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It appears likely that this calamity terminated the direct and personal connexion of Shakspere with the London stage. We do not find him associated with the rebuilding of the Globe, nor with any of the schemes for new theatres with which Alleyn and Henslowe were so busy. We have no record whatever of any new play of Shakspere's being produced after this performance of “Henry VIII.” at the Globe. Was he wholly idle as a writer ? We apprehend not. Of the three Roman plays we have yet to speak.
Every one agrees that during the last three or four years of his life Shakspere ceased to write. Yet we venture to think that every one is in error. The opinion is founded upon a belief that he only finally left London towards the close of 1613. We have shown, from his purchase of a large house at Stratford, his constant acquisition of landed property there, his active engagements in the business of agriculture, the interest which he took in matters connected with his property in which his neighbours had a common interest, that he must have partially left London before this period. There were no circumstances, as far as we can collect, to have prevented him finally leaving London several years before 1613. But his biographers, having fixed a period for the termination of his connexion with the active business of the theatre, assume that he became wholly unemployed ; that he gave himself up, as Rowe has described, to "ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends." His income was enough, they say, to dispense with labour ; and therefore he did not labour. They have attained to "a perfect conviction, that when Shakspere bade adieu to London, he left it predetermined to devote the residue of his days exclusively to the cultivation of social and domestic happiness in the shades of retirement." These are Dr. Drake's words, who repeats what he has found in Malone and the other commentators. Mr. De Quincey, a biographer of a higher mark, gives a currency to a very similar opinion :-“From 1591 to 1611 are just twenty years, within which space lie the whole dramatic creations of Shakspeare, averaging nearly one for every six months. In 1611 was written “The Tempest,' which is supposed to have been the last of Shakspeare's works."* “ The Tempest” has been held by some to be Shakspere's latest work; as “Twelfth Night” was held by others to be the latest. The conclusion in the case of the “ Twelfth Night” had been proved to be far wide of the truth. There was poetry, at any rate, in the belief that he who wrote
“I'll break my staff,
was “inspired to typify himself ;”+--for ever to renounce the spells by which he had bound the subject mind. This is, indeed, poetical ; but it is opposed to all the experience of the course of a great intellect. Shakspere had to abjure no “rough magic,” such as his Prospero abjured. His "potent art” was built on the calm and equal operations of his surpassing genius. More than half of his life had been employed in the habitual exercise of this power. The strong spur, first of necessity, and secondly of his professional duty, enabled him to wield this power, even amidst the distractions of a life of constant and variable occupation. But when the days of leisure arrived, is it reasonable to believe that the mere habit of his life would not assert its ordinary control ; that the greatest of intellects would suddenly sink to the condition of an every-day man - cherishing no high plans for the future, looking
* "Encyclopædia Britannica "- Article, "Shakspeare.”
back with no desire to equal and excel the work of the past ? At the period of life when Chaucer began to write the “Canterbury Tales,” Shakspere, according to his biographers was suddenly and utterly to cease to write. We cannot believe it. Is there a parallel case in the career of any great artist who had won for himself competence and fame? Is the mere applause of the world, and a sufficiency of the goods of life, “the end-all and the be-all” of the labours of a mighty mind? These attained, is the voice of his spiritual being to be heard no more? Are the thoughts with which he daily wrestles to have no utterance? Is he to come down from the mountain from which he had a Pisgah-view of life, and what is beyond life, to walk on the low shore where the other children of humanity pick up shells and pebbles, from the first hour of their being to the last ? If those who reason thus could
his later works, we should still cling to the belief that some fruits of the last years of his literary industry had wholly perished. It is unnecessary, as it appears to us, to adopt any such theory. Without the means of fixing the precise date of many particular dramas, we have indisputable traces, up to this period, of the appearance of at least five-sixths of all Shakspere's undoubted works.* The mention by contemporaries, the notices of their performance at Court, the publications through the press, enable us to assign epochs to a very large number of these works, whether the labours of his youth, his manhood, or his full and riper years. It is not a fanciful thcory that these works were produced in cycles ; that at one period he saw the
forth the brilliancy of his wit and the richness of his humour in a succession of
The lines prefixed by Leonard Digges to the first collected edition of Shakspere's works would seem to imply that “Julius Cæsar" had been acted, and was popular :
"Nor fire nor cank’ring age, as Naso said
* See "Studies," p. 40.
