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resisted the just exercise of the authority of the University. The Queen and her courtiers appear to have looked upon this contest in something of the spirit of mischievous drollery. Three months after the dispute, Dr. John Still, then Vice-Chancellor, Master of Trinity College, and Bishop of Bath and Wells, writes thus to the Lords of the Council : “Upon Saturday last, being the second of December, we received letters from Mr. Vice-Chamberlain by a messenger sent purposely, wherein, by reason that her Majesty's own servants in this time of infection may not disport her Highness with their wonted and ordinary pastimes, his Honour hath moved our University (as he writeth that he hath also done the other of Oxford) to prepare a comedy in English, to be acted before her Highness by some of our students in this time of Christmas. How ready we are to do anything that may tend to her Majesty's pleasure, we are very desirous by all means to testify; but how fit we shall be by this is moved, having no practice in this English vein,* and being (as we think) nothing beseeming our students, specially out of the University, we much doubt; and do find our principal actors (whom we have of purpose called before us) very unwilling to play in English.”+ If Dr. Still were the author of " Gammer Gurton's Needle," as commonly believed, the joke is somewhat heightened ; but at any rate it is diverting enough, as a picture of manners, to find the University who have opposed the performances of professional players, being called upon to produce a play in the “English vein," a species of composition mostly held in contempt by the learned as fitted only for the ignorant multitude.
In relation to Shakspere, we learn from these transactions at Cambridge that at the Christmas of 1592 there were no revels at Court: “her Majesty's own servants in this time of infection may not disport her Highness with their wonted and ordinary pastimes." Shakspere, we may believe, during the long period of the continuance of the plague in London, had no occupation at the Blackfriars Theatre ; and the pastimes of the Lord Chamberlain's servants were dispensed with at the palaces. It is probable that he was residing at his own Stratford. But with reference to his poetical labours it is scarcely necessary to infer that all his time was spent in " lonely musing." A notion has been propounded that he personally visited Italy. In the Local Illustrations to the “ Taming of the Shrew," and the “Merchant of Venice," with which we were favoured by Miss Martineau, will be found some very striking proofs of Shakspere's intimate acquaintance, not only with Italian manners, but with those minor particulars of the domestic life of Italy, such as the furniture and ornaments of houses, which could scarcely be derived from books, nor, with reference to their minute accuracy, from the conversation of those who had “swam in a gondola." These observations were communicated to us by our excellent friend, without any previous theorizing on the subject, or any acquaintance with the opinions that had been just then advanced on this matter by Mr. Brown. It is not our intention here to go over this ground again ; but it appears to us strongly confirmatory of the belief that Shakspere did visit Italy; that in 1593 he might have been absent several months from England without any interference with his professional pursuits. It is difficult to name any earlier period of his life in which we can imagine him with the leisure and the command of means necessary for such a journey. The subsequent part of the sixteenth century left him no leisure. “ The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello” (in which there is also one or two remarkable indications of local knowledge) were produced within a few years of 1593. “The Taming of the Shrew” probably belongs to the same time. At any rate, looking at the poetical labours of Shakspere at this exact period, we may infer that there
* The English vein had gone out of use. In 1564, “Ezekias," a comedy in English by Dr. Nicholas Udall, was performed before Elizabeth in King's College Chapel.
† The various documents may be consulted in Collier's " Annals of the Stage,” vol. i.
was some pause in his professional occupation; and that his leisure, from the autumn of 1592 to the summer of 1593, enabled him more systematically to cultivate those higher faculties which placed him, even in the opinion of his contemporaries, at the head of the living poets of England.
Let us place then the Shakspere of eight-and-twenty once more in the solitude of Stratford, with the experience of seven years in the pursuits which he has chosen as his profession. He has produced, we believe, several plays belonging to each class of the drama with which the early audiences were familiar. In the tragedy of “ Andronicus," as it has come down to us, and with great probability in the first conceptions of “Hamlet” and of “Romeo and Juliet," the physical horrors of the scene were as much relied upon as attractions, if not more so, than the poetry and characterization. The struggles for the empery of France, and the wars of the Roses, had been presented to the people with marvellous animation ; but the great dramatic principle of unity of idea had been but imperfectly developed, and probably, without the practice of that apprentice-period of the poet's dramatic life, would scarcely have been conceived in its ultimate perfection, Comedy, too, had been tried ; and here the rude wit and the cumbrous affectations of his contemporaries had been supplanted by drollery and nature, with a sprinkle of graceful poetry whose essential characteristic is the rejection of the unnatural ornament and the conventional images which belong to every other dramatic writer of the period. The “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” the “ Comedy of Errors," "Love's Labour's Lost,” the “Taming of the Shrew," and “All's Well that Ends Well,” are essentially nobler and purer in their poetical elements than anything that Peele, or Greene, or Lyly, or Lodge, have bequeathed to us. That they are superior in many respects to many of the best productions of Shakspere's later contemporaries may be the result of the after-polish which we have no doubt the poet bestowed even upon his least important works. They, with the histories and tragedies we have named, essentially belonged, we think, to his earliest period. We are about to enter upon the career of a higher ambition.
