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amid the gloomy and sullen tide. But he was blessed with youth and health; his conscience was unwounded, for the adventure for which he suffered, was regarded, in the estimation of his times, as a mere boy's frolic, of not greater guilt than the robbing of an orchard; and his mind, rich beyond example in the gold of heaven, could throw lustre over the black waste before him, and could people it with a beautiful creation of her own. We may imagine him, then, departing from his home, not indeed like the great Roman captive, as he is described by the poet
Fertur pudicæ conjugis osculum,
Ab se removisse, et virilem
but touched with some feelings of natural sorrow, yet with an unfaltering step, and with hope vigorous at his heart. impossible that he should despair; and if he indulged in sanguine expectation, the event proved him not to be a visionary. In the course of a few years, the exile of Stratford became the associate of wits, the friend of nobles, the favorite of monarchs; and in a period which still left him not in sight of old age, he returned to his birthplace in affluence, with honor, and with the plaudits of the judicious and the noble resounding in his ears.
His immediate refuge in the metropolis was the stage; to which his access, as it appears, was easy. Stratford was fond of theatrical representations, which it accommodated with its town or guildhall, and had frequently been visited by companies of players when our Poet was of an age not only to enjoy their performances, but to form an acquaintance with their members. Thomas Greene, who was one of their distinguished actors, has been considered by some writers as a kinsman of our author's; and though he, possibly, may have been confounded by them with another Thomas Greene, a barrister, who was unquestionably connected with the Shakspeares, he was certainly a fellow-townsman of our fugitive Bard's; whilst Heminge and Burbage, two of the leaders of the company in question, belonged either to Stratford or to its immediate neighborhood. With the door of the theatre thus open to him, and under the impulse of his own theatrical bias (for however in after-life he may have lamented his degradation as a professional actor, it must be concluded that he now felt a strong attachment to the stage), it is not wonderful that young Shakspeare should solicit this asylum in his distress; or that he should be kindly received by men who knew him, and some of whom were connected, if not with his family, at least with his native town. The company, to which he united himself, was the Earl of Leicester's or the Queen's, which had obtained the royal license in 1574. The place of its performances, when our Poet became enrolled among its members, was the Globe on the Bankside ; and its managers subsequently purchased the theatre of Blackfriars (the oldest theatre in London), which they had previously rented for some years; and at these two theatres, the first of which was open
the centre for summer representations, and the last covered for those of winter, were acted all the dramatic productions of Shakspeare. That he was at first received into the company in a very subordinate situation, may be regarded not merely as probable, but as certain; that he ever carried a link to light the frequenters of the theatre, or ever held their horses, must be rejected as an absurd tale, fabricated, no doubt, by the lovers of the marvellous, who were solicitous to obtain a contrast in the humility of his first to the pride of his subsequent fortunes. The mean and servile occupation, thus assigned to him, was incompatible with his circumstances, even in their present afflicted state ; and his relations and connections, though far from wealthy, were yet too remote from absolute poverty, to permit him to act for a moment in such a degrading situation. He was certainly, therefore, immediately admitted within the theatre ; but in what rank or character cannot now be known. This fact, however, soon became of very little consequence; for he speedily raised himself into consideration among his new fellows by the exertions of his pen, if not by his proficiency as an actor. When he began his career as a dramatic writer, or to what degree of excellence he attained in his personation of dramatic characters, are questions which have been frequently agitated without any satisfactory result. By two publications, which appeared toward the end of 1592, we know, or at least we are induced strongly to infer, that at that period, either as the corrector of old or as the writer of original dramas, he had supplied the stage with a copiousness of materials. We learn also from the same documents that, in his profession of actor,
he trod the boards not without the acquisition of applause. The two publications, to which I allude, are Robert Greene's “ Groatsworth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance," and Henry Chettle's “ Kind Hart's Dream." In the former of these works, which was published by Chettle subsequently to the unhappy author's decease, the writer, addressing his fellow dramatists, Marlowe, Peele, and Lodge, says, “ Yes! trust them not” (the managers of the theatre); “ for there is an upstart crow,
beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” As it could not be doubtful against whom this attack was directed, we cannot wonder that Shakspeare should be hurt by it; or that he should expostulate on the occasion rather warmly with Chettle as the editor of the. offensive matter. In consequence, as it is probable, of this expression of resentment on the part of Shakspeare, a pamphlet from the pen of Chettle, called “ Kind Hart's Dream,” issued from the press before the close of the same year (1592) which had witnessed the publication of Greene's posthumous work. In this pamphlet, Chetde acknowledges his concern for having edited any thing which had given pain to Shakspeare, of whose character and accomplishments he avows a very favorable opinion. Marlowe, as well as Shakspeare, appears to have been offended by some passages in this production of poor Greene's; and to both of these great dramatic poets Chettle refers in the short citation which we shall now make from his page: “With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them” (concluded to be Marlowe, whose moral character was unhappily not good) “I care not if I never be. The other" (who must necessarily be Shakspeare), “whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had; for that, as I have moderated the hate of living authors, and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not, I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault; because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil than he is excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty; and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art.”
Shakspeare was now twenty-eight years of age; and this testimony of a contemporary, who was acquainted with him, and was himself an actor, in favor of his moral and his professional excellence, must be admitted as of considerable value. It is evident that he had now written for the stage; and before he entered upon dramatic composition, we are certain that he had completed, though he had not published, his two long and labored poems of Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece. We cannot, therefore, date his arrival in the capital later than 1588, or, perhaps, than 1587; and the four or five years which interposed between his departure from Stratford and his becoming the object of Greene's malignant attack, constituted a busy and an important period of his life. Within this term he had conciliated the friendship of the young Thomas Wriothesly, the liberal, the high-souled, the romantic Earl of Southampton; a friendship which adhered to him throughout his life; and he had risen to that celebrity, as a poet and a dramatist, which placed him with the first wits of the age, and subsequently lifted him to the notice and the favor of Elizabeth and James, as they successively sate upon the throne of England.
At the point of time which our narrative has now reached, we cannot accurately determine what dramatic pieces had been composed by him; but we are assured that they were of sufficient excellence to excite the envy and the consequent hostility of those who, before his rising, had been the luminaries of the stage. It would be gratifying to curiosity, if the feat were possible, to adjust with any precision the order in which his wonderful productions issued from his brain. But the attempt has more than once been made, and never yet with entire success. We know only that his connection with the stage continued for about twenty years (though the duration even of this term cannot be settled with precision), and that, within this period, he composed, either partially, as working on the ground of others, or educing them altogether from his own fertility, thirty-five or (if that wretched thing, Per.cles, in consequence
of Dryden's testimony in favor of its authenticity, and of a few touches of THE GOLDEN PEN being discoverable in its last scenes, must be added to the number) thirty-six dramas; and that of these it is probable that such as were founded on the works of preceding authors were the first essays of his dramatic talent; and such as
were more perfectly his own, and are of the first sparkle of excellence, were among the last. While I should not hesitate, therefore, to station “Pericles," the three parts of “Henry VI.” (for I cannot see any reason for throwing the first of these parts from the protection of our author's name), “ Love's Labor Lost," “The Comedy of Errors,” “The Taming of the Shrew," "King John," and "Richard II.," among his earliest productions, I should, with equal confidence, arrange “Macbeth,” “Lear,” “Othello,"
* “Twelfth Night," and " The Tempest," with his latest, assigning them to that season of his life, when his mind exulted in the conscious plenitude of power. Whatever might be the order of succession in which this illustrious family of genius sprang into existence, they soon attracted notice, and speedily compelled the homage of respect from those who were the most eminent for their learning, their talents, or their rank. Jonson, Selden, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Donne, were the associates and the intimates of our Poet : the Earl of Southampton was his especial friend: the Earls of Pembroke and of Montgomery were avowedly his admirers and patrons: Queen Elizabeth distinguished him with her favor; and her successor, James, with his own hand, honored the great dramatist with a letter of thanks for the compliment paid in Macbeth to the royal family of the Stuarts.
The circumstance which first brought the two lords of the stage, Shakspeare and Jonson, into that embrace of friendship which continued indissoluble, as there is reason to believe, during the permission of mortality, is reported to have been the kind assistance given by the former to the latter, when he was offering one of his plays (Every Man in his Humor) for the benefit of representation. The manuscript, as it is said, was on the point of being rejected and returned with a rude answer, when Shakspeare, fortunately glancing his eye over its pages, immediately discovered its merit, and, with his influence, obtained its introduction on the stage. To this story, some specious objections have been raised; and there cannot be any necessity for contending for it, as no lucky accident can be required to account for the inducement of amity between
• The existence of this royal letter of thanks is asserted on the authority of Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, who saw it in the possession of Davenant. The cause of the thanks is assigned on the most probable conjecture.