« AnteriorContinuar »
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 : Detlick, 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 Johın 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 Arawback, 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. ?
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 £10 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 made 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 Sbakespeare'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 mes. suage or tenement 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."
19 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.
motive which prompted that step, nothing positive is known. The first of his immediate successors who collected any particulars of his life was the “inveterate gossip” Aubrey, who, writing about 1680, tells us that he was the son of a butcher; adding, “and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his fathers trade, but when he kill’d a calfe, he wold doe it in a high style, and make a speech.” 19 It is well ascertained that his father was not a butcher, but it is remarkable that the very next account we meet with says the son was. On April the 10th, 1693, one Dowdall addressed to Mr. Southwell a small treatise which the latter has endorsed, “Description of severall places in Warwickshire." In this, after describing the monumental inscription over the poet's grave, in Stratford Church, the writer observes : “The clarke that shew'd me this church is above 80 years old : he says that this Shakespear was formerly in this towne bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he run from his master to London and there was received into the play house as a serviture, and by this meanes had an opportunity to be what he afterwards prov'd.”
Rowe's statement, that he was for some time sent to the Free-school,20 is probably true. There no doubt he acquired the general rudiments of education ; comprising the “small Latin and less Greek," to his possession of which, in after life, Ben Jonson bears testimony.21
The most interesting known circumstance in connection with Shakespeare's youth, is the custom that then prevailed of encouraging theatrical representations in provincial towns. The accounts of the Stratford chamberlains contain several notices of official money having been paid for such performances; and Willis, a contemporary of Shakespeare, born in the same year, says, in his Mount Tabor, “When players of enterludes come to towne, they first attend the mayor, to enform him what noblemans servants they are, and so to get licence for their publique playing ; and if the mayor like the actors, or would shew respect to their lord and master, he appoints them to play their first play before himself and the aldermen and common counsell of the city; and that is called the mayors play, where every one that will comes in without money, the mayor giving the players a reward as hee thinks fit, to shew respect unto them.” It appears from the records which have been preserved, that this usage was of frequent observance at Stratford; and curiously enough, the first reference to it is in 1569, the year when John Shakespeare was bailiff'; his son William being then five years of age, and probably a delighted spectator of the performance. The entries in the chamberlains' account that apply to the period of his residence at Stratford are as follows :—“1569. payed to the Quene's players .£9. Item, for the Quenes provysyon 38. 4d. Item, to the Erle of Worcesters pleers 18.” Four years are then skipped over, when we meet with, “ 1573. paid Mr. Bayly for the Erle of Lecesters players 58. 8d.” Then, after another interval of three years, “1576. Geven my Lord of Warwicke players 188. Paid the Earle of Worceter players 58. 8d.” The entries then become more frequent, companies of performers having been retained at the public expense, twice in 1577, twice in 1579, once in 1580, twice in 1581, once each in 1582 and 3, and three times in 1584. These are all the items that relate to the present inquiry ; but the whole are of interest as displaying the state of a country town in Shakespeare's time, and one of later date, 16.2, "payd the Kinges players for not playing in the hall 6s." is of ominous significance, as showing into what straits the drama fell when Puritanism began to raise its shaven, dismal
19 Mr. Raine conjectured that Aubrey was here alluding to an old semi-dramatic entertainment called killing the Cult, in which the actor, behind a door or screen, by means of rentriloquism, went through a pretended performance of slaughterin. a calf.
» The free-school of Stratford was founded by Thomas Jolytle, in the rim of Edward N., and subsequently chartered by Edward VI. The successive masters from
1572 to 1578, the period during which it may be presumed that Shakespeare was a scholar there, were Thomas Hunt and Thomas Jenkins.
91 Aubrey, Mss. Mus. Ashmol. Oron., states, on the authority of a Mr. “Beeston," that Shakespeare “ under: stode Latine pretty well, for he had been in his younger peares a schoolmaster in the countrey."
countenance. We see in these numerous entries the means by which Shakespeare may have acquired his first taste for dramatic pursuits ; and who shall say that it was not an acquaintance with one of these companies of players that first took him to London ?
Another circumstance which may possibly have exercised an influence on his after life was Queen Elizabeth's celebrated visit to the Castle of Kenilworth. This took place in the summer of 1575, when Shakespeare was between eleven and twelve years of age. As Stratford is only thirteen miles from Kenilworth, it is by no means unlikely that the future poet was among the spectators of those "Princely pleasures.” Some writers have supposed, indeed, there is a direct allusion to Leicester's entertainment in the exquisite compliment addressed to Elizabeth in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II. Sc. 1.22
It was an opinion of Malone, an opinion subsequently adopted by several other critics, that some years of Shakespeare's youth were passed in an attorney's office. There can be no doubt that legal expressions are more frequent, and are used with more precision in his writings than in those of any other author of the period. If these do not prove him to have had professional training, they help to show with what masterly comprehensiveness he could deal with the peculiarities of this, as of nearly every other human pursuit. 23
Leaving such speculations, we come to an authentic and important incident of Shakespeare's life-his marriage. Whether glover, wool-stapler, butcher, schoolmaster, or attorney's clerk, in the autumn of 1582, while under nineteen years of age, he took to wife Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a substantial yeoman of Shottery, a hamlet adjoining Stratford. 24
Anne Hathaway, at the supposed time of the marriage, must have been nearly eight years
“ Thou remember st
In maiden meditation, fancy.free."
24 Neither the date of the marriage, nor the church where the ceremony was performed, has yet transpired ; but the following bond was discovered a few years ago by Sir T. Phillipps, in the registry at Worcester, and leaves no doubt that the marriage was celebrated sometime after November 28th, 1582:-—"Noverint universi per præsentes nos Fulconem Sandells de Stratford in comitatu Warwici,
agricolam, et Johannem Rychardson ibidem agricolam, teneri et firmiter obligari Ricardo Cosin generoso, et Roberto Warmstry notario publico, in quadraginta libris bonæ et legalis monetæ Angliæ, solvend. eisdem Ricardo et Roberto, hæred. execut. vel assignat. suis, ad quam quidem solucionem bene et fideliter faciend. obligamus nos et utrumque nostrum per se pro toto et in solid. hæred. executor. et administrator. nostros firmiter per præsentes sigillis nostris sigillat. Dat. 28 die Novem. anno regni dominæ nostræ Eliz. Dei gratia Angliæ, Franc. et Hiberniæ reginæ, fidei defensor. &c. 25o."
" The condicion of this obligacion ys suche, that if herafter there shall not appere any lawfull lett or impediment, by reason of any precontract, consanguinitie, affinitie, or by any other lawfull meanes whatsoever, but that William Shagspere one thone partie, and Anne Hathwey of Stratford in the dioces of Worcester, maiden, may lawfully solennize matrimony together, and in the same afterwardes remaine and continew like man and wiffe, according unto the lawes in that behalfe provided : and moreover, if there be not at this present time any action, sute, quarrell, or demaund, moved or depending before any Judge ecclesiasticall or temporall, for and concerning any suche lawfull lett or impediment: and moreover, if the said William Shagspere do not proceed to solemnizacion of mariadg with the said Anne Hatbwey without the consent of hir frindes : and also, if the said William do, upon his owne proper costes and expences, defend and save harmles the right reverend Father in God, Lord John Bushop of Worcester, and his offycers, for licensing them the said William and Anne to be maried together with once asking of the bannes of matrimony betwene them, and for all other causes which may ensue by reason or occasion therof, that then the said obligacion to be voyd and of none effect or els to stand and abide in full force and vertue.”—The marks and seals of Sandells and Richardson,
the senior of her husband, 25 Her father, in all probability, was Richard Hathaway, 26 whose family have held property at Shottery from the middle of the sixteenth century to the present
The first offspring of this union, Susanna, was born in May 1583.28 The only other issue were Hamnet and Judith, twins, who were baptized Feb. 2.1. 1584–5.29
Shortly after the birth of these children, it seems to be agreed, that Shakespeare quitted his home and family ; and there is a well-known tradition, that this important step was owing to his being detected, with other young men, in stealing deer from the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote. For this indiscretion,' he is said to have been severely punished, and to have retorted with a lampoon so bitter, that Sir Thomas redoubled his persecution and compelled him to fly.31
What degree of authenticity the story possesses will never probably be known. Rowe derived his version of it no doubt through Betterton ; but Davies makes no allusion to the source from which he drew his information, and we are left to grope our way, so far as this important incident is concerned, mainly by the light of collateral circumstances. These, it must be admitted, serve in some respects to confirm the tradition. Shakespeare certainly quitted Stratford-upon-Avon when a young man, and it could have been no ordinary impulse which drove him to leave wife, children, friends, and occupation, to take up his abode among strangers in a distant place. Then there is the pasquinade, 32 and the unmistakeable identification of Sir Thomas Lucy as Justice Shallow in the Second Part of Henry IV. and in the opening
25 She died, according to the brass plate over her grave in Stratford church, on “the 6th day of August, 1623, being of the age of 67 yeares.'
