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name of the greatest of those poets—“Shaxberd.” The list gives us no information as to the actors which acted the plays, in addition to the poets which made them. We learn, indeed, from the corresponding accounts in the Office Books of the Treasurer of the Chamber, that on the 21st of January, 1605, sixty pounds were paid “ To John Hemynges, one of his Ma's players, for the paines and expences of himselfe and the reste of his Companie, in playinge and presentinge of sixe Enterludes, or plaies, before his Matie.” The name of Shakspere is found amongst the names of the performers of Ben Jonson's “Sejanus,” which was first acted at the Globe in 1603. Burbage, Lowin, Hemings, Condell, Phillipps, Cooke, and Sly had also parts in it. In Jonson’s “ Volpone,” brought out at the Globe in 1605, the name of Shakspere does not occur amongst the performers. It has been conjectured, therefore, that he retired from the stage between 1603 and 1605. But, appended to the letter from the Council to the Lord Mayor and other Justices, dated April the 9th, 1604 (which we have already noticed), there has been found the following list of the “ King's Company :"* “Burbidge,
Slye, It is thus seen that in the spring of 1604 Shakspere was still an actor, and still held the same place in the company which he held in the patent of the previous year. Lawrence Fletcher, the first named in that patent, has changed places with Burbage. The probable explanation of these changes is, that the shareholders periodically chose one of their number as their chairman, or official head ; that Lawrence Fletcher filled this office at Aberdeen in 1601, and at London in 1603, Burbage succeeding to his rank and office in 1604. In the meantime the reputation of Shakspere as a dramatic poet must have secured to him something higher than the fame of an actor, and something better than courtly honours and pecuniary advantages. He must have commanded the respect and admiration of the most distinguished amongst his contemporaries for taste and genius. Few, indeed, comparatively of his plays were printed. The author of “Othello," for example, must have been content with the fame which the theatre afforded him. But in 1604, probably to vindicate his reputation from the charge of having, in his mature years, written his “Hamlet,” such as it appeared in the imperfect edition of 1603, was published “The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. By William Shakespeare. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie.” Edition after edition was called for ; and assuredly that wonderful tragedy, whose true power can only be adequately felt by repeated study, must have carried its wonderful philosophy into the depths of the heart of many a reader who was no haunter of play-houses, and have most effectually vindicated plays and playbooks from the charge of being nothing but “unprofitable pleasures of sin,” to be denounced in common with “ Love-locks, periwigs, women's curling, powdering and cutting of the hair, bonfires, New-year's gifts, May-games, amorous pastorals, lascivious effeminate music, excessive laughter, luxurious disorderly Christmas keeping, mummeries.”+ From the hour of the publication of “Hamlet,” in 1604, to these our days, many a solitary student must have closed that wonderful book with the application to its author of something like the thought that Hamlet himself expresses,—“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!"
* Collier's " Memoirs of Alleyn,” p. 68.
† Prynne's " Histrio-Mastix.”
We have seen that in the year 1602 Shakspere was investing the gains of his profession in the purchase of property at Stratford. It appears from the original Fines of the Court of King's Bench, preserved in the Chapter-house, that a little before the accession of James, in 1603, Shakspere had also purchased a messuage at Stratford, with barns, gardens, and orchards, of Hercules Underhill, for the sum of sixty pounds.* There can be little doubt that this continued acquisition of property in his native place had reference to the ruling desire of the poet to retire to his quiet fields and the placid intercourse of society at Stratford, out of the turmoil of his professional life and the excitement of the companionship of the gay and the brilliant. And yet it appears highly probable that he was encouraged, at this very period, through the favour of those who rightly estimated his merit, to apply for an office which would have brought him even more closely in connexion with the Court. As one of
* The document was first published in Mr. Colliers “New Facts.”
the King's servants he received the small annual fee of three pounds six and eightpence.
On the 30th of January, 1604, Samuel Daniel was appointed by letters patent to an office which, though not so called, was in fact that of master of the Queen's Revels. In a letter from Daniel to Lord Ellesmere, he expresses his thanks for a “new, great, and unlooked for favour,
I shall now be able to live free from those cares and troubles that hitherto have been my continual and wearisome companions.
