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Wives of Windsor” with “Henry IV.” We have stated this question fully, and, we hope, impartially, in the Notice of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”* The belief is there expressed, that the comedy was written in 1593, or very near to that time; the circumstance itself being somewhat of a proof that Shakspere was at Windsor precisely at that period, and ready to obey the Queen's command that a comedy suggested by herself should be “finished in fourteen days."
In 1593 Elizabeth remained five months in her castle, repressing her usual desire to progress from county to county, or to move from palace to palace. She has completed her noble terrace, with its almost unrivalled prospect of beauty and fertility. Her gallery too is finished, whose large bay window looks out upon the same magnificent landscape. The comedy, which probably arose out of some local incident, abundantly provocative of courtly gossip and merriment, has hastily been produced. The hand of the master is yet visible in it. Its allusions, contrary to the wont of the author, are all local, and therefore agreeable to his audience. As his characters hover about Frogmore, with its farm-house where Anne Page is a feasting; as Falstaff meets his most perilous adventure in Datchet Mead; as Mistress Anne and her Fairies crouch in the castle ditch,—the poet shows that he has made himself familiar with the scenes where the Queen delighted to dwell. The characters, too, are of the very time of the representation of the play, perhaps more than one of them copied from actual persons. In the original sketch Shakspere hardly makes an attempt to transfer the scene to an earlier period. The persons of the drama are all of them drawn from the rich storehouse of the humours of the middle classes of his own day. We may readily believe the tradition which tells us that the Queen was “ very well pleased with the representation.” The compliment to her in association with Windsor, in the last scene, where the drollery is surrounded with the most appropriate poetry, sufficiently indicates the place at which the comedy was performed, and the audience to whom it was presented :
" About, about;
This is one of the few passages which in the amended edition remain unaltered from the original text.
We have a distinct record when the theatres were re-opened after the plague. The “Diary” of Philip Henslowe records that “the Earl of Sussex his men” acted “Huon of Bordeaux” on the 28th of December, 1593. Henslowe appears to have had an interest in this company. It is probable that Shakspere's theatre of the Blackfriars was opened about the same period. We have some evidence to show what was the duration of the winter season at this theatre ; for the same diary shows that from June, 1594, the performances of the theatre at Newington Butts were a joint under
taking by the Lord Admiral's men and the Lord Chamberlain's men. How long this association of two companies lasted is not easy to determine ; but during the month of June we have entries of the exhibition of “Andronicus,” of “Hamlet,” and of “The Taming of a Shrew.” No subsequent entries exhibit the names of plays which have any real or apparent connection with Shakspere.* It appears that in December, 1593, Richard Burbage entered into a bond with Peter Streete, a carpenter, for the performance on the part of Burbage of the covenants contained in an indenture of agreement by which Streete undertook to erect a new theatre for Burbage's company. This was the famous Globe on the Bankside, of which Shakspere was unquestionably a proprietor. We thus see that in 1594 there were new demands to be made upon his invention ; and we may reasonably conclude that the reliance of Burbage and his other fellows upon their poet's unequalled powers was one of their principal inducements to engage in this new enterprise.
In the midst of his professional engagements, which doubtless were renewed with increased activity after their long suspension, Shakspere published his “ Rape of Lucrece.” He had vowed to take advantage of all idle hours till he had honoured Lord Southampton with some graver labour than the first heir of his invention. The “ Venus and Adonis " was entered in the Registers of the Stationers' Company on the 18th of April, 1593. The “Lucrece" appears in the same registers on the 9th of May, 1594. That this elaborate poem was wholly or in part composed in that interval of leisure which resulted from the shutting of the theatres in 1593 may be reasonably conjectured ; but it is evident that during the year which had elapsed between the publication of the first and the second poem, Shakspere had been brought into more intimate companionship with his noble patron. The language of the first dedication is that of distant respect, the second is that of grateful friendship :
“To the Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield.
