Page images

King James I. of England left his good city of Edinburgh on the 5th of April, 1603. He was nearly five weeks on the road, banqueting wherever he rested ; at one time releasing prisoners, “out of his princely and Christian commiseration," and at another hanging a cut-purse taken in the fact. He entered the immediate neighbourhood of London in a way that certainly monarch never entered before or since :-“From Stamford Hill to London was made a train with a tamo deer, that the hounds could not take it faster than his Majesty proceeded.” On the 7th of May he was safely lodged at the Charter-House ; and one of his first acts of authority in the metropolis, after creating four new peers, and issuing a proclamation against robbery on the Borders, was to order the Privy Seal for the patent to Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspere, and others. We learn from the patent itself that the King's servants were to perform publicly " when the infection of the plague shall decrease.” It is clear that the King's servants were not at liberty then to perform publicly. How long the theatres were closed we do not exactly know; but a document is in existence, dated April 9th, 1604, directing the Lord Mayor of London, and Justices of Middlesex and Surrey, “ to permit and suffer the three companies of players to the King, Queen, and Prince to exercise their plays in their several and usual houses." * On the 20th of October, 1603, Joan, the wife of the celebrated Edward Alleyn, writes to her husband from London,-“ About us the sickness doth cease, and likely more and more, by God's help, to cease. All the companies be come home, and well, for aught we know.” Her husband is hawking in the country, and Henslowe, his partner, is at the Court. Shakspere is in London. Some one propounded a theory that there was no real man called William Shakspere, and that the plays which passed with his name were the works of Marlowe and others. This very letter of good Mrs. Alleyn shows that William Shakspere not only lived but went about pretty much like other people, calling common things by their common names, giving advice about worldly matters in the way of ordinary folk, and spoken of by the wife of his friend without any wonder or laudation, just as if he had written no “ Midsummer Night's Dream,” or “ Othello" :-"Aboute a weeke a goe there came a youthe, who said he was Mr. Francis Chaloner, who would have borrowed x'i to have bought things for

and said he was known unto you, and Mr. Shakespeare of the Globe, who came

said he knewe hym not, onely he herde of hym that he was a roge

so he was glade we did not lend him the monney. . . Richard Johnes [went] to seeke and inquire after the fellow, and said he had lent hym a horse. I feare me he gulled hym, thoughe he gulled not us. The youthe was a prety youthe, and hansome in appayrell : we knowe not what became of hym.” So we learn from the Papers in Dulwich College printed in Mr. Collier's “Memoirs of Edward Alleyn." But there is a portentous discovery” brought to light by the science of Palæography. Mr. Halliwell, the facile princeps of the science, says, “It has been stated that Shakspeare was in London in October, 1603, on the strength of a letter printed in Mr. Collier's Memoirs of Alleyn, p. 63; but having carefully examined the original, I am convinced it has been misread. The following is now all that remains.” And then Mr. Halliwell prints “all that remains,” which does not contain the name of Shakspere at all.

We know, beyond a doubt, that Mr. Collier saw the words which he for the first time published; though the letter was much damaged by the damp, and was falling to pieces. But although Shakspere was in London on the 20th of October, 1603, it is tolerably clear that the performances at the public theatres were not resumed till after the order of the 9th of April, 1604. In

* Malone's “Inquiry," p. 215. Mr. Collier prints the document in his “Life of Alleyn," by which it appears that there had been letters of prohibition previously issued that had reference to the continuance of the plague, and that it still partially continued.

the Office Books of the Treasurer of the Chamber there is an entry of a payment of thirty-two pounds upon the Council's warrant, dated at Hampton Court, February 8th, 1604, “ by way of his Majesty's free gift” to Richard Burbage, one of his Majesty's comedians, “ for the maintenance and relief of himself and the rest of his company, being prohibited to present any plays publicly in or near London, by reason of great peril that might grow through the extraordinary concourse and assembly of people, to a new increase of the plague, till it shall please God to settle the city in a more perfect health.” * But though the public playhouses might be closed through the fear of an “extraordinary concourse and assembly of people,” the King, a few months previous, had sent for his own players to a considerable distance to perform before the Court at Wilton. There is an entry in the same Office Book of a payment of thirty pounds to John Hemings" for the pains and expenses of himself and the rest of his company in coming from Mortlake in the county of Surrey unto the Court aforesaid, and there presenting before his Majesty one play on the 2nd of December last, by way of his Majesty's reward.” † Wilton was the seat of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to whom it has been held that Shakspere's Sonnets were addressed. We do not yield our assent to this opinion.I But we know from good authority that this nobleman, “the most universally beloved and esteemed of any