I cannot but know that I am less deserving than some that sued by other of the nobility unto her Majesty for this room : if M. Drayton, my good friend, had been chosen, I should not have murmured, for sure I am he would have filled it most excellently; but it seemeth to mine humble judgment that one who is the author of plays now daily presented on the public stages of London, and the possessor of no small gains, and moreover himself an actor in the King's Company of Comedians, could not with reason pretend to be Master of the Queen's Majesty's Revels, forasmuch as he would sometimes be asked to approve and allow of his own writings. Therefore he, and more of like quality, cannot justly be disappointed, because through your honour's gracious interposition the chance was haply mine."* It appears highly probable that Shakspere was pointed at as the author of popular plays, the possessor of no small gains, the actor in the King's company. It is not impossible that Shakspere looked to this appointment as a compensation for his retirement from the profession of an actor, retaining his interest, however, as a theatrical proprietor. Be that as it may, he still carried forward his ruling purpose of the acquisition of property at Stratford. In 1605 he accomplished a purchase which required a larger outlay than any previous investment. On the 24th of July, in the third year of James, a conveyance was made by Ralph Huband, Esq., to William Shakspere, gentleman, of a moiety of a lease of the great and small tithes of Stratford, for the remainder of a term of ninety-two years, and the amount of the purchase was four hundred and forty pounds. There can be little doubt that he was the cultivator of his own land, availing himself of the assistance of his brother Gilbert, and, in an earlier period, probably of his father. An account in 1597 of the Stock of malt in the borough of Stratford, is said to exhibit ten quarters in the possession of William Shakspere, of Chapel Street Ward. New Place was situated in Chapel Street. The purchase of a moiety of the tithes of so large a parish as Stratford might require extensive arrangements for their collection. Tithes in those days were more frequently collected in kind than by a modus. But even if a modus was taken, it would require a knowledge of the value of agricultural produce to farm the tithes with advantage.But before the date of this purchase it is perfectly clear that William Shakspere was in the exercise of the trading part of a farmer's business. He bought the hundred and seven acres of land of John and William Combe in May, 1602. In 1604 a declaration was entered in the Borough Court of Stratford, on a plea of debt, William Shakspere against Philip Rogers, for the sum of thirty-five shillings and ten-pence, for corn delivered. The precept was issued in the usual form upon this declaration, the delivery of the corn being stated to have taken place at several times in the first and second years of James. There cannot be more distinct evidence that William Shakspere, at the very period when his dramas were calling forth the rapturous applause of the new Sovereign and his Court, and when he himself, as it would seem, was ambitious of a courtly office, did
* This letter, found amongst the “Egerton Papers," is published by Mr. Collier in his “New Facts."
† There is a document dated the 28th of October, 1614, in which William Replingbam covenants with William Shakspere to make recompense for any loss and hindrance, upon arbitration, for and in respect to the increasing value of tithes.
not disdain to pursue the humble though honourable occupation of a farmer in Stratford, and to exercise his just rights of property in connexion with that occupation. We must believe that he looked forward to the calm and healthful employment of the evening of his days, as a tiller of the land which his father had tilled before him, at the same time working out noble plans of poetical employment in his comparative leisure, as the best scheme of life in his declining years. The exact period when he commenced the complete realization of these plans is somewhat doubtful. He had probably ceased to appear as an actor before 1605.* If the date 1608 be correctly assigned to a letter held to be written by Lord Southampton, it is clear that Shakspere was not then an actor, for he is there described as "till of late an actor of good account in the company, now a sharer in the same.” His partial freedom from his professional labours certainly preceded his final settlement at Stratford.
In the conveyance by the Combes to Shakspere in 1602, he is designated as William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon. The same designation holds in subsequent legal documents connected with Stratford ; but there is no doubt that, at the period of the conveyance from the Combes, he was an actor in the company performing at the Blackfriars and at the Globe ; and in tracing therefore the "whereabout ” of Shakspere, from the imperfect records which remain to us, we have assumed that where the fellows of Shakspere are to be found, there is he to be also located. But in the belief that before 1608 he had ceased to be an actor, we are not required to assume that he was so constantly with his company as before that partial retirement. His interest would no doubt require his occasional presence with them, for he continued to be a considerable proprietor in their lucrative concerns. That prudence and careful management which could alone have enabled him to realize a large property out of his professional pursuits, and at the same time not to dissipate it by his agricultural occupations, appears to have been founded upon an arrangement by which he secured the assistance of his family, and at the same time made a provision for them. We have seen that in 1602 his brother Gilbert was his representative at Stratford. Richard, who was ten years his junior, and who, dying a year before him, was buried at Stratford, would also appear to have been resident there. His youngest brother Edmund, sixteen years his junior, was, there can be little question, associated with him in the theatre ; and he probably looked to him to attend to the management of his property in London, after he retired from any active attention to its conduct. But Edmund died early. He lived in the parish of St. Saviour's, and the register of burials of that parish has the following record :-“1607, December 31st, Edmond Shakespeare, a player, in the church.” The death of his brother might probably have had a considerable influence upon the habits of his life, and might have induced him to dispose of all his theatrical property, as there is reason to believe he did, several years before his death. The value of a portion of this property has been ascertained, as far as it can be, upon an estimate for its sale ; and by this estimate the amount of his portion, as compared with that of his co-proprietors, is distinctly shown. The original establishment of the theatre at the Blackfriars, in 1574 was in opposition, to the attempt of the Corporation of London to subject the players to harsh restrictions. Within the city the authority of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen appears to have been powerful enough to resist the protection which was given to the players by the Court. Burbage therefore built his theatre at a convenient place, just out of the jurisdiction of the city. In 1579 the Corporation were defeated in some attempt to interfere with the players at the Blackfriars Theatre, by a peremptory order in Council that they should
* See the preceding Chapter.