26° Two precepts of the Stratford Court of Record exhibit John Shakespeare as the surety of Richard Hathaway in 1566; and prove an early connexion between the two families.
27 A house still existing in the hamlet, though now divided into three cottages, has always passed as that in which the poet's wife resided in her maiden vears. Having no evidence to the contrary, we may still look upon that habitation as the scene of Shakespeare's courtship.
28 The record of her baptism is as follows :-“1583, May 26. Susanna daughter to William Shaks pere.” 29" The record in the register runs thus:--"
“ 1584. Feb. 2. Hamnet and Judeth sonne and daughter to Willia Shakspere.”
They were doubtless christened after Hamnet Sadler, and Judith his wife; the former a baker at Stratford, to whom the poet bequeathed 368. and 81. to purchase a ring.
31 Deer stealing, in Shakespeare's day, was regarded only as a youthful frolic. Antony Wood (Athen. Oron. i. 371), speaking of Dr. John Thornborough, who was admitted a member of Magdalen College, Oxford, 1570, at the age of eighteen, and was successively Bishop of Limerick in Ireland, and Bishop of Bristol and Worcester in England, informs us, that he and his kinsman, Robert Pinkney, “seldom studied or gave themselves to their books, but spent their time in the fencing-schools and dancing-schools, in stealing deer and conies, in hunting the hare, and wooing girls."
31 The story is first told in print by Rowe, Life of Shakspeare:-“He had, by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company, and, amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once in robhing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and, in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, tbat it
redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire, for some timo, and shelter himself in London."
Aubrey is silent on the subject. He only says, “ This William, being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came to London I guess about eighteen.” But the deerstealing freak and its consequences are narrated more specifically than by Rowe, in an article headed Shakespeare among the MS. collections of the Rev. William Fulman, who died in 1688. This learned antiquary bequeathed his papers to the Rev. Richard Davies, rector of Sapperton and Archdeacon of Litchfield, upon whose death they were presented to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. To Dr. Fulman's notes under the article Shakespeare, Davies has added the following:—“Much given to all unluckinesse in stealing venison and rabbits, particularly from SrLucy, who had him oft whipt and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made him fly his native country to his great alvancement : but his reveng was so great, that he is his Justice Cloul pate and calls him a great man, and that, in allusion to his name, bore three louses rampant for his arms."
32 According to Rowe, the ballad on Sir Thomas Lucy was lost. According to Oldys, as quoted by Steevens :
There was a very aged gentleman living in the neighbourhood of Stratford (where he died fifty years since) who had not only heard from several old people in that town of Shakspere's transgression, but could remember the first stanza of that bitter ballad, which, repeating to one of his acquaintances, he preserved it in writing, and here it is, neither better nor worse, but faithfully transcribed from the copy which his relation very courteously communicated to me :
A parliemente member, a justice of peace,"
He thinks himself greate,
Yet an asse in his state