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]

man of that age,” (according to Clarendon,) befriended Shakspere, and that his brother joined him in his acts of kindness. The dedication by John Heminge and Henry Condell, prefixed to the first collected edition of the works of Shakspere, is addressed, “To the most noble and incomparable pair of brethren, William Earl of Pembroke, and Philip Earl of Montgomery." In the submissive language of poor * Cunningham's “Revels at Court," p. xxxv. † Ibid. p. xxxiv.

| See “Studies,” page 498.

players to their “singular good lords” they say, “ When we value the places your Honours sustain, we cannot but know their dignity greater than to descend to the reading of these trifles; and while we name them trifles, we have deprived ourselves of the defence of our dedication. But since your Lordships have been pleased to think these trifles something, heretofore; and have prosecuted both them, and their author living, with so much favour : we hope that (they out-living him, and he not having the fate, common with some, to be executor to his own writings) you will use the like indulgence toward them you have done unto their parent." They subsequently speak of their Lordships liking the several parts of the volume when they were acted · but their author was the object of their personal regard and favour.

[graphic][merged small]

The call to Wilton of Shakspere's company might probably have arisen from Lord Pembroke's desire to testify this favour. It would appear to be the first theatrical performance before James in England. The favour of the Herberts towards Shakspere thus began early. The testimony of the player-editors would imply that it lasted during the poet's life. The young Earl of Pembroke, upon whom James had just bestowed the Order of the Garter, would scarcely, we think, have been well pleased to have welcomed the poet to Wilton who had thus addressed himn :

“How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame,

Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name !"*

* Sonnet xcv.

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]

At the Christmas of the same year the King had taken up his residence at Hampton Court. It was here, a little before the period when the Conference on Conformity in Religion was begun, that the Queen and eleven ladies of honour were presenting Daniel's Masque ; and Shakspere and his fellows performed six plays before the King and Prince, receiving twenty nobles for each play.* The patronage of the new King to his servants, players acting at the Globe, seems to have been constant and liberal. To Shakspere this must have been a season of prosperity and of honour. The accession of the King gave him something better. His early friend and patron Southampton was released from a long imprisonment. Enjoying the friendship of Southampton and Pembroke, who were constantly about the King, their tastes may have led the monarch to a just preference of the works of Shakspere before those of any other dramatist. The six plays performed before the King and Prince in the Christmas of 1603-4 at Hampton Court, were followed at the succeed

Croningham's “ Revels at Court," p. xxxv.

ing Christmas by performances“ at the Banqueting House at Whitehall,” in which the plays of Shakspere were preferred above those of every other competitor. There were eleven performances by the King's players, of which eight were plays of Shakspere. Jonson shared this honour with him in the representation of “Every One in his Humour,” and “Every One out of his Humour.” A single play by Heywood, another by Chapman, and a tragedy by an unknown author, completed the list of these revels at Whitehall. It is told, Malone says,

It is told, Malone says, “upon authority which there is no reason to doubt, that King James bestowed especial honour upon Shakspere.” The story is told in the Advertisement to Lintot's edition of Shakspere's Poems— “ 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. Shakespeare ; which letter, though now lost, remained long in the hands of Sir William Davenant, as a credible person now living can testify.'

Was the honour bestowed as a reward for the compliment to the King in “Macbeth,” or was the compliment to the King a tribute of gratitude for the honour ?

“The Accompte of the Office of the Reuelles of this whole yères Charge, in Ano 1604” which was discovered through the zealous industry of Mr. Peter Cunningham, is a most interesting document : first, as giving the names of the plays which were performed at Court, and showing how pre-eminently attractive were those of Shakspere ; secondly, as exhibiting the undiminished charm of Shakspere's early plays, such as “The Comedy of Errors," and "Love's Labour's Lost ;" and, thirdly, as fixing the date of one of our poet's dramas, which has generally been assigned to a later period—“Measure for Measure.” The worthy scribe who keeps the accounts has no very exact acquaintance with “the poets wch mayd the plaies," as he heads the margin of his entries ; for he adds another variety to the modes of spelling the

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »