« PreviousContinue »
and the unquenchable thirst of its inhabitants.” The lady of his love, as all the world knows, was Anne Hathaway, the dark-eyed maiden of the adjacent hamlet of Shottery; at whose picturesque cottage, worthy Master William was, doubtless, not an unfrequent visitor.
The traditionary charge of deer-stealing preferred against our embryo bard, and the indignities he suffered in consequence thereof, are supposed to have caused him to leave his native town, and seek his fortune in the British metropolis, where, after being seventeen years a player, he at length became proprietor of the “Globe” and other theatres, from which he derived an ample income. In 1612 he returned to Stratford, after having written most of his dramas. It was not till seven years after his death that the first collective edition of his plays appeared ; and it is no less remarkable that it should have omitted Pericles, and included seven dramas since rejected as apocryphal. We all regret our ignorance of the “sayings and doings,” and personal history of the great poet, who himself seemed to be so well acquainted with our common humanity. Even the walls of that rendezvous of rollicking wits,
the “ Boar's-Head Inn,” Eastcheap, or the “Mermaid,” Blackfriars, no longer echo with the jubilant mirth and pleasantries once fabled of Jack Falstaff and his merry men ; or with the “wise saws” of the illustrious author of those creations. Let us, then, leave the fictitious and turn to the real—let us accompany the genial author of The Sketch-Book, and seek the grave of Shakspeare :-“ The place is solemn and sepulchral: tall elms wave before the pointed windows, and the Avon, which runs at a short distance from the walls, keeps up a low, perpetual murmur. A fat stone marks the spot where the bard is buried, upon which are inscribed the following lines :
GOOD FREND, FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE,
Just over the grave, in a niche of the wall, is a bust of Shakspeare, put up shortly after his death, and considered as a resemblance. The aspect is pleasant and serene, with a finely arched forehead.” The bust is said to be life-size, and was originally painted over, in imitation of nature : the eyes were light hazel; the hair and beard, auburn ; the doublet or coat, scarlet ; the loose gown or tabard, black. Malone, however, caused the bust to be painted over white, in 1793. “The inscription on the tombstone has not been without its effect : it has prevented the removal of his remains from the bosom of his native place to Westminster Abbey, which was at one time contemplated. A few years since, also, as some laborers were digging to make an adjoining vault, the earth caved in, so as to leave a vacant space almost like an arch, through which one might have reached into his grave. No one, however, presumed to meddle with his remains, so awfully guarded by a malediction ; and lest any of the idle or curious, or any collector of relics, should be tempted to com
mit depredations, the old sexton kept waten over the place for two days, until the vault was finished and the aperture closed again. He told me that he had made bold to look in at the hole, but could see neither coffin nor bones—nothing but dust. It was something, I thought, to have seen the dust of Shakspeare !"
But, leaving to its silent repose all that is mortal of the great poet, let us seek communion with the spirit that lives immortal in his pages—pages all aglow with clustered brilliants and gems of thought. Dr. Johnson, referring to the difficulty of exhibiting the genius of Shakspeare by quotation, says: “He that attempts it will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.” Nevertheless, as we are not restricted to a single specimen, we will make the most of our privilege. Had the great bard given us but these four dramas, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, and Othello, he would have yet been decked with the laurel-crown as Prince of Poets. What an affluence of imagery and splendor of diction signalize the first act of Hamlet! Familiar though it may be to us, yet it never can become trite, that matchless soliloquy of the royal Dane :
To be, or not to be, that is the question :
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
From this noble reach of philosophy, turn we to the fine impassioned burst of Romeo in the garden :
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks !
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
What other poet has so felicitously portrayed all that is picturesque and lovely in a summer's dawn ;-pouring on our souls all the freshness and cheerfulness of the returning sunlight ?
Look, love! what envious streaks
Among the masterly passages of the great dramatist may be classed the soliloquy of Juliet, on drinking the opiate :
Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.
[Laying down the dagger.