“ The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater ; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness. Your Lordship’s in all duty,
“WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.” Henry Wriothesly was born October 6th, 1573. His grandfather, the first Earl, was the celebrated Chancellor of Henry VIII., a fortunate statesman and lawyer, whose memory, however he was lauded by his contemporaries, is infamously associated with the barbarous cruelties of that age in the torture of the heroic Ann Askew. His son Henry, the second Earl, bred up by his father in the doctrines opposed to the Reformation, adhered with pertinacity to the old forms of religion, and was of course shut out from the honours and employments of the government. He was unmolested, however, till his partisanship in the cause of Mary Queen of Scots occasioned his imprisonment in the Tower, in 1572. The house in which his father the Chancellor dwelt was also his London residence; and its site is still indicated by the name of Southampton Buildings. In Aggas's map the mansion appears to have been backed by extensive gardens. Gervase Markham, in his curious book, printed in 1624, entitled “Honour in his Perfection; or, a Treatise in Commendation of the Vertues and Renowned Vertuous Vndertakings of the Illustrious and Heroicall Princes Henry Earle of Oxenford, Henry Earle of Southampton, Robert Earle of Esses, &c.,” thus describes the state with which the father of Shakspere's friend was surrounded —“His muster-roll never consisted of four lackeys and a coachman, but of a whole troop of at least a hundred well-mounted gentlemen and yeomen; he was
* See “Studies," p. 62.
not known in the streets by guarded liveries, but by gold chains ; not by painted butterflies, ever running as if some monster pursued them, but by tall goodly fellows, that kept a constant pace, both to guard his person and to admit any man to their lord which had serious business.” The pomp with which he was encircled might in some degree have compensated for the absence of courtly splendour. But he lived not long to enjoy his solitary dignity, or, as was sufficiently probable, to conform to the opinions which might have opened to him the road to the honours of the crown. He died in 1581, leaving two children, Henry and Mary. The boy earl was only eight years old at the death of his father. During his long minority the accumulation of the family property must have been great; and we may thus believe that the general munificence of his patronage in after-life has not been over-rated. He appears to have had careful guardians, who taught him that there were higher honours to be won than those which his rank and wealth gave him. At the age of twelve he became a student of St. John's College, Cambridge ; and four years afterwards took the degree of Master of Arts by the usual exercises. * He subsequently became, according to one account, a member of Gray's Inn. At the period when Shakspere dedicated to him his “Venus and Adonis" he was scarcely twenty years of age. He is supposed to have become intimate with Shakspere from the circumstance that his mother had married Sir Thomas Heneage, who filled the office of Treasurer of the Chamber, and in the discharge of his official duties would be brought into frequent intercourse with the Lord Chamberlain's players. This is Drake's theory. The more natural belief appears to be that he had a strong attachment to literature, and, with the generous impetuosity of his character, did not regard the distinctions of rank to the extent with which they were regarded by men of colder temperaments and more worldly minds. Shakspere appears to have been the first amongst the writers of his day that offered a public tribute to the merits of the young nobleman. Both the dedications, and especially that of " Lucrece,” are conceived in a modest and a manly spirit, entirely different from the ordinary language of literary adulation. Nashe, who dedicates a little book to him at the same period, after calling him “a dear lover and cherisher, as well of the lovers of poets as of poets themselves,” gives us one of the many proofs that the characters of satirist and flatterer may have some affinity :-“ Incomprehensible is the height of your spirit, both in heroic resolution and matters of conceit. Unreprievably perisheth that book whatsoever to waste paper which on the diamond rock of your judgment disasterly chanceth to be shipwracked.” Gervase Markham, who many years after became the elaborate panegyrist of Southampton, dedicates a tragedy to him in the following sonnet, in 1595 :
“Thou glorious laurel of the Muses' hill,
From graver subjects of thy grave assays,
And when the stubborn stroke of my harsh song
So shall my tragic lays be blest by thee,
And from thy lips suck their eternity." This hyperbolical praise is something different from Shakspere's simple expressions of respect and devotion in the dedication to the “ Lucrece.” There is evidence in
*“Cum prius disputasset publicè pro gradu."— Harleian MS. 7138.