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WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, the most illustrious kind-hearted man, we may presume was occa name in the history of English dramatic poe- sioned by an excess of rigour and pertinacity try, was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, on the on the part of Sir Thomas. 23d of April, 1564. His father, who sprang from The consequence of this youthful imprua good family, was a considerable dealer in dence drove him to London for shelter; and it wool, and had been an officer and bailiff of is some proof that he had already imbibed a Stratford, where he for some time acted as jus- taste for the drama, that his first application tice of the peace. His mother was of the was to the players, among whom, in one Thomas ancient family of Arden, in the same county, Green, a popular comedian of the day, he met one of undoubted gentility. William, who was a townsman and acquaintance. This removal the eldest of ten children, received the common is supposed to have taken place in 1586, when education of a country free-school, where, it is he was in his twenty-second year. If tradition probable, he acquired what little Latin he was may be depended upon, he was necessitated, in master of. At an early age he was taken by the first instance, to become the prompter's his father to assist in his own business, and call-boy or attendant, while another less prothus deprived of attaining any proficiency in bable story describes him as holding the horses classical literature: but whether a better ac of those who attended the play without serquaintance with ancient authors might not vants, a prevalent custom at that period. have restrained some of that fire, impetuosity, As an actor, the top of his performance is and even beautiful extravagance, which we ad- said to have been the Ghost in his own Hamlet. mire in Shakspeare, may well admit of a dis- " I should have been much more pleased," says pute. Be this as it may, he seems to have Mr. Rowe in his remarks on the genius and adopted the mode of life which his father pro- writings of Shakspeare, “ to have learned from posed to him; and we find that in his eighteenth certain authority, which was the first play be year he married Ann Hathaway, the daughter wrote; it would be without doubt a pleasure to of a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood, any man, curions in things of this kind, to see who was eight years older than himself. Of and know what was the first essay of a fancy his domestic establishment, or professional oc- like Shakspeare's. Perhaps we are not to look cupation, at this time, nothing determinate is for his beginnings, like those of other authors, recorded; but it appears that he was wild and among their least perfect writings ; art had so irregular, from the fact of his connexion with little, and nature so large a share in what he
party who made a practice of stealing the aid, that for aught I know, the performances of deer of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and Stratford. This imprudence brought upon him had the most fire and strength of imagination a prosecution, which he rendered more severe in them, were the best. I would not be thought by a lampoon upon that gentleman, in the form by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and of a ballad, which he had affixed to bis park extravagant, as to be independent of the rule and gates. He also indulges in a vein of splenetic government of judgment; but that what he drollery, upon the same magistrate, in the cha- thought was commonly so great, so justly and racter of Justice Shallow, in the opening scene rightly conceived in itsell, that it wanted little of The Merry Wives of Windsor; which con- or no correction, and was immediately approved tinued hostility, as he was indisputably a by an impartial judgment at the first sight,
But, though the order of time in which the heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, several pieces were written, be generally un. and very rare at any time, and almost equal to certain, yet there are passages in some few of that profuse generosity the present age has then, which seem to fix their dates. So the shown to French dancers and Italian singers. Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry “What particular habitude or friendships the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely he contracted with private men, I have not turned to the Earl of Essex, shows the play to been able to learn, more than that every one, have been written when that lord was general who had a true taste of merit, aud could disfor the queen in Ireland ; and his eulogy upon tinguish men, had generally a just value and Queen Elizabeth,and her successor King James, esteem for him. His exceeding cardour and in the latter end of his Henry the Eighth, is a good-nature must certainly have inclined all proof of that play's being written after the the gentler part of the world to love him, as accession of the latter of these two princes to the power of his wit obliged the men of the the crown of England. Whatever the particu- most delicate knowledge and polite learning lar times of his writings were, the people of to admire him. his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond “His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began of diversions of this kind, could not but be with a remarkable piece of bumanity and highly pleased to see a genius arise amongst good-nature: Mr. Jonson, who was at that them of so pleasurable, so rich a vein, and so time altogether unknown to the world, had plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite offered one of his plays to the players, in order ertertainments. Besides the advantages of to have it acted; and the persons into whose his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, hands it was put, after having turned it careof great sweetness in his manners, and a most lessly and superciliously over, were just about agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, returnicg to him with an ill-natured answer, if, with so many good qualities, he made him that it would be of no service to their comself acquainted with the best conversation of pany; when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye those times. Queen Elizabeth bad several of upon it, and found something so well in it, his plays acted before her; and, without a as to engage him first to read it through, and doubt, gave him many gracious marks of her afterwards to recomme Mr. Jonson and his favour: it is that maiden princess plainly writings to the public. Jonson was certainly whom he intends by
a very good scholar, and in that had the ad. "--a fair vestal, throned by the west."
