious instance of strong, practical business qualities combined with the highest imaginative power. At any rate, the poor boy who came to London in 1585 or thereabouts, left London, in 1611-13, very comfortably rich, for that time, in lands and goods, with his scutcheon firmly established, and with all the honour such solid respectability commands. Shakspere died April 23, 1616, and is buried in the parish church at Stratford. His wife and two daughters survived him.
This is all that is known, and much of what is surmised, of the life of Shakspere. But some recent writers, giving a personal interpretation of his sonnets, and fixing in some cases a purely arbitrary order for the production of his plays, have built up a fabric of romance around the poet's life which makes him to have been a man of bright, good-humoured character, saddened by some great sorrow, later rendered misanthropic and distrustful of the whole world, and gradually emerging from this vortex of tragic gloom somewhere toward the end of his life. This story seems to be founded-except in so far as the sonnets are concerned-on the fact that in his young manhood Shakspere wrote stirring, manly plays like "Henry IV" and Henry V," and rich, golden comedies like "Much Ado," "As You Like It," and "Twelfth Night"; that in his mature manhood he wrote the great tragedies "Hamlet," "Lear," "Macbeth," and "Othello," and the misanthropic "Troilus and Cressida," "Coriolanus," and "Timon of Athens"; and that in later life he wrote plays of a less plangent melancholy, especially enlivened with portraiture of lovely young girlhood-"The Winter's Tale," "Cymbeline," and "The Tempest." This theory
of his life apparently would deprive Shakspere of some of his dramatic power, and make his characters but expressions of his own state of mind; but it has strong advocates as well as strong opponents.
No account of Shakspere would be complete that did not include some discussion of the times in which he lived. The England of Elizabeth has been celebrated in song and story, and though we are likely now to exaggerate much of the charm of that by-gone "Merry England," there can be little doubt that the period was one of almost unmatched vigour and richness of experience. In the first place, the discovery of the new world was opening men's eyes to the wonders of creation lying remote from the world of Europe; and the manly English race were among the first to seek those far-off regions in the sea. It should be remembered that in Shakspere's youth less than a century had elapsed since the discoveries of Columbus, and men by repeated voyages were still adding piece by piece to the ideas that were ultimately to take shape in the conception of the New World as we know it to-day. The discovery of America was a very gradual thing indeed, and people in Shakspere's day were still quick to believe anything hardy mariners might tell them; this imaginative wonder is the very essence of Charles Kingsley's "Westward Ho!" Furthermore, the Reformation had released men's minds from spiritual thraldom as the discovery of America had awakened their imagination. It was an age of the renaissance of learning and letters to which Shakspere was born. Finally, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the downfall of England's greatest rival on the seas had aroused patriotism to the height of religious fervour; as typified in the person of the "Virgin Queen," it had all the chivalrous elements that one associates with the most virile and romantic of nations. And all these traits were seen against a back
ground of general commercial prosperity; the nation could afford to enjoy life and to make its happiness picturesque.
This is the ideal condition of affairs for art and literature. And the Elizabethan age was the time of England's richest efflorescence in letters. The poet Spenser and the philosopher Bacon; Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh-these are some of the names of that great period. But the minds of writers generally turned toward the theatre, that new opening for literature, and it is chiefly by the dramatic poets of the time that the Elizabethan age is celebrated. The greatest of these dramatists, beside Shakspere, is Christopher Marlowe, whose "Dr. Faustus," "Tamburlaine the Great," and "Edward II" are among the glories of English literature. Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Dekker, Ford, Chapman, Webster,these men must be studied by one who wishes only a superficial knowledge of the Elizabethan drama. Against most of these authors Shakspere pitted his talents and from them he won the palm, not only in his own day, but for all time. It is a noble group of poets, distinguished, all of them, by splendid energy of style and, often, by great interest of plot; never, until the Victorian era, was England to know again so sweet an outburst of song.
Shakspere's best plays, it should be remembered, were all produced within a period of little more than twenty years. They have kept the stage until the collapse of the actor's art within the memory of people still young. The best of these plays-as plays-are those that have been most frequently acted: "A Midsummer-Night's Dream," "The Merchant of Venice," "Much Ado about Nothing," "As You Like It," "Twelfth Night," among the comedies; "Romeo and Juliet," "Julius Cæsar," "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "King Lear," "Antony and Cleopatra," "Coriolanus," among the tragedies; "King
Richard III," "King Henry IV" (part I), "King Henry V," among the histories. These plays every reader of only average range should know; there is no escape. Most of the early plays, on the other hand, are interesting simply for linguistic or other special reasons, and the other histories do not act very well. The latest plays form a group by themselves, characterised by grand poetical beauty, but by no very vital dramatic action. The most sublime poetry Shakspere ever wrote is to be found in "The Winter's Tale," "Cymbeline," and "The Tempest," and every well-read man loves them for that as well as for their portrayal of character; but no one who has seen any of them on the stage-unless it be "The Winter's Tale"-has found the spectacle altogether alluring or helpful. This large body of superlative work produced in about twenty years by Shakspere, in the midst of all his labours as actor and manager, is one of the marvels of literature.
Finally, to reckon Shakspere's greatness, one must consider the stage for which he wrote. Those who attended the productions of Shaksperian plays by Edwin Booth and Augustin Daly at the theatres they controlled, or who may see the superb performances by Sir Henry Irving's company, might imagine that Shakspere wrote his plays with special regard for the scene painter and the stage carpenter. As a matter of fact, the Elizabethan theatre was a rude structure, in its worst state, built on the lines of an inn-yard, probably with only the stage or platform roofed over. On the ground-a place corresponding to the later English pit-stood the "groundlings," a miscellaneous, rowdy herd of dirty, ill-smelling, ill-behaved people, who were the constant terror of the manager and the actors. Around the sides of the building ran balconies with boxes, which were occupied by the richer classes. There were proscenium boxes on each side of the