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THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE.
For such of the information on Shakespeare's personal history as can be deemed authentic, we are chiefly indebted to modern research. No memoir of him was published in his own time, nor do the several “ Commendatory" effusions of which his contemporaries and immediate successors made him the object, imply that their writers knew aught of him except as a poet. Writing nearly a century after Shakespeare's death, Rowe was only able to fill six or seven pages with personal matter ; a great portion of his “Life” being devoted to criticism. He derived his memorials from the famous actor, Betterton, who was born in 1635 ;' and what he did was serviceable as a nucleus for more extended treatises; but Betterton ought to have known Shakespeare's private history better, than from Rowe's meagre and questionable narrative he appears to have done, sicce he was intimately associated with Sir William Davenant (born in 1605), and was apprenticed to a bookseller named Rhodes, who in his younger days was wardrobe-keeper to the theatre in Blackfriars.
From the time of Rowe to that of Malone, great part of another century, though editions of Shakespeare's works were issued by the most distinguished literary characters of the period, and much was done to increase our knowledge of the poet, very little was added to our enlightenment respecting the man. A few odd scraps and memoranda picked out of Aubrey, Oldys, Wood and others, spring up here and there among their notes and illustrations ; but of a comprehensive biography we find no trace. In 1790, however, Malone published a Life of Shakespeare, for which, although the time for collecting accounts of private occurrences in the poet's career had passed away, every available source of intelligence regarding his public course was industriously and profitably examined. Guided by this luminary, whose services, whether as biographer or commentator, have never been adequately acknowledged, other inquirers, as Messrs. Dyce, Halliwell, Collier, and Knight, have gone over the same field, each adding something to our scanty store of information on the subject. With materials derived from these authorities, the following sketch, containing an abstract of the most essential particulars really ascertained concerning his origin, family, life, property, and character, has been compiled.
1, "I must own a particular obligation to him (Betterton), for the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life, which I have here transmitted to the publick; his veneration for the memory of Shakspeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshiro on purpose to gather up what remains he could of a name for which he had so great a veneration." - Rowe's Life of Shakspeare.
9 "All that insatiable curiosity and unwearied diligence have hitherto detected about Shakespeare, serves rather to disappoint and perplex us, than to furnish the slightest illustration of his character. It is not the register of his baptism, or the draft of his will, or the orthography of his name that we seek. No letter of his writing, no record of his conversation, no character of him drawn with any fullness hy a contemporary, has been proluced."-HALLAM'S Introduction to the Literature of Evrope, ii. 176. 1843.
The family of Shakespeare, Rowe says, “as appears by the register and publick writings relating to that town (Stratford-upon-Avon), were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen." This is an error. The register styles none of the family “gentleman” except the poet himself, and even he is so distinguished only after he had returned to his native place with the glory and fortune acquired by his genius and talents. Nor is it probable that his father was originally a Stratford man. Many families of the name had long been settled in different parts of Warwickshire; as at Warwick, Knowle, Rowington, Wroxhall, Hampton, Lapworth, Nuneaton and Kineton. To which of these branches the dramatist belonged, was until recently an insoluble problem. It has now been pretty clearly established, by the researches of Mr. Collier and Mr. Halliwell, that his father, John Shakespeare, was a son of Richard Shakespeare, of Snitterfield, a village three or four miles from Stratford. The evidence in favour of this descent consists in the facts, that the said Richard was a tenant of Robert Arden, whose daughter John Shakespeare married, and that the poet's uncle, Henry Shakespeare, resided at Snitterfield ; but this discovery, if such it may be termed, throws little light upon the family itself, and affords no assistance in our endeavours to ascertain from which particular stock the poet's branch descended. With reference to the status of the family, it appears to have been of the class of small farmers in the villages, and of respectable shopkeepers in the towns; no proof having been found, that any public honour or private fortune was ever acquired by its members. *
About 1551, John Shakespeare, the father of William, settled in some kind of occupation at Stratford-upon-Avon. There is clear proof that he lived in Henley Street, where the dramatist is supposed to have been born, as early as 1552. In 1556, we find him in the registers of the bailiff's court described as a glover ; at the same time he was evidently engaged in agricultural pursuits, since he is mentioned in a deed bearing that date as “John Shakespeare, of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, yeoman." Aubrey says he was a butcher: 6 according to Rowe, he was “a considerable dealer in wool.”? It would be a material addition to our knowledge of William Shakespeare, if the standing and means of his father could be accurately determined. We could then understand, in some degree, what is now extremely doubtful, the manner in which the dramatist was bred and educated. From the slender facts before us, we can only suppose, that John Shakespeare was the son of a respectable farmer at Snitterfield ; that he came into the borough of Stratford with a moderate inheritance at his command, and then entered into business as a local merchant; dealing in wool, gloves, timber,
3 From the Survey book of the Manor of Warwick, and Ben Jonson having said of him, from the Muniments at Warwick Castle, we know that a
“ Look how the father's face Thomas Shakespeare was possessed of lands and tenements Lives in his issue ; even so the race in Warwick, in 1594.
Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines 4 The word Shakespeare has been made a subject of In his well-torned and true-filed lines ; some discussion, perhaps more than it deserves. Guided In each of which he seems to shake a lance, by fac-similes of original signatures, in some cases wrongly As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance.” traced, certain editors have endeavoured to give the name
Using an authority as ancient as the human imagination, in the poet's own fashion. The old familiar Shakespeare has thus become converted into Shackspeare, Shakspeare,
Verstegan, in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence,
explains the word in the following grave sentence :and Shakspere. This seems a purely idle fancy. The art
* Breakspear, Shakspear and the lyke have byn surof spelling was in a very primitive condition at the time of Shakespeare's signing his name, and, if he had wished
names imposed upon the first bearers of them for valour
and feates of armes." to attain great accuracy in his own signature, as some of
Without implicitly assenting to this doctrine, as conhis literary sponsors have done since, he would not have
corns the name in question, we may fairly act upon it so found it an object very easy of accomplishment. In the different records of Warwickshire, the word is spelt in
far as to spell the word in accordance with its asserted
root, -Shakespeare-which seems the least affected as innumerable ways, appearing for instance, as Shaxper,
well as most correct practice that can be followed. Shaxpeer, Shakspere, Schakespere, Schakespeire, Chacsper,
5 From a Court Roll, dated April 29th, 1552, preserved Shakespeyre, and Shakespeere. Whatever may have been the root and original meaning of the word (a point
in the Record Office, by which we learn that he with
others incurred a fine of xijd. for a sterquinarium before perhaps less obvious than the multitude suppose), it has always been held to signify a race of speare shakers,
his dwelling “in Hendley Strete contra ordinationem
curia." or warriors. That the poet's contemporaries interpreted it in this sense, is shown in Greene having sarcastically
6 “His [William Shakespeare's] father was a butcher."
--AUBREY'S Mss. Mus. Ashmol. O.con. designated Shakespeare the only "Shake-scene," and in
7 Rowe's Life of Shakspeare.
corn and perhaps cattle. In 1557, he married Mary, daughter of Robert Arden, of Wilmecote, receiving with her an estate called Ashbies, estimated to have comprised about fifty-six acres of land, and the sum of £6 138. 4d. ; together with the interest in two tenements at Snitterfield. Whatever our uncertainty regarding the rank of the Shakespeares ; that of the Ardens is not doubtful. They had been landed proprietors in the parish of Aston Cantlowe for more than a century before the marriage of Shakespeare's father. They were connected with John Arden, Esquire for the Body to Henry VII. On the maternal side, then, the poet was unquestionably descended from a family of long standing among that class,—the yeoman-squires of England,—who, cultivating their own estates, enjoyed perhaps a larger admixture of comfort and independence than any other of the population.
At the period of his marriage, the circumstances of John Shakespeare appear to have been prosperous.
On the 2d of October, 1556, a year before he wedded Mary Arden, he purchased the copyhold of a house in Green-hill Street, and of another in Henley Street: the former having a garden and croft attached to it; the latter only a garden. He became a member of the Corporation in 1557, and in the same year was chosen Ale-taster, officer appointed in every court-leet, and sworn to look to the assize and goodness of bread, or ale, or beer, within the precincts of that lordship.” In 1558 he was appointed one of the four constables. In 1559 he was chosen one of the four affeerors, empowered to determine the fines for offences against the bye-laws of the corporation. elected one of the chamberlains in 1561, and in 1565 he became alderman. From Michaelmas, 1568, to the same period of 1569, he held the chief borough office of bailiff, and in 1571 he was elected chief alderman. 10 It is reasonable to suppose, that while attaining these successive municipal distinctions, his worldly condition was easy if not affuent; but subsequent to the year 1575, in which he purchased two other houses in Henley Street, his affairs appear to have declined. In 1578 he and his wife mortgaged the estate of Ashbies to Edmund Lambert ; 11 and shortly after their interest in the tenements at Snitterfield was parted with. About this time, too, John Shakespeare's attendance at the corporation became irregular. On the 19th of November, 1578, when it was required that every alderman should pay fourpence a week for the relief of the poor, John Shakespeare and Robert Bratt were exempted from the tax. In March 1578-9, when an amount of money was levied on the inhabitants of Stratford for the purchase of arms, his name occurs as a defaulter. On “Jan. 19, 28 Eliz.” the return to a distringas, was—"quod prædictus Johannes Shackspere nihil habet unde distringi potest. Ideo fiat capias versus eundem Johannem Shackspere," &c. The following month, and again in March, a capias was issued against him ; and in the same year another person was chosen alderman in his stead, the reason assigned being, that he “dothe not come to the halles, nor hathe not done of longe tyme.” Nor are these the only indications of his fallen fortune. On “Mar. 29, 29 Eliz.” he produced a writ of habeas corpus in the Stratford Court of Record,—"Johannes Shakesper protulit breve dominæ reginæ de habeas corpus cum causa," &c.; from which it is conjectured he was then in custody for debt.