vantage of Shakspeare; though at the same A Midsummer Night's Dream. time I believe it must be allowed, that what And that whole passage is a compliment very nature gave the latter, was more than a balance properly bronghi in, and very handsomely ap. for what books had given the former; and the plied to her. She was so well pleased with that judgment
of a great man upon this occasion admirable character of Falstafl, in the Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded was, I think, very just and proper. In a conhim to continue it for one play more, and to
versation between Sir John Suckling, Sir show him in love. This is said to be the occa- Hales, of Eyton, and Ben Jonson ; Sir John
William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. sion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor: Suckling, who was a professed admirer of How well she was obeyed, the play itself is Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against an admirable proof. Y pon this occasion, it may Ben Jonson with some warnıth; Mr. Hales, not be improper to observe, that this part of who had sat still for some time, told them, Falstaff is said to have been written originally That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients
, under the name of Owcastle: some of tha
he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; family being then remaining, the Queen was
and that, if he would produce any one topic finely pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence
treated by any one of them, he would undertake to
show something upon the same subject at least as was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether
well written by Shakspeare.". the author may not have been somewhat to
The latter part of his life was spent, as all blame in his second choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the in ease, retirement, and the conversatiou of
men of good sense will wish theirs may be, garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of his friends. His pleasurable wit and gooddistinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. entitled him to the friendship of the gentle
nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and What grace soever the Queen conferred upon men of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, hinn, it was not to her only he owed the fortune
it is a story, still remembered in that country, which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncom
that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. mon marks of favour and friendship from the Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts
for his wealth and his usury: it happened, Earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortu- that in pleasant conversation amongst their nate Earl of Essex. It was to that noble lord
common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakspeare, that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis.
in laughing manner, that he fancied he inThere is one instance so singular in the mag. outlive him ; and since he could not know
tended to write his epitaph, if he happened to nificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was
what might be said of him when he was dead, handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who
he desired it might be done immediately: was probably very well acquainted with his upon which Shakspeare gave him these four affairs, I should not have ventured to have asBerted it; that my Lord Southampton at one
" Ten in the hundred lies here ingraved ;
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not saved ; time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable
If any man ask, Wbo lies in tbix tomb ? him to go through with a purchase which he Oh! ko! quoth the devil, 'tis my Jolan-a-Combe.''
For some years before his death he resided afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington. at Stratford, in a house which he bought from in Northamptonshire; but died without issue the Clopton family, and which continued in by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's the possession of his descendants until the youngest daughter, was married February 10, Restoration, when it was repurchased by a 1615-16, to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died member of the same family, the representative February, 1661-62, in her 77th year. By Mr. of which, Sir Hugh Clopton, entertained Gar-Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, rick, Macklin, and others, in 1742, under the and Thomas, who all died unmarried, and here mulberry-tree, planted by Shakspeare. His the descendants of our poet became extinct. executor sold the house to a clergyman of the In the year 1741 a monument was erected to name of Gastrel, who being rated for the poor the memory of the “immortal bard” in Westhigher than he conceived he had a right to minster Abbey, by the direction of the Earl pay, peevishly declared that the house should of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. never pay again; and, in spite to the inha- Martyn. It was the work of Scheemaker, bitants of Stratford, who were benefited by the (who received £300 for it) after a design of company it brought to the town, he pulled it Kent, and was opened in January of that year, down, and sold the materials. He had pre-one hundred and twenty-five years after the viously cut down the mulberry-tree for fuel, death of him whom it commemorates, and but an honest silversmith purchased the whole whose genius appears to have been forgotten of it, which he profitably manufactured into during almost the whole of that long period. memorials of the poet. Such was the fate of The performers of each of the London theatres a residence in which Shakspeare exhibited so gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the little solicitude for fame, or consciousness of Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nohis own merits, that a similar example of thing for the ground. The money received modesty is scarcely to be found.
