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learning for his wonderful productions, that would not necessarily invalidate the importance of his education, or the beneficial influences of his peculiar times. Brought up at the grammar school of Stratford, he would acquire as much knowledge'of Latin and French as fell to the lot of most of his contemporaries. Before the great public schools had attracted much attention—before, indeed, they were accessible to the large majority of the English country gentlemen, owing to bad roads and inefficient means of travelling—the grammar schools of our country towns furnished the only means for the training and education of the gentry and richer citizens throughout the largest extent of England. Were the results poor and unsatisfactory? Can any period be pointed out in our history which provided on the whole abler school-masters or scholars more deeply interested in learning? It is impossible to open any popular book of those times without being struck with its rich abundance of classical allusion. If this be attributed to pedantry, that pedantry was universal. But we have a more unsuspicious testimony; not only did the dramatists of the age freely borrow from classical antiquity their plots, their quotations, their witticisms—and that for dramas intended for a popular audience — without scruple, without dread of being misunderstood— but in the humors of Eastcheap, in the busiest haunts of life, "the honey of Hybla," "pitiful Titan," "Phoebus the wandering knight," "Diana's foresters," "homo is a common name for all men," are freely bandied from mouth to mouth, with not so much as a thought on the part of the author that his allusions will not be fully understood by his audience.
If Shakspeare, then, had, as Jonson observes, "little Latin and less Greek," the admission at least implies that he had some knowledge of both — enough of Latin to read ordinary Latin books and translations, and more than enough of genius to extract from what he did read the pith and substance. It was an age throughout of Latin cultivation. Greek, with few exceptions, was unattainable, except to men of fortune, or rare scholars at the universities. In fact, Shakspeare was the poet of an age that loved learning for its own sake—an age that had come into a new inheritance of breathless wonder and interest—
"Like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken ;"
and he would not have been the man of his time, nor the poet that he was, had he been wholly indifferent to learning or wholly unacquainted with it.
Nor were the times less favorable to him as a dramatic poet. The Reformation had done much to develop individual character. The feeling of a common Christendom, the sense of submission to the Church as a great society, the duty of not diverging widely from the authorized limits of religious opinion and belief, had all passed away. Each man felt bound to carve out a faith for himself, and to discard as worthless — at least, as suspicious—whatever was recommended or received on authority or tradition. Bacon has said that time, like a river, brings down on its surface the straw and the stubble, but the solid and the gold have long since sunk to the bottom. What seems like a paradox to the philosopher, was accepted by the reformers as an undoubted and undeniable truth. Authority was the test of falsehood, not of truth. Uniformity of belief was not to found in nations or in single men. No two agreed. Diversity of faith led to diversity of character; and if there be one phenomenon more striking than another in the reign of Elizabeth, it is the strange humors, the extravagances, the conceits, the motley exhibition of dress, manners, sentiments, and opinions, admitting no central authority, bound by no restraint beyond the caprice of the individual. There was, besides, no standard of taste, no school of criticism, no public opinion, literary or otherwise, to which men could defer, or, probably, if there had been, would have cared to defer. There were no settled forms of English—no deference to classical models, which all consented to accept. No long-established rules imposed a wholesome restraint on the teeming invention and luxuriant wit of the Elizabethan writers.
But while the Reformation had been thus powerful in developing individual character in its widest extent; whilst men revelled in their new-found liberty, and cared not to determine when it degenerated into licentiousness; whilst nature avenged herself on the dry, logical studies of a preceding age by a reaction which sometimes trespassed into animalism, the material forms .of the old world and the old religion still held their ground. In the parish church the service was in English, not in Latin; but the ceremonies, the dresses, the fasts, and the festivals, though curtailed, remained essentially the same. Sermons were scarcely more frequent than they had been in Popish times; men and women went to confession—paid their Easter offerings—looked up to the parish priest as their spiritual guide. Most of these priests had been in their livings when Edward VI. was crowned—had. complied with Queen Mary—had re-complied with Elizabeth—accommodated their new to their ancient faith—doubtless retained many of their old Romish practices and predilections—and were winked at by their bishops, especially in distant provinces. How could it be otherwise, unless the rulers of the Church were prepared to see nine-tenths of the parishes of England deprived of all spiritual instructors, and churches and congregations falling into irremediable decay? Though Puritanism was creeping on with rapid and stealthy pace towards the close of the century, it numbered as yet a contemptible and unnational minority. It had not yet contrived to inspire men with one intense and narrow sentimentalism; to force upon their unwilling acceptance its straitened notions of a straitened creed. It had not yet taught them to look with sour suspicion on all forms of amusement as ungodly; or to suspect Popery in mincepies and cheerful village festivals. So ancient customs remained as they had remained ages before. Christmas, with its pageants and processions, its mummers and its good fare ; Twelfth-night, Midsummer's Eve, St. Mark's, St. Valentine's, and All Saints days, were duly observed. No inductive philosophy had yet appeared to disturb the popular belief in fairies or in witchcraft, in ghosts or in spectres; no ruthless geographer had stripped "the still-vexed Bermoothes" of its Ariel and its Caliban, or buried the wand which raised such potent marvels.
