Page images











KD 55477


DEC 25 1956


Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1879, by

In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

Cushing & Bramhall, Printers, Boston.




JILLIAM SHAKESPEARE — the greatest, wisest, sweetest of

was baptized in the parish church of Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, April 26th, 1564. The day of his birth is not positively known, but the general custom then was to baptize infants at three days old, and the custom is justly presumed to have been followed in this instance. Accordingly the 23d of April is agreed upon everywhere throughout the English-speaking world as the Poet's birthday, and is often celebrated as such with appropriate festivities. His father was John Shakespeare, a well-reputed citizen of Stratford, who held, successively, various local offices, closing with those of Mayor of the town and Head-Alderman. His mother was Mary, youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a man of good landed estate, who lived at Wilmecote, some three miles from Stratford.

Nothing further is directly known of Shakespeare till his marriage, which took place in November, 1582, when he was in his nineteenth year. The bride was Anne, daughter of Richard Hathaway, a yeoman living at Shottery, which was a village near Stratford, and belonging to the same parish. The date of her baptism is not known; but the baptismal register of Stratford did not begin till 1558. She


died August 6th, 1623, and the inscription on her monument gives her age as sixty-seven years; so that her birth must have been in 1556, some eight years before that of her husband. Their first child, Susanna, was baptized May 26th, 1583. Two more children, twins, were christened Hamnet and Judith, on the 2d of February, 1585; the Poet then being nearly twenty-one years old.

We have no certain knowledge as to when or why Shakespeare became an actor. At the last-named date, his father, after some years of thrift, had evidently suffered a considerable decline of fortune. Perhaps this was one reason of his leaving Stratford. Another reason may have been, that, as tradition gives it, he engaged, along with others, in a rather wild poaching frolic on the grounds of Sir Thomas Lucy, who owned a large estate not far from Stratford ; which act Sir Thomas resented so sharply, that Shakespeare thought it best to quit the place and go to London.

But the Drama was then a great and rising institution in England, and of course the dramatic interest had its centre in the metropolis. There were various companies of players in London, who used, at certain seasc ns, to go about the country, and perform in towns and villages. Stratford was often visited by such companies during the Poet's boyhood, and some of the players appear to have been natives of that section. In particular, the company that he afterwards belonged to performed there repeatedly while he was just about the right age to catch the spirit from them. And, from what he actually accomplished in the Drama, it is evident that he must have had a great natural genius for just that sort of thing. Now such genius must needs have corresponding instincts, which are uneasy and restless tisl they find their natural place, but spontaneously recognize and take to that place on meeting with it. So, when dramatic performances fell under the youthful Shakespeare's eye, his genius could hardly fail to be strongly kindled towards the Drama as its native and proper element; the pre-established harmony thus instinctively prompting and guiding him to the work for which his mind was specially attuned, and in which it would be most at home. This, no doubt, was the principal cause of his betaking himself to the stage. Nothing further was wanting but an answering opportunity; and this was supplied by the passion for dramatic entertainments which then pervaded all ranks of the English people.

Shakespeare probably left Stratford in 1586 or thereabouts. Be that as it may, the next positive information we have of him is from a pamphlet written in 1592 by Robert Greene, a poor profligate who was then dying from the effects of his vices. Greene, who had himself written a good deal for the stage, there squibs some one as being, “in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country.” There is no doubt that this refers to Shakespeare ; and some of the terms applied to the Shake-scene clearly infer that the Poet was already getting to be well known as a writer of plays. After Greene's death, his pamphlet was given to the public by one Henry Chettle, who, on being remonstrated with by the persons assailed, published an apology, in which he expresses regret for the attack on Shakespeare, adding, “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.”

Our next authentic notice of Shakespeare is by the publication of his Venus and Adonis, in 1593. This poem was dedicated to Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, who

« PreviousContinue »