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HENRY IV.-PART SECOND
HENRY VI.-PART First ....
William ShaKSPEARE was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23rd day of April, 1564. Or the rank of his family it is not easy to form an opinion. Mr. Rowe says that by the register and certain public writings relating to Stratford, it appears that his ancestors were “ of good figure and fashion,” in that town, and are mentioned as “gentlemen," an epithet which was more determinate then than at present, when it has become an unlimited phrase of courtesy. llis father, John Shakspeare, was a considerable dealer in wool, and had been an othicer and bailiff (probably high-bailiff or mayor) of the body corporate of Stratford. He held also the office of justice of the peace; and at one time, it is said, possessed lands and tenements to the amount of £500, the reward of his grandfather's faithful and approved services to King Henry VII. This, however, has been asserted upon very doubtful authority. Mr. Malone thinks "it is highly probable that he distinguished himself in Bosworth Field on the side of King Henry, and that he was rewarded for his military services by the bounty of that parsimonious prince, though not with a grant of lands. No stich grant appears in the Chapel of the Rolls, from the beginning to the end of Henry's reign." But whatever may huve been his former wealth, it appears to have been greately reduced in the latter part of his life, as we find, from the books of the Corporation, that, in 1579, he was excused the trifling weekly tax of fourpence levied on all the aldermen; and that, in 1586, another alderman was appointed in his room, in consequence of his declining to attend on the business of that office. It is even said by Aubrey, a man sufficiently accurate in facts, although credulous in superstitions narratives and traditions, that he followed for some time the occupation of a butcher, which Mr. Malone thinks not inconsistent with probability. It must have been, however, at this time, no inconsiderable addition to his difficulties that he had a family of ten children. His wife was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden of Wellingeote, in the county of Warwick, who is styled “a gentleman of worship.” The family of Arden is very ancient, Robert Arden of Bromich, Esq., being in the list of the gentry of this country retumed by the commissioners in the twelfth yeur of King Henry VI. A. D. 1433. Edward Arden was sheriff of the county in 1568. The woodland part of this country was anciently called Ardein, afterwards sostened to Arden; and hence the name.
Our illustrious poet was the eldest son, and received his early education, however narrow or liberal, at a free school, probably that founded at Stratford. From this he appears to have been soon removed, and placed, according to Mr. Malone's opinion, in the office of some country attorney, or the seneschul of some manor court, where it is highly probable he picked up those technical law phrases that so frequently occur in his plays, and could not have been in common nse, unless among professional men. Mr. Capell conjectures, that his early marriage prevented his being sent to some university. It appears, however, as Dr. Farmer observes, that his early life was incompatible with a course of education; and il is certain, that his contemporaries, friends and foes, nay, and himself likewise, agree in his want of what is usually termed literature." It is. indeed, a strong argument in favor of Shak-peare's illiterature, that it was maintained by all his contemporaries, many of whom have left upon record every merit they could bestow on liim ; and by his successors, who lived nearest to his time, when “ his memory was green ;” and that it has been denied only by Gildon, Sewell, and others down to Upton, who could have no means of ascertaining the truth.
In his eighteenth year, or perhaps a little sooner, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than himself, the daughtor of one lathaway, who is said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighborhood of Stratford. Of his domestic economy, or professional occupation at this time, we have no information ; but it would appear that both were in a considerable degree neglected by his
2 MSS. Aubrey, Mus. Ashmol. Oxon, examined by Mr. Malone.
associating with a gang of deer-stealers. Being detected with them in robbing the park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, near Stratford, he was so rigorously prosecuted by that gentleman, as to be obliged to leave his family and business, and take shelter in London. Sir Thomas, on this occasion, is said to have been exasperated by a ballad Shakspeare wrote, probably his first essay in poetry, of which the following stanza was communicated to Mr. Oldys :
A parliament member, a justice of peace,
He thinks himself greate,
Yet an asse in his state
Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it. These lines, it must be confessed, do no great honor to our poet; and probably were unjust; for although some of his admirers have recorded Sir Thomas as a -vain, weak, and vindictive magistrate,” he was certainly exerting no very violent act of oppression, in protecting his property against a man who was degrading the commonest rank of life, and hud, at this time, bespoke no indulgence by superior talents. The ballad, however, must have made some noise at Sir Thomas's expense, as the author took care it should be affixed to his park-gates, and liberally circulated among his neighbors.
