« PreviousContinue »
WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d day of April, 1564. His family was above the vulgar rank. His father, Johu Shakspeare, was a considerable dealer in wool, and had been an officer of the corporation of Stratford. He was likewise a justice of the peace, and at one time a man of considerable property. This last, however, appears to have been lost by some means, in the latter part of his life. His wife was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wellington, in the county of Warwick, by whom he had a family of ten children.
Our illustrious poet was the eldest son, and was educated, probably, at the free-school of Stratford; but from this he was soon removed, and placed in the office of some country attorney. The exact amount of his education has been long a subject of controversy. It is generally agreed, that he did not enjoy what is usually termed a literary education; but he certainly knew enough of Latin and French to introduce scraps of both in his plays, without blunder or impropriety.
When about eighteen years old, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than himself. His conduct soon after this marriage was not very correct. Being detected with a gang of deer-stealers, in robbing the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford, he was obliged to leave his family and business, and take shelter in London.
He was twenty-two years of age when he arrived in London, and is said to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house. Here his necessities obliged him to accept the office of call-boy, or prompter's attendant; who is appointed to give the performers notice to be ready, as often as the business of the play requires their appearance on the stage. According to another account, far less probable, his first employment was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready after the performance. But in whatever situation he was first employed at the theatre, he appears to have soon discovered those talents which afterwards made him
• Th’applause, delight, the wonder, of our stage.'
Some distinction he probably first acquired as an actor, but no character has been discovered in which he appeared to more advantage than in that of the Ghost in Hamlet: and the best critics and inquirers into his life are of opinion, that he was not eminent as an actor. In tracing the chronology of his plays, it has been discovered, that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III., were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years old. There is also some reason to think that he commenced a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first play, The First Part of Henry VI., in 1589.