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well knowing that by the Act of 1581 the saying of mass was punishable by a year's imprisonment and a fine of 200 marks, and the hearing of it by a similar imprisonment and fine of 100 marks. The fabrication appears to us as gross as can well be imagined.
That John Shakspere was what we popularly call a Protestant in the year 1568, when his son William was four years old, may be shown by the clearest of proofs. He was in that year the chief magistrate of Stratford ; he could not have become so without taking the Oath of Supremacy, according to the statute of the 1st of Elizabeth, 1558-9. To refuse this oath was made punishable with forfeiture and imprisonment, with the pains of præmunire and high treason. “The conjecture,” says Chalmers (speaking in support of the authenticity of this confession of faith), “that Shakspeare's family were Roman Catholics, is strengthened by the fact that his father declined to attend the corporation meetings, and was at last removed from the corporate body.” He was removed from the corporate body in 1586, with a distinct statement of the reason for this removal-his non-attendance when summoned to the halls. But a subsequent discovery of a document in the State Paper Office, communicated by Mr. Lemon to Mr. Collier, shews that in 1592, Mr. John Shakspere, with fourteen of his neighbours, were returned by certain Commissioners as “such recusants as have been heretofore presented for not coming monthly to the church according to her Majesty's laws, and yet are thought to forbear the church for debt and for fear of process, or for some other worse faults, or for age, sickness, or impotency of body.” John Shakspere is classed amongst nine who “came not to church for fear of process for debt." We shall have to notice this assigned reason for the recusancy in a future Chapter. But the religious part of the question is capable of another solution, than that the father of Shakspere had become reconciled to the Romish religion. At that period the puritan section of the English church were acquiring great strength in Stratford and the neighbourhood ; and in 1596, Richard Bifield, one of the most zealous of the puritan ministers, became its Vicar.* John Shakspere and his neighbours might not have been Popish recusants, and yet have avoided the church. It must be borne in mind that the parents of William Shakspere passed through the great changes of religious opinion, as the greater portion of the people passed, without any violent corresponding change in their habits derived from their forefathers. In the time of Henry VIII, the great contest of opinion was confined to the supremacy of the Pope ; the great practical state measure was the suppression of the religious houses. Under Edward VI. there was a very careful compromise of all those opinions and practices in which the laity were participant. In the short reign of Mary the persecution of the Reformers must have been offensive even to those who clung fastest to the ancient institutions and modes of belief: and even when the Reformation was fully established under Elizabeth, the habits of the people were still very slightly interfered with. The astounding majority of the conforming clergy is a convincing proof how little the opinions of the laity must have been disturbed. They would naturally go along with their old teachers. We have to imagine, then, that the father of William Shakspere, and his mother, were, at the time of his birth, of the religion established by law. His father, by holding a high municipal office after the accession of Elizabeth, had solemnly declared his adherence to the great principle of Protestantism—the acknowledgment of the civil sovereign as the head of the church. The speculative opinions in which the child was brought up would naturally shape themselves to the creed which his father must have professed in his capacity of magistrate ; but, according to some opinions, this profession was a disguise on the part of his father. The young Shakspere was brought up in the Roman persuasion, according to these notions, because
* Hunter: “New Illustrations,” Vol. I., p. 106.