by the performance at Drury - lane theatre He died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, amounted to above £200, but the receipts at having exactly completed his fifty-second year. Covent-garden did not exceed £100. He was interred on the north side of the From these imperfect notices, which are all chancel of the great church of Stratford, where we have been able to collect from the labours a monument is placed on the wall, in which of biographers and commentators, the reader he is represented under an arch in a sitting will perceive that less is known of Shakposture, a cushion spread before him, with a speare than of almost any writer who has pen in his right hand, and his left resting on been considered as an object of laudable a scroll of paper. The following Latin distich curiosity. Nothing could be more highly is engraved under the cushion
gratifying than an account of the early studies
of this wonderful man, the progress of his "Jadicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem, Terra tegit, populus noret, Olympus habet."
pen, his moral and social qualities, his friend
ships, his failings, and whatever else constiTo this Latin inscription may be added the tutes personal history. But on all these topics lines to be found underneath it:
his contemporaries and his immediate suc"Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast ?
cessors have been equally silent; and if aught Read ir tbou canst, what envious death bath placed can be hereafter discovered, it must be by exWithin this monument; Shakspeare, with whom ploring sources which have hitherto escaped Quick pature died; whose name doth deck the tomb
the anxious researches of those who have deFar more than cost; since all that he hath writ Leaves living art but page unto bis wit."
voted their whole lives, and their most vigoThis monument was erected within seven trate his writings.
rous talents, to revive his memory, and illusyears of his death; but on his grave-stone
Dr. Johnson, in his elaborate and just review beneath are written the following lines, which of Shakspeare, observes," he has scenes of geem to have been engraven in an uncouth undoubted and perpetual excellence, but permixture of large and small letters, at the time haps not one play, which, if it were now exof his interment:-
hibited as the work of a contemporary writer, "Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forbeare
would be heard to the conclusion.
I am To diGG T-E Dust EncloAsed HERE
indeed (says he,) far from thinking that his Blest be T-E man r-t spares T.Es Stones And carst be Be Y-t moves my Bones.”
works were wrought to his own ideas of per
fection; when they were such as would satisfy It is uncertain whether this request and im- the audience, they satisfied the writer. It is precation were written by Shakspeare, or by seldom that authors, though more studious of one of his friends. They probably allude to fame than Shakspeare, rise much above the the custom of removing skeletons after a cer- standard of their own age; to add a little to tain time, and depositing them in the charnel- what is best will always be sufficient for prehouses: and similar execrations are found in sent praise, and those who find themselves many Latin epitaphs. Shakspeare's remains, exalted into fame, are willing to credit their however, have been ever carefully protected encomiasts, and to spare the labour of confrom injury
tending with themselves." His family consisted of two daughters, and The dramatic reputation of Shakspeare, ala son named Hamnet, who died in his twelfth though great in his own days, became paryear. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her tially obsolete during the period when French father's favourité, was married June 6, 1607, to taste prevailed, and French models were stuDr. John Hall, a physician, who died 'Novem- died, under the Second Charles; and rising ber, 1635 aged 60.
Mrs. Hall, died July 11, again as it did on its own intrinsic pretension, 1649, aged 66. They left only one child, Eliza- until his productions established a national beth, born 1607-8, and married April, 22, 1626, taste, the fact is still more honourable to his to Thomas Nashe, Esq. who died in 1647, and I genius. That much of the admiration enter
tained for him is national and conventional, the adopted feelings and manners seem to bemay be freely allowed; but giving all due long to them alone. weight to the cold hints of this nature, which Voltaire observes, that Shakspeare has been pervade criticism of a certain tone, a fair ap- the favourite of the English nation for more peal may be made on the ground of positive than a century; and that that which has enqualification, and a knowledge of the human grossed national admiration for a hundred heart, which, in its diversity at least, has never years, will by prescription insure it for ever. been surpassed. To this faculty must be added But though there may be some truth in this that of an imagination powerful, poetical, and remark, the obvious and undeniable fact is, so felicitously creative, that presuming the that great native strength of genius can alone existence of the vivid offspring of his fancy, l establish the prepossession.
