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of mind, and energy of diction. Of the remarkable poem, to which reference has been made, Campbell observes, that "by whomsoever it was written, it is a burst of genuine poetry. I know not how that short production has ever affected other readers, but it carries to my imagination an appeal which I cannot easily account for, from a few simple rhymes. It places the last and inexpressibly awful hour of existence before my view, and sounds like a sentence of vanity on the things of this world pronounced by a dying man, whose eye glares on eternity, and whose voice is raised by strength from another world.”
BORN, 1564; DIED, 1616.
Soul of the age!
Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
Memory of Shakspeare by Ben Jonson.
Dryden on Shakspeare. It may be necessary to observe, that Dramatic poetry does not embrace a distinct head in the plan of the present undertaking; but the plays of Shakspeare, like those of several of the older dramatists, contain a large collection of passages replete with moral instruction and profound
wisdom. “It was said of Euripides," says Dr. Johnson, " that every verse was a precept; and it may be said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence.” Accordingly, we have kept this object in view, and a few selections have been made, principally of a moral and descriptive kind, from the poems of our immortal bard, and other dramatic authors of the same class and age. The life of William Shakspeare has been written by many biographers. There is much uncertainty concerning his early career and literary history. It is to be lamented, that the materials for an authentic biography of this illustrious writer should be so scanty, and that so many statements regarding him should rest upon questionable authority. This is the more remarkable as there is no poet whose history has been investigated with more research and industry. The few facts contained in the following summary, have been gleaned from the most recent authorities, and are given, for the sake of brevity, without an examination of the evidence upon which they are founded.
According to the register of the baptism preserved in the church of Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, the subject of this memoir was born on April 23, 1564. His father, John Shakspeare, is said to have been the descendant of a respectable family; but there is considerable doubt as to what was his business or calling. Some biographical writers have asserted that he was a dealer in wool; others, that he was a glover by trade; and more than one respectable authority has been quoted to prove that he was a butcher. The author of the article on Shakspeare, published in "The Penny Cyclopedia " is of opinion that he was in the class of life which, in the present day, would be designated a gentleman farmer; and he has adduced strong testimonies to establish the fact, that both the father and mother of the poet were “educated persons; not, indeed, familiar with many books, but knowing some thoroughly; cherishing a kindly love of nature and of rural enjoyments, amidst the beautiful English scenery by which they were surrounded; admirers and cultivators of music, as all persons
above the lowest rank were in those days; frugal and orderly in all their household arrangements; of habitual benevolence and piety.” It has been clearly proved, that John Shakspeare filled several respectable municipal offices in Stratford-upon-Avon; that he combined with his professed trade of a glover other collateral pursuits ; that in his prosperous days he was a man of considerable social position in the town of Stratford, and that his wife sprang from a family of undoubted respectability in Warwickshire. Their highly-gifted son William was sent, about the year 1571, to the endowed grammar school in the town in which he was born, and at that time his father occupied the post of chief alderman. He received at this seminary as good an education as was usually given in the English grammar schools of that day; and although it has been a matter of controversy whether Shakspeare had an extensive knowledge of classics, there can be no doubt that he knew something of Latin, if not of Greek, and that he was acquainted with the French and Italian languages. One of his biographers has observed, in reference to the question of his early education, that “as he did not adopt any one of the learned professions, he probably, like many others who have been forced into busy life, cultivated his early scholarship only so far as he found it practiBally useful, and had little leisure for unnecessary display. His mind was too large to make a display of any thing; but what professed scholar has ever ingrafted Latin words upon our vernacular English with more facility and correctness; and what scholar has ever shown a better comprehension of the spirit of antiquity than Shakspeare in his Roman plays.
There seems to be as much uncertainty about his early employment as there is in relation to his birth and education. The opinion most generally entertained is, that his father took him from school before he had completed his course of instruction, owing, probably, to the state of his circumstances, (which were severely embarrassed during the first few years of his son's life,) and employed him to assist in his own business. According to the authority of Malone, he was employed, when a
lad, in the office of a provincial attorney; and Ben Jonson, the celebrated dramatist, has affirmed that he performed the humble but honourable duties of a country schoolmaster. The author of an elaborate article on Shakspeare in “The Encyclopedia Britannica," observes, that the question respecting his ancient descent and early pursuits, is now of comparatively little moment; and that whether he was born in a hovel or a palace, whether he passed his infancy in squalid poverty, or hedged around by the glittering spears of body-guards, as mere questions of fact may be interesting; but, in the light of either accessories or counteragencies to the native majesty of the subject, are trivial and below all philosophic valuation. Whatever difference of opinion, therefore, may exist upon these disputed points, there are incontrovertible proofs on record to show, that the “ Bard of Avon” was married, in his eighteenth year, and before the close of 1582, to Anne Hathaway, who resided at Shottery, a pretty village in the immediate neighbourhood of the town of Stratford. She was the daughter of a respectable person in the middle rank of life, and eight years older than her husband. In 1583 she became the mother of his favourite daughter Susanna, and in 1584,of his twin children, Hannah and Judith.
The few remaining events of Shakspeare's life are concisely detailed in the subjoined extract from Gorton's "Biographical Dictionary.” A more copious account of him will be found in the article from which we have already quoted, published in “The Penny Cyclopedia," in " The Encyclopedia Britannica," and in Knight's edition of “Shakspeare's works :"_“ Of his domestic establishment, or professional occupation, soon after his marriage, nothing determinate is recorded; but it appears that he was wild and irregular, from the fact of his connexion with a party who made a practice of stealing the deer of Sir Thomas Lucy. This imprudence brought upon him a prosecution, which he rendered more severe by a lampoon upon that gentleman, in the form of a ballad, which he had affixed to his park gates. He also satirizes in a kindred spirit the same magistrate, in the character of Justice Shallow, in the opening scene
of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor;' which continued hostility, as he was indisputably a kind-hearted man, may presume an excess of rigour and of pertinacity on the part of Sir Thomas Lucy. The consequence of this youthful imprudence drove him to London for shelter; and it is some proof that he had already imbibed a taste for the drama, that his first application was to the players, among whom, in one Thomas Greer, a popular comedian of the day, he met a townsman and acquaint
This removal is thought to have taken place in 1586, when he was in his twenty-second year. If tradition may be depended upon, he was necessitated in the first instance to become the prompter's call-boy, or attendant, while another less probable story describes him as holding the horses of those who attended the play without servants, a custom of the period. As an actor, the top of his performance is said to have been the ghost in his own Hamlet. How soon he began to try his powers as a dramatist is uncertain, but it appears that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III. were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years of age. There is, however, reason to believe that he made his first attempt in 1592, and Malone even places the first part of Henry VI. in 1589. He appears to have been not only popular, but approved by persons of the highest order, as we are informed on the authority of Sir William D'Avenant, that the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his Venus and Adonis, and Rape of Lucrece, presented him with the then magnificent sum of £1,000 to complete a purchase. It is also asserted that he received a command from Queen Elizabeth, who was much delighted with his Falstaff in Henry IV., to write another play, in which the facetious knight might appear in love; a task which he accomplished in "The Merry Wives of Windsor. He was also favoured with an amicable letter from James I., in return, as Dr. Farmer supposes, for the compliment in Macbeth.
"How long Shakspeare acted has not been discovered; but he finally became a proprietor and manager by licence, of the Globe Theatre, in Southwark; and it was in this situation that he afforded Ben Jonson the op