Nor shall I e'er believe or think thee dead
The “half-sword parleying Romans” alludes, there can be little doubt, to the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius; and this is evidence that the play was performed before the publication of Digges's verses. We believe that it was performed during Shakspere's lifetime. Malone says, “ It appears by the papers of the late Mr. George Vertue, that a play called “Cæsar's Tragedy' was acted at Court before the 10th of April, in the year 1613.” We agree with Malone that this was probably Shakspere's “Julius Cæsar.” That noble tragedy is in every respect an acting play. It is not too long for representation ; it has no scenes in which the poet seems to have abandoned himself to the inspiration of his subject, postponing the work of curtailment till the necessities of the stage should demand it. Not so was “ Coriolanus ;" not so especially was “Antony and Cleopatra." They each contain more lines than any other of Shakspere's plays ; they are each nearly a third longer than “Julius Cæsar.” It is our belief that they were not acted in Shakspere's lifetime ; and that his fellows, the editors of the folio in 1623, had the honesty to publish them from the posthumous manuscripts, uncurtailed. In their existing state they are not only too long for representation, but they exhibit evidence of that exuberance which characterises the original execution of a great work of art, when the artist, throwing all his vigour into the conception, leaves for a future period the rejection or compression of passages, however splendid they may be, which impede the progress of the action, and destroy that proportion which must never be sacrificed even to individual beauty. We know that this was the principle upon which Shakspere worked in the correction of his greatest efforts—his “Hamlet," his “Lear,” his “Othello.” We believe that “Coriolanus” and “Antony and Cleopatra” have come down to us uncorrected ; that they were posthumous works ; that the intellect which could not remain inactive conceived a mighty plan, of which these glorious performances were the commencement; that Shakspere, calmly meditating upon the grandeur of the Roman story, seeing how fitted it was, not only for the display of character and passion, but for profound manifestations of the aspects of social life, ever changing and ever the same, had conceived the sublime project of doing for Rome what he had done for England. He has exhibited to us the republic in her youthfulness, and her decrepitude; her struggle against the sovereignty of one ; the great contest for a principle terminating in ruin ; an empire established by cunning and proscription. There were, behind, the great annals of Imperial Rome ; a story perhaps unequalled for the purposes of the philosophical dramatist, but one which the greatest who had ever attempted to connect the actions and motives of public men and popular bodies with lofty poetry, not didactic but "ample and true with life,” was not permitted to touch. The marvellous accuracy, the real substantial learning, of the three Roman plays of Shakspere, present the most complete evidence to our minds that they were the result of a profound study of the whole range of Roman history, including the nicer details of Roman manners, not in those days to be acquired in a compendious form, but to be brought out by diligent reading alone. It is pleasant to believe that the last years of Shakspere's life were those of an earnest student. We confidently ask if the belief be not a reasonable one ?
THE happy quiet of Shakspere's retreat was not wholly uudisturbed by calamity, domestic and public. His brother Richard, who was ten years his junior, was buried at Stratford on the 4th of February, 1613. Of his father's family his sister Joan, who had married Mr. William Hart of Stratford, was probably the only other left. There is no record of the death of his brother Gilbert ; but as he is not mentioned in the will of William, in all likelihood he died before him. Oldys, in his manu
script notes upon Langbaine, has a story of “one of Shakspeare's younger brothers, who lived to a good old age, even some years, as I compute, after the restoration of King Charles II.” Gilbert was born in 1566 ; so that if he had lived some years after the restoration of Charles II., it is not surprising that “his memory was weakened,” as Oldys reports, and that he could give “the most noted actors” but “ little satisfaction in their endeavours to learn something from him of his brother.” The story of Oldys is clearly apocryphal, as far as regards any brother of Shakspere's. They were a short-lived race. His sister, indeed, survived him thirty years. The family at New Place, at this period, would be composed therefore of his wife only, and his unmarried daughter Judith ; unless his eldest daughter and his son-in-law formed a part of the same household, with their only child Elizabeth, who was born in 1608. The public calamity to which we have alluded was a great fire, which broke out at Stratford on the 9th of July, 1614 ; and “ within the space of two hours consumed and burnt fifty and four dwelling-houses, many of them being very fair houses, besides barns, stables, and other houses of office, together with great store of corn, hay, straw, wood, and timber therein, amounting to the value of eight hundred pounds and upwards : the force of which fire was so great (the wind setting full upon the town), that it dispersed into so many places thereof, whereby the whole town was in very great danger to have been utterly consumed.”* That Shakspere assisted with all the energy of his character in alleviating the miseries of this calamity, and in the restoration of his town, we cannot doubt. In the same year we find him taking some interest in the project of an inclosure of the common-fields of Stratford. The inclosure would probably have improved his property, and especially have increased the value of the tithes, of the moiety of which he held a lease. The Corporation of Stratford were opposed to the inclosure. They held that it would be injurious to the poorer inhabitants, who were then deeply suffering from the desolation of the fire; and they appear to have been solicitous that Shakspere should take the same view of the matter as themselves. His friend William Combe, then high sheriff of the county, was a principal person engaged in forwarding the inclosure. The Corporation sent their common clerk, Thomas Greene, to London, to oppose the project; and a memorandum in his hand-writing, which still remains, exhibits the business-like manner in which Shakspere informed himself of the details of the plan. The first memorandum is dated the 17th of November, 1614, and is as follows:“My Cosen Shakspeare comyng yesterday to town, I went to see how he did. He told me that they assured him they ment to inclose no further than to Gospel Bush, and so upp straight (leaving out pt. of the Dyngles to the field) to the gate in Clopton hedg, and take in Salisbury's peece ; and that they mean in Aprill to svey. the land and then to gyve satisfaccion, and not before: and he and Mr. Hall say they think yr. will be nothyng done at all.” Mr. Greene appears to have returned to Stratford in about a fortnight after the date of this memorandum, and Shakspere seems to have remained in London ; for according to a second memorandum, which is damaged and partly illegible, an official letter was written to Shakspere by the Corporation, accompanied by a private letter from Mr. Greene, moving him to exert his influence against this plan of the inclosure :-“23 Dec. A. Hall, Lres. wrytten, one to Mr. Manyring—another to Mr. Shakspeare, with almost all the company's hands to eyther. I also wrytte myself to my Csn. Shakspear, the coppyes of all our ..... then also a note of the inconvenyences wold ... by the inclosure." Arthur Mannering, to whom one of these letters was written by the Corporation, was officially connected with the Lord Chancellor, and then residing at his house ;
* Brief granted for the relief of the inhabitants, on the 11th of May, 1615, quoted from Wheler's “ History of Stratford," p. 15.