not be restrained nor in anywise molested in the exercise of their quality. The players at a subsequent period occasionally exercised freedoms towards the dignitaries of the city, not so much in the regular drama, as in those merriments or jigs with which the comic performers amused the groundlings. In 1605 the worshipful magistrates took this freedom so greatly to heart that they brought the matter before the Privy Council :—“ Whereas Kemp, Armin, and others, players at the Blackfriars, have again not forborne to bring upon their stage one or more of the worshipful Aldermen of the City of London, to their great scandal and to the lessening of their authority; the Lords of the right honourable the Privy Council are besought to call the said players before them and to inquire into the same, that order may be taken to remedy the abuse, either by putting down or removing the said theatre.” * It was probably with reference to such satirizers, often extemporal, whose licentiousness dates back as far as the days of Tarleton, that Hamlet said, “ After
you had better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you lived.” Nothing was done by the Privy Council in consequence of the complaint of 1605 ; but it appears that in 1608 the question of the jurisdiction of the City in the Blackfriars, and especially with reference to the playhouse, was again brought before Lord Ellesmere. The proprietors of the theatre remained in undisturbed possession. Out of this attempt a negotiation appears to have arisen for the purchase of the property by the City; for amongst the documents connected with this attempt of the Corporation is found a paper headed, “For avoiding of the playhouse in the precinct of the Blackfriars.” The document states, in conclusion, that " in the whole it will cost the Lord Mayor and the citizens at the least 70001." Richard Burbage claims 1000l. for the fee, and for his four shares 9331. 68. 8d. Laz. Fletcher owns three shares, which he rates at 7001., that is, at seven years' purchase. “W. Shakespeare asketh for the wardrobe and properties of the same playhouse 500", and for his four shares, the same as his fellowes Burbidge and Fletcher, viz. 933\i 68 84.” Hemings and Condell have each two shares, Taylor and Lowin each a share and a half ; four more players each a half share ; which they all value at the same rate. The hired men of the company also claim recompense for their loss ; “ and the widows and orphans of players who are paid by the sharers at divers rates and proportions.”+ It thus appears that, next to Richard Burbage, Shakspere was the largest proprietor in the theatre ; that Burbage was the exclusive owner of the real property, and Shakspere of the personal. We see that Fletcher is the next largest shareholder. Fletcher's position, both in Aberdeen and in the licence of 1603, did not depend, we conclude, upon the amount of his proprietary interest. In the same way that we find in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber payments to Hemings, when he was a holder of a smaller number of shares than Burbage, or Shakspere, or Fletcher (he probably being then paid as the man of business representing the company), so Fletcher in 1601 and 1603 stood at their head by some choice independent of his proprietorship. There is a precision in Fletcher's valuation of his shares which shows that he possessed the qualities necessary for representing the pecuniary interests of his fellows —" Three shares which he rateth at 7001., that is at seven years' purchase for each share, or thirty-three pounds six shillings and eight-pence one year with another.” Shakspere founds the valuation of his share upon the valuation of Burbage and Fletcher. If the valuation be correct, Shakspere's annual income derived from his shares in the Blackfriars alone, was 1331. 68. 8d. His wardrobe and properties, being perishable matters, were probably valued at five years' purchase, giving him an additional income of 1001. This income
* Collier's “ New Facts."
† This valuable document was discovered by Mr. Collier, and published by him in his “New Facts."