8 “She was the youngest of the seven daughters ef Robert Arden by his first wife, whose maiden name is not known. His second wife, Agnes Arden, was the widow of a person named Hill: her maiden name was Webbe.” -DYCE.
9 “There is no good proof that the Robert Arden, Groom of the Chamber to Henry VII., and rewarded by that sovereign, a fact which appears from the Patent Rolls of that reign, was related to the Ardens of Wilmecote ; but there can be little doubt, from the identity of coat-armour, that the latter were connected with the
John Arden, Esquire for the Body to Henry VII., whose will, dated in 1526, would appear to show that the King had honoured him with visits." — HALLIWELL'S Life of Shakespeare, p. 17, folio ed.
10 In 1570, he occupied a small farm called Ingon, or Ington, Meadow, for which, with its appurtenances, he paid a rent of £8 yearly. The land was only fourteen acres in extent, so that a house was probably included.
11 Joan Arden, the sister of Mary Shakespeare, was married to an Edward Lambert.
Reversing the customary order of things, John Shakespeare, in 1596, when nearly seventy years of age, and apparently in embarrassed circumstances, applied to the Herald's College for a grant of arms. His application was successful : Dethick, the Garter King of Arms, made the grant in 1597 ; and a second grant, authorizing the arms of Arden to be impaled on the coat, was made by Dethick and Camden in 1599. Drafts of these two grants are still preserved : that of 1597 says, “ being therefore solicited, and by credible report informed that John Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon in the counte of Warwick, whose parents and late antecessors were for their valeant and faithfull service advanced and rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the Seventh of famous memorie, sythence which time they have continewed at those parts in good reputacion and credit, and that the said John having maryed Mary daughter and one of the heyrs of Robert Arden of Wilmcote, in the said counte, gent.
In consideration whereof and for the encouragement of his posterite, to whom theyse achevments maie desend by the auncient custom and lawes of Armes, I have therefore assigned, graunted, &c. &c." This would be a gratifying piece of the family history were it trustworthy, but unfortunately it is of very doubtful credit. Such expressions as those respecting Shakespeare's antecessors are no guarantee that the valiant services rendered to Henry the Seventh, were any beyond the most menial offices. Independently too of this drawback, we have the evidence itself on the word of a very suspicious witness. Dethick was at a subsequent period charged, among various miscellaneous offences, with having granted arms to persons whose circumstances and position did not warrant the distinction ; and this grant to John Shakespeare was one of the cases cited against him. In reply to this particular portion of the charges, he and his colleague, in “The Answer of Garter and Clarencieux Kinges of Armes, to a libellous Scrawle against certain Arms supposed to be wrongfully given,” say that “the persone to whom it was granted had borne magestracy, and was justice of peace at Stratford-upon-Avon ; he married the daughter and heire of Arderne, and was able to maintaine that estate."