William Shakspere left Stratford about 1585 or 1586, an adventurer probably, but, as we hold, not the reckless adventurer which it has been the fashion to represent him. We know not whether his wife and children were with him in London. There is no evidence to show that they did not so dwell. If he were absent alone during a portion of the year from his native place, his visits to his family would not necessarily be of rare occurrence and of short duration. The Blackfriars was a winter theatre, although at a subsequent period, when the Globe was erected, it was let for summer performances to the “children of the Chapel.” With rare exceptions the performances at Court occupied only the period from Hallowmas Day to Shrove Tuesday. The latter part of the summer and autumn seem therefore to have been at Shakspere's disposal, at least during the first seven or eight years of his career. | That he spent a considerable portion of the year in the quiet of his native walks we may be tolerably well assured, from the constant presence of rural images in all his works, his latest as well as his earliest. We have subsequently more distinct evidence in his farming occupations. At the time of which we are now writing we believe that a great public calamity gave him unwonted leisure ; and that here commences what may be called the middle period of his dramatic life, which saw the production of his greater histories, and of some of his most delightful comedies.
There is a well-known passage in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” which goes very far towards a determination of its date. Titania thus reproaches Oberon:
“These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,
The summers of 1592, 1593, and 1594 were so unpropitious, that the minute description of Titania, full of the most precise images derived from the observation of a resident in the country, gives us a far more exact idea of these remarkable seasons than any of the prosaic records of the time. In 1594, Dr. J. King thus preaches at York : “Remember that the spring (that year when the plague broke out) was very unkind, by means of the abundance of rains that fell. Our July hath been like to a February, our June even as an April, so that the air must needs be infected." He then adds, speaking of three successive years of scarcity, “Our years are turned upside down. Our summers are no summers ; our harvests are no harvests ; our seed-times are no seed-times." There are passages in Stow's “ Annals," and in a manuscript by Dr. Simon Forman in the Ashmolean Museum, which show that in the June and July of 1594 there were excessive rains. But Stow adds, of 1594, “notwithstanding in the month of August there followed a fair harvest." This does not agree with
" The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
It is not necessary to fix Shakspere's description of the ungenial season upon 1594 in particular. There was a succession of unpropitious years, when
“The spring, the summer, The childing autumn, angry winter, change Their wonted liveries."
"Our summers are no summers; our harvests are no harvests; our seed-times are no seed-times.” Churchyard, in his preface to a poem entitled “Charity,”* says, “A great nobleman told me this last wet summer the weather was too cold for poets." The poetry of Shakspere was as much subjective as objective, to use one of the favourite distinctions which we have derived from the Germans. The most exact description of the coldness of the “wet-summer” becomes in his hands the finest poetry, even taken apart from its dramatic propriety ; but in association with the quarrels of Oberon and Titania, it becomes something much higher than descriptive poetry. It is an integral part of those wondrous efforts of the imagination which we can call by no other name than that of creation. It is in “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” as it appears to us, that Shakspere first felt the entire strength of his creative power. That noble poem is something so essentially different from any
* Quoted by Mr. Halliwell in his “ Introduction to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.””
thing which the stage had previously possessed, that we must regard it as a great effort of the highest originality ; conceived perhaps with very little reference to its capacity of pleasing a mixed audience ; probably composed with the express intention of being presented to "an audience fit though few," who were familiar with the allusions of classical story, of " masque and antique pageantry," but who had never yet been enabled to form an adequate notion of
“ Such sights as youthful poets dream
On summer eves by haunted stream.”
The exquisite delicacy of the compliment to "the imperial votaress" fully warrants the belief that in the season of calamity, when her own servants “may not disport her Highness with their wonted and ordinary pastimes," one of them was employed in a labour for her service, which would make all other pastimes of that epoch appear flat and trivial.