he intimates an acquaintance with the practices of the Roman church, and mentions purgatory, shrift, confession, in his dramas.* Surely the poet might exhibit this familiarity with the ancient language of all Christendom, without thus speaking “from the overflow of Roman Catholic zeal.”+ Was it “Roman Catholic zeal" which induced him to write those strong lines in King John against the “ Italian priest,” and against those who
“Purchase corrupted pardon of a man ?" Was it “Roman Catholic zeal” which made him introduce these words into the famous prophecy of the glory and happiness of the reign of Elizabeth —
"God shall be truly known ?” He was brought up, without doubt, in the opinions which his father publicly professed, in holding office subject to his most solemn affirmation of those opinions. The distinctions between the Protestant and the Popish recusant were then not so numerous or speculative as they afterwards became. But, such as they were, we may be sure that William Shakspere learnt his catechism in all sincerity ; that he frequented the church in which he and his brothers and sisters were baptized ; that he was prepared for the discipline of the school in which religious instruction by a minister of the church was regularly afforded as the end of the other knowledge there taught. He became tolerant, according to the manifestation of his after-writings, through nature and the habits and friendships of his early life. But that tolerance does not presume insincerity in himself or his family. The “Confession of Faith,” found in the roof of his father's house two hundred years after he was born, would argue the extreme of religious zeal, even to the defiance of all law and authority, on the part of a man who had by the acceptance of office professed his adherence to the established national faith. If that paper were to be believed, we must be driven to the conclusion that John Shakspere was an unconscientious hypocrite for one part of his life, and a furious bigot for the other part. It is much easier to believe that the Reformation fell lightly upon John Shakspere, as it did upon the bulk of the laity; and that he and his wife, without any offence to their consciences, saw the Common Prayer take the place of the Mass-book, and acknowledged the temporal sovereign to be head of the church : that in the education of their children they dispensed with auricular confession and penance; but that they, in common with their neighbours, tolerated, and perhaps delighted in, many of the festivals and imaginative forms of the old religion, and even looked up for heavenly aid through intercession, without fancying that they were yielding to an idolatrous superstition, such as Puritanism came subsequently to denounce. The transition from the old worship to the new was not an ungentle one for the laity. The early reformers were too wise to attempt to root up habits—those deep-sunk foundations of the past which break the ploughshares of legislation when it strives to work an inch below the earth's surface.
To the grammar-school, then, with some preparation, we hold that William Shakspere goes, about the year 1571. His father is at this time, as we have said, chief alderman of his town; he is a gentleman, now, of repute and authority, -he is Master John Shakspere ; and assuredly the worthy curate of the neighbouring village of Luddington, Thomas Hunt, who was also the school-master, would have received his new scholar with some kindness. As his “shining morning face" first passed out of the main street into that old court through which the upper room of learning was to be reached, a new life would be opening upon him. The humble minister of religion who was his first instructor has left no memorials
See Chalmers's “ Apology," p. 200.
of his talents or his acquirements; and in a few years another master came after him, Thomas Jenkins, also unknown to fame. All praise and honour be to them ; for it is impossible to imagine that the teachers of William Shakspere were evil instructors-giving the boy husks instead of wholesome aliment. They could not have been harsh and perverse instructors, for such spoil the gentlest natures, and his was always gentle :“My gentle Shakspere” is he called by a rough but noble spirit, one in whom was all honesty and genial friendship under a rude exterior. His wondrous abilities could not be spoiled even by ignorant instructors.
In the seventh year of the reign of Edward VI. a royal charter was granted to Stratford for the incorporation of the inhabitants. That charter recites—“That the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon was an ancient borough, in which a certain guild was theretofore founded, and endowed with divers lands, tenements, and possessions, out of the rents, revenues, and profits whereof a certain free grammar-school for the education of boys there was made and supported."* The charter further recites the other public objects to which the property of the guild had been applied; that it was dissolved ; and that its possessions had come into the hands of the king. The charter of incorporation then grants to the bailiff and burgesses certain properties which were parcel of the possessions of the guild, for the general charges of the borough, for the maintenance of an ancient almshouse," and that the free grammar-school for the instruction and education of boys and youth there should be thereafter kept up and maintained as theretofore it used to be." It may be doubted whether Stratford was benefited by the dissolution of its guild. We see that its grammar-school was an ancient establishment: it was not a creation of the charter of Edward VI., although it is popularly called one of the grammarschools of that king, and was the last school established by him.t The people of Stratford had possessed the advantage of a school for instruction in Greek and Latin, which is the distinct object of a grammar-school, from the time of Edward IV., when Thomas Jolyffe, in 1482, “granted to the guild of the Holy Cross of Stratford-upon-Avon all his lands and tenements in Stratford and Dodwell, in the county of Warwick, upon condition that the master, aldermen, and proctors of the said guild should find a priest, fit and able in knowledge, to teach grammar freely to all scholars coming to the school in the said town to him, taking nothing of the scholars for their teaching."I Dugdale describes the origin of guilds, speaking of this of Stratford :-“ Such meetings were at first used by a mutual agreement of friends and neighbours, and particular licenses granted to them for conferring lands or rents to defray their public charges in respect that, by the statute of mortmain, such gifts would otherwise have been forfeited."