Moreover, at the bottom of the first draft, made in 1597, Dethick had attached the following memorandum :-“This John hath a patierne thereof (i.e. a blazon of the arms] under Clarenc Cookes hand in paper xx years past. A justice of peace, and was baylife, officer and cheffe of the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, xv or XVI years past. That he hathe landes and tenementes of good wealth and substance, £500. That he married a daughter and heyre of Arden, a Gent. of Worship." The most curious part of this note is the reference to a prior grant twenty years before, in the time of Clarence Cooke. But no confirmation of Dethick's statement on this point has ever been found, and the story is generally regarded as fabulous. The received opinion, indeed, now is, that John Shakespeare had no hand in the business, beyond lending his name; that no arms were either sought or obtained in 1576, and that they were applied for in 1596 by, or at least for, the then opulent poet, William Shakespeare. 12
In 1597, John Shakespeare and his wife filed a bill in Chancery, to recover the estate of Ashbies, against John Lambert, son of Edmund Lambert, to whom we have seen they mortgaged the property for the sum of £40 in 1578, conditionally, that it should revert to them if they repaid the money advanced on or before Michaelmas day, 1580. The money in discharge was duly tendered, according to the declaration of the plaintiffs, but was refused unless other monies in which they were indebted to the mortgagee were also paid. In answer
12 “In all probability John Shakespeare sought this distinction at the instance of his son William, whose profession of actor prohibited hin from directly soliciting it for himself: and we certainly need not doubt that
before 1599 the prosperity of the son had secured the father, during the remainder of his days, against any recurrence of those difficulties which had so long beset him."-DYCE, Life of Shakespeare.
to the bill, John Lambert denied that the £40 had been tendered ; and maintained, that by the death of his father, he was legally entitled to the estate. This answer was followed by a replication on the part of John and Mary Shakespeare, reiterating their former declaration of the tender and refusal of the £40 within the period specified. In what way the suit terminated is not known, but it is supposed to have been settled by private arrangement.
According to Rowe, John and Mary Shakespeare had ten children, and to this circumstance he ascribes the father's incapability of giving the poet a “better education than his own employment."13 The register of Stratford makes the number only eight. Rowe's error probably arose from the fact of there being another John Shakespeare at Stratford, who in November, 1584, married Margery Roberts, and had three children, born respectively in 1588, 1590 and 1591.14 Adopting the baptismal register as our guide, the following are found to have been the offspring of John and Mary Shakespeare :
Of these children, the first Joan is supposed to have lived but a few months. Margaret and Anne are known to have died young ; Gilbert, the second Joan, Richard, and Edmund I shall have occasion to mention hereafter.
From the defective manner in which ancient registers were kept--an imperfection not completely remedied until the passing of the present Registration Act—we have no certain knowledge of the day when William Shakespeare was born. The record of his baptism in the register stands as follows,—“1564, April 26, Gulielmus filius Johannes [sic] Shakspere ;" and tradition tells us he first saw the light on the 23d of the month, three days before he was baptized. 15 A house in Henley Street has always been regarded as that in which he was born, and the legend is supported by evidence of considerable weight. His father appears to have resided in Henley Street nearly if not all his Stratford life.16 His descendants, the Harts, lived there after him. 17 It is probable that they successively occupied the same house,
Of William Shakespeare's boyhood, 18 of his pursuits up to leaving Stratford, or of the
13 Life of Shakspeare.
14 It has been ascertained that the second John Shakespeare was a shoemaker, and no way related to the father of the dramatist. He is always mentioned in the parish records as plain John Shakespeare, whereas the poet's father is designated Mr. John Shakespeare, a title due to his municipal standing, if not to his position in other respects. There is also evidence to prove that the shoemaker was much the younger man of the two.
15 “ The Rev. Joseph Greene, who was master of the free-school at Stratford, several years ago mado some extracts from the register of that parish, which he afterwards gave to the late James West, Esq. They were imperfect, and in other respects not quite accurate. In the margin of this paper Mr. Greene has written, opposite the entry relative to our poet's baptism, Born on the 230;' but for this, as I conceive, his only authority was the inscription on Shakespeare's tomb Obiit ano Do. 1616, Ætates 53, die 23 Ap.' which, however, renders the date here assigned for his birth sufficiently probable."-MALONE.
16 It is proved by a deed bearing date 14 August, 1591, that John Shakespeare then lived in Henley Street. This
is a deed of conveyance from George Badger to John Couch of a messuage or tenement situate in a certain street called Henley Street, “between the house of Robert Johnson on the one part and the house of John Shakespeare on the other.”
17 Another deed, dated 1647, mentions "all that messuage or tepement with thappurtenances scituate and beinge in Stratford upon Avon aforesaid in a certen streete there called Henley Streete commonly called or knowne by the name of the Maidenhead, and now or late in the tenure of John Rutter or his assignes; and all that other messuage or tenements scituate and beinge in Henley Streete aforesaid now or late in the tenure of Thomas Hart, and adjoyninge unto the said messuage or tenement called the Maidenhead."
18 When Shakespeare was only nine weeks' old, the plague broke out at Stratford, and raged with such malignity, that in half a year, two hundred and thirtyeight deaths were recorded in a population that did not then reach fifteen hundred. Happily, the part of the town where Shakespeare's family resided escaped the visitation of this destructive epidemic.