On his arrival in London, which was probably in 1586, when he was twenty-two years old, he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house, to which idleness or taste may have directed him, and where his necessities, if tradition may be credited, obliged him to accept the office of call-boy, or prompter's attendunt. This is a meninl whose employment it is to give the performers notice to be ready to enter, as often as the business of the play requires their appearance on the stage. Pope, however, relates a story, communicated to him by Rowe, but which Rowe did not think deserving of a place in the life he wrote, that must a little retard the advancement of our poet to the office just mentioned. According to this story, Shakspeare's first employment was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those who had no servants, that they might be ready after the performance. But "I cannot,” says his acute commentator, Mr. Steevens, " dismiss this anecdote without observing, that it seems to want every mark of probability. Though Shakspeare quitted Stratford on account of a juvenile irregularity, we have no reason to suppose that he had forfeited the protection of his father, who was engaged in a lucrative business, or the love of his wife, who had already brought him two children, and was herself the daughter of a substantial yeoman. It is unlikely, therefore, when he was beyond the reach of his prosecutor, that he should conceal his plan of lite, or place of residence, from those who, if he found himself distressed, could not fail to atford him such supplies as would have set him above the necessity of holding horses for subsistence.” Mr. Malone has remarked, in his "attempt to ascertain the order in which the Plays of Shakspeare were written, that he might have found an easy introduction to the stage: for Thomas Green, a celebrated comedian of that period, was his townsman, and perhaps his relation. The genius of our author prompted him to write poetry; his connection with a player might have given his productions a dramatic turn: or his own Bugacity might have taught him that fame was not incompatible with profit, and that the theatre was an avenue to both. That it was once the general custom to ride on horseback to the play, I am likewise yet to learn. The most popular of the theatres were on the Bankside ; and we are told by the Batirical pamphleteers of that time, that the usual mode of conveyance to these places of amusement was by water, but not a single writer so much as hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the practice of having horses held during the hours of exhibition. Some allusion to this usage (if it had existed) must, I think, have been discovered in the course of our researches after contemporary fashions. Let it be remembered, too, that we receive this tale on no higher authority than that of Cibber's Lives of the Poets, vol. i, p. 130. Sir William Davenant told it to Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Rowe, who, according to Dr. Johnson, related it to Mr. Pope.” Mr. Malone concurs in opinion, that this story stands on a very slender foundation, while he differs from Mr. Steevens as to the fact of gentlemen going to the theatre on horseback. With respect, likewise, to Shakspeare's father being “engaged in a lucrative business," we may remark, that this could not have been the case at the time our author came to London, if the preceding dates be correct. He is said to have arrived in London in 1586, the year in which his father resigned the office of alderman, unless, indeed, we are permitted to conjecture that his resignation was not the consequence of his necessities.
But in whatever situation he was first employed at the theatre, he appears to have soon discovered those talents which afterwards made him
Th' applause, delight, the wonder of our stage! Some distinction he probably first acquired as an actor, although Mr. Rowe has not been able to discover any character in which he appeared to more advantage than that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player in that tragedy, and other passages of his works, show an inti mato acquaintance with the skill of acting, and such as is scarcely surpassed in our own days. He appears to have studied nature in acting as much as in writing. But all this might have been mere theory. Mr. Malone is of opinion he was no great actor. The distinction, however, which he might obtain as an actor could only be in his own plays, in which he would be assisted by the novel appearance of author and actor combined. Before his time, it does not appear that any actor could avail himself of the wretched pieces represented on the stage.
Mr. Rowe regrets that he cannot inform us which was the first play he wrote. More skilful research has since found, that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II and III were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years old ; there is also some reason to think that he commenced as a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first play, “ First Part of Henry VI,"" in 1589. His plays, however, must have been not only popular, but approved by persons of the higher order, as we are certain, that he enjoyed the gracious favor of Qucen Elizabeth, who was very fond of the stage: and the particular and affectionate patronage of the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his poems of “ Venus and Adonis," and his “ Tarquin and Lucrece.” On Sir William Davenant's authority, it has been asserted, that this nobleman at one time gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to complete a purchase. At the conclusion of the advertisement prefixed to Lintot's edition of Shakspeare's poems, it is said, “That most learned prince, and great patron of learning, King James the First, was pleased, with his own hand, to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare ; which letter, though now lost,