In the surveys of Henry VIII., previous to the dissolution of religious houses, there were four salaried priests belonging to the guild of Stratford, with a clerk, who was also schoolmaster, at a salary of ten pounds per annum. They were a hospitable body these guild-folk, for there was an annual feast, to which all the fraternity resorted, with their tenants and farmers; and an inventory of their goods in the 15th of Edward IV. shows that they were rich in plate for the service of the table, as well as of the chapel. That chapel was partly rebuilt by the great benefactor of Stratford, Sir Hugh Clopton; and after the dissolution of the guild and the establishment of the grammar-school by the charter of Edward VI., the school was in all probability kept within it. There is an entry in the Corporation books, of February 18, 1594-5—“At this hall it was agreed by the bailiff and the greater number of the company now present that there shall be no school kept in the chapel from this time following.” In associating, therefore, the schoolboy days of William • “Report of the Commissioners for inquiring concerning Charities." + See Strype’s “Memorials.” “Report of Commissioners," &c.
Shakspere with the Free Grammar School of Stratford, we cannot with any certainty imagine him engaged in his daily tasks in the ancient room which is now the school
room. And yet the use of the chapel as a school, discontinued in 1595, might only have been a temporary use. A little space may be occupied in a notice of each building.
The grammar-school is now an ancient room over the old town-hall of Stratford ; -both, no doubt, offices of the ancient guild. We enter from the street into a court, of which one side is formed by the chapel of the Holy Cross. Opposite the chapel is a staircase, ascending which we are in a plain room, with a ceiling. But it is evident that this work of plaster is modern, and that above it we have the oak roof of the sixteenth century. In this room are a few forms and a rude antique desk.
The Chapel of the Guild is in great part a very perfect specimen of the plainer ecclesiastical architecture of the reign of Henry VII. :—a building of just proportions and some ornament, but not running into elaborate decoration. The interior now presents nothing very remarkable. But upon a general repair of the chapel in 1804, beneath the whitewash of successive generations, was discovered a series of most remarkable paintings, some in that portion of the building erected by Sir Hugh Clopton, and others in the far more ancient chancel. A very elaborate series of coloured engravings has been published from these paintings, from drawings made at the time of their discovery by Mr. Thomas Fisher. There can be little doubt, from the defacement of some of the paintings, that they were partially destroyed by violence, and all attempted to be obliterated in the progress of the Reformation. But that outbreak of zeal did not belong to the first periods of religious change ; and it is most probable that these paintings were existing in the early years of
Elizabeth's reign. When the five priests of the guild were driven from their home and their means of maintenance, the chapel no doubt ceased to be a place of worship; and it probably became the school-room, after the foundation of the grammar-school, distinct from the guild, under the charter of Edward VI. If it was the school-room of William Shakspere, those rude paintings must have produced a powerful effect upon his imagination. Many of them in the ancient chancel constituted a pictorial romance—the history of the Holy Cross, from its origin as a tree at the Creation of the World to its rescue from the pagan Cosdroy, King of Persia, by the Christian King, Heraclius ;—and its final Exaltation at Jerusalem,the anniversary of which event was celebrated at Stratford at its annual fair, held on the 14th of September. There were other pictures of Saints, and Martyrdoms; and one, especially, of the murder of Thomas à Becket, which exhibits great force, without that grotesqueness which generally belongs to our early paintings. There were fearful pictures, too, of the last Judgment; with the Seven Deadly Sins visibly portrayed,—the punishments of the evil, the rewards of the just. Surrounded as he was with the memorials of the old religion—with great changes on every side, but still very recent changes—how impossible was it that Shakspere should not have been thoroughly imbued with a knowledge of all that pertained to the faith of his ancestors! One of the most philosophical writers of our day has said that Catholicism gave us Shakspere.* Not so, entirely. Shakspere belonged to the tran
* Carlyle : “French Revolution.”