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matist from the very first is clear from the concurrent testimony of the times ; scanty as it is. Already in 1598, a writer named Francis Meres, Master of Arts of both Universities,' in a · Discourse of English Poets,'* mentions Shakspeare in the following terms: “Shakspeare, among the English, is the most excellent in both kinds (tragedy and comedy) for the stage. For comedy, witness his “Gentlemen of Verona,” his “Errors," his “ Love's Labour's Lost," his “Love's Labour's Won,” his "Midsummer's Night's Dream," and his “Merchant of Venice.” For tragedy, his "Richard II.," "Richard III.," " Henry IV.,” “King John,” “ Titus Andronicus," and his “Romeo and Juliet.”'
From the language of Meres it would be naturally inferred that he did not propose to give a complete list of Shakspeare's writings in 1598, but of those only which bore out his assertion that he was the most excellent' in tragedy as well as in comedy. Thus, within twelve or thirteen years after Shakspeare's arrival in London, Meres could point to twelve plays of Shakspeare so generally well known and universally applauded that, in spite of the popularity of Greene, Peele, and Marlowe, or even Ben Jonson, † Meres made no scruple to claim for Shakspeare the palm as a dramatist above all his contemporaries. Even admitting that Meres' list is complete, this would give a year for a play ; and for such plays as 'Richard 11.,' •King John, Henry IV.,' the Midsummer's Night's Dream,' and Romeo and Juliet.'
But this is not all; for, in 1593, Shakspeare had given to the world his two poems of Venus and Adonis,' and 'Lucrece.' To the same period must be ascribed the three parts of Henry VI.,'I and at least so many of the Sonnets—if they were written, as some critics imagine, at different intervals—as to justify Meres's encomium of them, which we make no scruple of repeating here, were it only to disusabe some of our readers of the notion that Shakspeare's contemporaries were insensible to his greatness. As the soul of Euphorbus' (says Meres) was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet, witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare. Witness his “Venus and Adonis,” his “Lucrece," his Sugred Sonnets among his private friends.'
* •Palladis Tamia,' printed at London in 1598. The testimony of Meres is the more valuable because from his reference to Shakspeare's 'Sugred Sonnets among his private friends,' which were not printed until long after, Meres must have been either one of those 'private friends' or well acquainted with them,
+ Jonson's best comedy, “Every Man in His Humour, appeared, two years before Meres' book, in 1596, the year in which Shakspeare lost his only son.
$ On the authority of Greene, in his “Groatsworth of Wit,' published in 1592, in which the line
"O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide !' (3 Hen. VI. i. 4) is travestied into—'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide.'. It is also supposed that the first part of Henry VI. is alluded to by Nash in his • Piers Penniless,' written the same year.
The rapidity with which Shakspeare poured forth his wonderful conceptions, the meteor-like flight with which he emerged from the throng of his contemporaries, the endless profusion of his genius, the most consummate judgment and knowledge of his art and its requirements, combined with a luxuriant energy and a teeming imagination that seemed utterly inexhaustible, might well have provoked the wonder and envy of his less favoured rivals. Their most careless and irregular productions, thrown off under the pressure of necessity or on the impulse of passion, could not keep pace with the creations of Shakspeare, in whom the deliberate energy, the studiousness, the conscious reticence of the artist are as conspicuous as the fertility of his imagination and the impetuosity of his genius. In beauty,' says Lord Bacon, that of favor is more than that of color: and that of decent (becoming) and gracious motion, more than that of favor.' In the plays of the poet's contemporaries, it is the beauty of colour, of graceful and harinonious language; their stateliness never moves; the action never advances, or by fits and by intervals, like human mechanism. In Shakspeare, on the other hand, the action, like Nature, is ever advancing, never still; rapid, but imperceptible; like the summer grass—unseen, but crescent in its faculty. Even in the feeblest of his plays—if such a term can be applied to them—this quality is remarkable. He gets over the ground with astonishing rapidity—an excellence lost to us, who read Shakspeare in the closet and never see him on the stage. He never loiters or lingers in some cool nook, or wastes his time over subordinate details, or turns out of the current to strand in muddy or shallow water, enamoured of his own wit or his own sublimity. But as he rushes straight on in a fuller, inore rapid, and ever increasing volume, sparkling and dashing like a river, all sorts of colours, of sights and sounds, grave and gay, pathetic and joyous, glittering and transparent, dance along the surface; now gleaming fathoms deep to the bottom, now startling and now amusing, now freezing us with emotions of uncontrollable delight, now calling up tears from some sealed and unbroken deep within us.
That the judgment of his contemporaries, though often faulty, was not always at fault is clear from the notices illustrative of Shakspeare in the scattered literature of his times. It is certain that the greatness of his genius as a dramatist was recognised from the first. Greene would scarcely have warned his associates Vol. 131.–No. 261. с
of their approaching eclipse by this new Johannes Factotum," alluding to the universality of the poet's genius, had Shakspeare's audience shown themselves indifferent to these his earliest productions, or slow in recognising their sterling merits. Nor would Meres have ventured to speak of Shakspeare in such high terms of admiration had not popular estimation guided and sanctioned his judgment. We have, besides, the admission of Chettle, a contemporary playwright, the friend of Greene, and editor of his "Groatsworth of Wit.' In defending himself from his supposed share in Greene's malevolent insinuations, which had given just offence to Shakspeare, Marlowe, and others, Chettle says:
. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted; and with one of them (Marlowe) I care not if I never be. The other (Shakspeare) whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had;—that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil, than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.' †
These testimonies alike to his genius and the spotless integrity of the poet's conduct, so different from that of most contemporary dramatists, are unimpeachable. The poet's worldly prosperity kept pace with his reputation. The occupation of an actor alone was a profitable one in those days, and with ordinary prudence was sure to lead, not only to competence, but to wealth. I But with his occupation as an actor Shakspeare combined that of a successful and prolific dramatist ; and the two together soon raised him from the condition of a needy adventurer in 1585 to that of a well-to-do possessor of lands and houses.* In 1597 he purchased The Great House at Stratfordupon-Avon, described as "one messuage, two barns, two gardens, and two orchards, with appurtenances.' The same year his father, formerly in declining circumstances, applied for a grant of arms, and passed from the condition of a yeoman to that of a gentleman; and the same year he filed a bill in Chancery against the son of the mortgagee who unjustly detained Ashbies, the hereditary property of the poet's mother.f Next year the poet is assessed for a tenement in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, valued at 51., and is asked by his friend Richard Quiney for the loan of 301.
* •Kind Hearts' Dream,' published in 1592. + Euphuism all over.
Thus, in Greene's 'Never Too Late,' in the interview between the player and Roberto (i.e. Greene), on the latter asking how the player proposed to mend. Roberto's fortune Why, easily,' quoth he, "and greatly to your benefit; for men of my profession get by scholars their whole living.' • What is your profession ?' said Roberto. "Truly, sir,' said he, “I am a player.' 'A player!' quoth Roberto, * I took you rather for a gentleman of great living; for if by outward habit men should be answered (judged), I tell you, you would be taken for a substantial man.' “So am I, where I dwell,' quoth the player, “reported ; able at my proper cost to build a windmill.' He then proceeds to say that at his outset in life he was fain to carry his playing fardel,' that is, his bundle
stage properties, 'a foot back;' bat now his show of playing apparel' would sell for more than 2001. In the end he offers to engage Greene to write plays for him : "for which you shall be well paid, if you will take the pains.' We know from the sequel that though Greene was extravagant, and never to be trusted if paid beforehand, seldom he wanted, his labours were so well esteemed. See the quotation in Dyce's preface to “Works of Greene,' p. 20, ed. 1861.
From this year, until 1602, when the fertility of his invention poured forth some of the grandest of his productions, and popular judgment placed him far above all his contemporaries, his progress to wealth and fame was equally rapid. In 1602 he purchased 107 acres of arable land in Stratford for the sum of 3201., somewhat more than 10001. in modern computation ; five months after, in the same year, one Walter Getley surrendered a house to the poet in Dead Lane, Stratford ; at Michaelmas term, William Shakspeare, gentleman, as he is now generally styled, bought from Hercules Underhill, for 601., a property consisting of a messuage with two orchards, two gardens, two barns, and their appurtenances. In May, 1603, when James I. came to the crown, a privy seal was granted by the king to his servants ‘Laurence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Philippes, John Hemmings, Henry Condell,' and the rest of their associates, 'to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage plays, and such other, like as they have already studied, or hereafter shall use or study,' in their usual house, the Globe, or elsewhere within the king's dominions. And James, who was by no means the fool that posterity represents him to have been, showed his discrimination by
No account is to be made of the document which professes to describe Shakspeare as holding a share in the theatre as early as 1596. With that falls to the ground the whole modern hypothesis that as sbarer or manager his time was employed in patching up the productions of other dramatists, older or contemporary, and fitting them for the stage. What with sonnets, poems, plays of his own, once a year, and acting in his own plays and those of his contemporaries, what room, occasion, need, or opportunity could Shakspeare have had for such an employment?
† In the grant he is called • John Shakspeare, now of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the co. of Warwick, gent., whose parent, great-grandfather and late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service to the late most prudent prince Henry VII., of famous memory, was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements given to him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation.'
frequently frequently commanding Shakspeare's plays to be acted at court. In 1605 the poet added to his property at Stratford by purchasing the unexpired lease of the tithes of Stratford and the adjoining hamlets for the sum of 4401. sterling; in modern computation 14001.
It is not known at what period he retired from the stage and settled finally in Stratford. By the spring of 1613 he had lost his father, his mother, and his only son. Two daughters remained : Susanna, married, in 1607, to Dr. Hall, a physician at Stratford ; and Judith, married to a vintner named Quiney, of the same place, in 1616. During the last three years of his life notices of his purchases and employments become more rare. In 1613 the Globe Theatre was burnt, and it is gratuitously assumed that many of the poet's manuscripts perished in the flames. Had it been so, we should hardly have failed of finding some notice of such a disastrous loss in the preface and dedication to the first collected edition of his works. "Nor, considering the poet's immature death, his various employments, and the number of his plays which have come down to us, is it probable that any considerable portion of his writings has perished.
The manner of his death is uncertain. His will, still preserved in the Prerogative Office, is dated March 25, 1616. The poet's handwriting, never very good, if we may judge from the few signatures that have been preserved, and fifty years more antiquated than that of Sir Thomas Lucy, is feeble, shaky, and imperfect; very little like what might have been expected from one whose practice in writing must have been considerable, and who had in his time filled many reams of manuscript. His death did not occur until the 23rd April following. It would seem, therefore, that his death was far from sudden; and this alone would suffice to invalidate the tradition, circulated fortyfive years after, that the poet died of a fever contracted at a merry meeting with Drayton and Ben Jonson. His bust in Stratford Church, his portrait by Droeshout prefixed to the first folio edition of his works, and the whole tenor of his life, contradict altogether the supposition that the poet was intemperate. If the
* In the account of The Revels at Court,' notices are found of the following: • Othello,''Merry Wives of Windsor,' •Measure for Measure,'Comedy of Errors,' in 1604; • Love's Labour's Lost,' " Henry V.,' Merchant of Venice,' twice in 1605; at Whitehall, 'King Lear,' which had already in 1608 passed through three editions ; in 1611, 'The Tempest' and The Winter's Night's Tale.' In 1613, on the marriage of James's daughter Elizabeth with the prince-palatine, the representation of Shakspeare's plays furnished a great part of the entertainment; among them are The Tempest,' The Twins' Tragedy' (supposed to be the Comedy of Errors '), ' Much Ado about Nothing,' The Winter's Tale,' Sir John Falstaff,' Othello,' and Julius Cæsar.'