It is easy to believe that if any external impulse were wanting to stimulate the poetical ambition of Shakspere-to make him aspire to some higher character than that of the most popular of dramatists such might be found in 1593 in the clear field which was left for the exercise of his peculiar powers. Robert Greene had died on the 3rd of September, 1592, leaving behind him a sneer at the actor who aspired “to bombast out a blank verse." Even had his genius not been destroyed by the wear and tear, and the corrupting influences, of a profligate life, he never could have competed with the mature Shakspere. But as we know that “the only Shake-scene in a country," at whom the unhappy man presumed to scoff, felt the insult somewhat deeply, so we may presume he took the most effectual means to prove to the world that he was not, according to the malignant insinuation of his envious compeer, “an upstart crow beautified with our feathers." We believe that in the gentleness of his nature, when he introduced into “ A Midsummer Night's Dream,”
“The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of learning, late deceas'd in beggary," : he dropped a tear upon the grave of him whose demerits were to be forgiven in his misery. On the 1st of June, 1593, Christopher Marlowe perished in a wretched brawl, “slain by Francis Archer," as the Register of Burials of the parish of St. Nicholas, Deptford, informs us. Who was left of the dramatists that could enter into competition with William Shakspere, such as he then was ? He was almost alone. The great disciples of his school had not arisen. Jonson had not appeared to found a school of a different character. It was for him, thenceforth, to sway the popular mind after his own fashion ; to disregard the obligation which the rivalry of high talent might have irnposed upon him of listening to other suggestions than those of his own lofty art; to make the multitude bow before that art, rather than that it should accommodate itself to their habits and prejudices. But at a period when the exercise of the poetical power in connection with the stage was scarcely held amongst the learned and the polite in itself to be poetry, Shakspere vindicated his reputation by the publication of the “ Venus and Adonis.” It was, he says, “the first heir of my invention.” There may be a doubt whether Shakspere meant to say literally that this was the first poetical work that he had produced ; or whether he held, in deference to some critical opinions, that his dramatic productions could not be classed amongst the heirs of “invention.” We think that he meant to use the words literally ; and that he used them at a period when he might assume, without vanity, that he had taken his rank amongst the poets of his time. He dedicates to the Earl of Southampton something that had not before been given
to the world. He calls his verses “unpolished lines ;" he vows to take advantage of all idle hours till he had honoured the young patron of the Muses with “some graver labour.” But invention was received then, as it was afterwards, as the highest quality of the poet. Dryden says.—“A poet is a maker, as the word sig. nifies; and he who cannot make, that is invent, hath his name for nothing.” We consider, therefore, that “my invention” is not the language of one unknown to fame. He was exhibiting the powers which he possessed upon a different instrument than that to which the world was accustomed ; but the world knew that the power existed. We employ the word genius always with reference to the inventive or creative faculty. Substitute the word genius for invention, and the expression used by Shakspere sounds like arrogance. But the substitution may indicate that the actual expression could not have been used by one who came forward for the first time to claim the honours of the poet. It has been argued from this expression that Shakspere had produced nothing original before the “Venus and Adonis" -that up to the period of its publication, in 1593, he was only a repairer of the works of other men. We hold that the expression implies the direct contrary. The dreary summer of 1593 has passed away ;
“And on old Hyems' chin, and ivy crown,
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
From the 1st of August in that year to the following Christmas the Queen was at Windsor. The plague still raged in London, and the historian gravely records, amongst the evils of the time, that Bartholomew Fair was not held. Essex was at Windsor during this time, and probably the young Southampton was there also. It was a long period for the Court to remain in one place. Elizabeth was afraid of the plague in the metropolis ; and upon a page dying within the castle on the 21st of November she was about to rush away from the pure air which blew around the "proud keep." But “the lords and ladies who were accommodated so well to their likings had persuaded the Queen to suspend her removal from thence till she should see some other effect." * Living in the dread of “infection," we may believe that the Queen would require amusement; and that the Lord Chamberlain's players, who had so long forborne to resort to the metropolis, might be gathered around her without any danger from their presence. If so, was the “Midsummer Night's Dream” one of the novelties which her players had to produce ? But there was another novelty which tradition tells us was written at the especial desire of the Queen herself—a comedy which John Dennis altered in 1702, and then published with the following statement :-“ That this comedy was not despicable, I guessed for several reasons : first, I knew very well that it had pleased one of the greatest queens that ever was in the world-great not only for her wisdom in the arts of government, but for her knowledge of polite learning, and her nice taste of the drama ; for such a taste we may be sure she had, by the relish which she had of the ancients. This comedy was written at her command, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted, that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days; and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased at the representation." The plain statement of Dennis, “this comedy was written at her command," was amplified by Rowe into the circumstancial relation that Elizabeth was so well pleased with the character of Falstaff in “Henry IV.” “ that she commanded him [Shakspere] to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love." Hence all the attempts, which have only resulted in confusion worse confounded, to connect “The Merry
* Letter from Mr. Standen to Mr. Bacon, in Birch's “ Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth.”