ALL the world's a stage,
At first, THE INFANT,
And then the LOVER ;
Then, a SOLDIER
And then, the JUSTICE;
The sixth Age shifts
LAST SCENE OF ALL,
IN speaking of the particular beauties and them with food and raiment. In this deserted powers of mind displayed by Shakspeare in state they reach a desolate island, having but the composition of The Tempest, Dr. Johnson one inhabitant, a kind of half monster, called and Warburton are very nearly agreed. The Caliban. Here Prospero philosophically delatter says—“The Tempest and The Midsummer votes himself to the education of his daughter. Night's Dream are the noblest efforts of that! After many years' residence, the King of Nasublime and amazing imagination peculiar to ples having been to marry his daughter to the Shakspeare, which soars above the bounds of King of Tunis, is, in consequence of a storm nature without forsaking sense; or, more pro-raised by Prospero, through the agency of a perly, carries nature along with him beyond Spirit, shipwrecked on his return, near the her established limits." Taken at large, the island, with his party : amongst whom, are his magical part of it is founded on that sort of son Ferdinand, the usurping Duke Antonio, philosophy which was practised by John Dee and the traitors Sebastian and Gonzalo. Ferand his associates, which has been called the dinand, who is separated from the rest by Rosicrucian. It was, says Farmer, one of our dashing himself into the sea, reaches the author's last works. Theobald tells us it must shore, and finds the cell of Prospero, where he have been written after 1609, because the Ber- first beholds Miranda, and they become mumuda islands, which are mentioned in it, were tually enamoured. The others having also unknown to the English till that year; but in gained the shore, the King deplores the supthis he erred: for in Hackluyt, 1600, folio, is a posed loss of his son ; and whilst he and Gondescription of Bermuda, by Henry Hay, who zalo sleep, Antonio persuades Sebastian to was shipwrecked there in 1593. In 1598, Shak-murder his brother, and assume the regal diaspeare played a part in the original Every Man dem. At the moment they are about to exein his Humour. Prospero and Stephano are two cute their diabolical purpose, Ariel awakens of the characters. Ben Jonson taught him the the sleepers. Caliban, who dislikes the serpronunciation of the latter word, which in The vitude in which he is kept by Prospero, havTempest is always right, as—" Is not this Ste-ing met two of the King's party, Stephano and phäno ”—but in The Merchant of Venice, which Trinculo, invites them to murder Prospero ; had been on the stage three years previonsly but the Spirit Ariel again interrupts the work to its publication, in 1600, he falsely wrote- of blood. Finally, Prospero, with the assistMy friend Stephảno."
ance of Ariel, having enticed the King and his
party near his cell, discovers himself, pardons THE PLOT.
his enemies, embraces the King (who accepts Prospero, the lawful Duke of Milan, more de- Miranda as the future wife of his son, to whom voted to his studies than to the cares of state, her father had previously betrothed her), and reposes his confidence in his brother Antonio, determines to visit his native country. who, leaguing himself with Sebastian, the bro
MORAL. ther of Alonzo, King of Naples, Prospero's By the catastrophe of The Tempest, we beenemy, despoils him of his dukedom, and in-hold the punishment or guilt accomplisbed by duces Gonzalo, a Neapolitan, to embark him a concatenation of accidents, when it might and his infant daughter Miranda on board a be least expected ; and the innocent may Vessel ; from which, when out at sea, they are learn, that though they may for a time be the transferred to a crazy boat, and left to their victims of oppression, it by a steady patience fate. The humanity of Gonzalo, however, they endure the present, they shall ultimately contrary to the orders of Antonio, supplies triumph over the oppressor.