By the ingle-nook, especially in country towns like Stratford—half a century behind the metropolis, and exempt from those changes to which a great metropolis is subject—men still talked of elves and goblins, and still devoutly believed in them. They repeated from father to son the local traditions of their own and the
neighboring counties. They knew the battle-fields of Tewkesbury; they had heard tell of the encounter when the Severn hid its head in fear of the bloodstained combatants. Kenilworth -and Coventry, Gloucester and Northampton, were studded with historical associations. And many an anecdote, many a feat, a trait of manner, of person, and character, of English worthies would thus be handed down which would be sought in vain in the chronicles of Hall or of Hollinshed. For, unlike the wars of modern times, the civil wars of England were fought by the tenants and laborers of the lord, who returned at the close of the struggle to the plough and the spade, to live and die, in most instances, at no great distance from the scene of their military exploits. So sons and grandsons learned to repeat the stories of meek Henry VI., of the fierce and forbidding Richard III., of the hateful De la Pole, and the gracious Edward.
The exact year in which Shakespeare abandoned Stratford for the metropolis cannot now be ascertained, nor yet the motive or the manner of his departure. It has been assumed that he quitted his native town shortly after his marriage with Ann Hathaway. The birth of a daughter, Susannah, in May, 1583, followed by twins, Hamnet and Judith, in 1585, has been adopted as a sufficient reason why he should leave a place and occupation in, which his father had not apparently prospered, and enter upon a profession more congenial to the bent of his genius. A story, handed down by the parish clerk of Stratford in 1693,. who was then upwards of eighty years old, contains the only trustwordiy record of this period of the poet's life. According to this statement, Shakspeare was apprenticed to a butcher, left his master, went to London, "and there was received into the playhouse as a servitor, and by this means had an „ opportunity to be what he afterwards proved." That the substance of the story is correct, though it may have suffered from the manner of the telling, can hardly be doubted, considering the authority from which it emanates. A parish clerk in a country town, generally the depositary of the local traditions of the place, and living so near the poet's own times, was hardly likely to have invented such a tale, though he may have disfigured it. That Shakspeare's father, combining a variety
)f kindred occupations—no very unusual practice in a country town—at once jlover, maltster, farmer, appraiser, frejuentl'y engaged in litigation, and therefore lot unfrequently in debt, should not have ;onsidered the occupation of a butcher in 1 country town as a derogatory employnent for one of a family of ten children, nay be naturally assumed. Nor by the vord " butcher" is it necessary to underhand exactly what that word implies now. Popular tradition associated the poet with 11s father's occupations; and if Shakspeare had never left Stratford he would, ike others of his contemporaries, have jrown old in his native town no more han glover, butcher, or maltster, as his ather had been.
As for his running away to London and leaving his wife and family dependent on he casual charity of others, that story can )nly be accepted with many modifications. Hie distance of Stratford from the metro)olis, the difficulties of travelling in those lays, the improbability that his father »ould or could have advanced him the ne:essary means for so doing, and burdenid himself with his son's family, must be :aken into account. It is muchmore probable that if Shakspeare did not join one of :he many companies of actors who periodcally appeared in Stratford or its vicinity, le was brought to London by the Catesbys )r the Cloptons, or some one of the powerul families in the county, who had as sufficient reasons for hating the Lucys as Shakspeare himself.
An4 here, before we pass on to trace he future career of the poet, it will be as Tell to allude to the anecdote first publish:d by Rowe and repeated by most of the >oef s biographers. "He had, by a misortune" (says Rowe) "common enough 0 young fellows, fallen into ill company; ind amongst them some that made a fre]uent practice of deer-stealing engaged lim more than once in robbing a park hat belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of -harlecote, near Stratford. For this he vas prosecuted by that gentleman, as he hought, somewhat too severely, and in srder to revenge that ill-usage he made a Jallad upon him."* And though this, probibly the first essay of his poetry, be lost, ret it is said to have been so very bitter tans ; the good town of Stratford, with the Cloptons and the Catesbys, were zealous adherents of the ancient faith. In ' the reign of Henry VIII., William Lucy, the father of Shakspeare's Sir Thomas, the friend of Bishop Latimer, had more than once endeavored to bring down the king's displeasure on the citizens of Stratford for religious differences; and more than once a riot had ensued, in which the Grevilles and the Combes, in conjunction with the Lucys, would have ridden roughshod over the burgesses, of whom Shakspeare's father was afterwards high bailiff, if they had not been supported by the Cloptons and the Catesbys.* The Lucys were powerful at the Court of the Tudor's, for they had blood-royal in their veins; and as many of their opponents were Roman Catholics, or had relapsed from Protestantism to the old faith, one of their most effective instruments for satisfying personal pique, under the garb of patriotism, was to put in force the penal laws and the power of the Crown against their rivals. In a commission issued in 1592 for persecuting and presenting recusants, directed to the Lucys and the Grevilles, and obtained apparently by their means, it is curious to observe that they presented as a recusant Mrs. Clopton, "widow of Wm. Clopton, Esq.; " but in their second return they proceed to rectify their convenient mistake by the naive admission: Mrs. Clopton, presented as a recusant, was "mistaken, and goeth now to church!" In the same presentment, next to Henley-inArden, occurs the parish of Somboume, with this notice: "Mrs. Mary Arden, widow, presented for a wilful recusant before our last certificate, continues still obstinate in her recusancy," and is accordingly indicted. By the same commissioners, John Shakspeare, the poet's father, is returned as a recusant; but this note is subjoined in his case and in that of eight others: "It is said that the last nine come not to church for fear of process for debt."f
* Compare the expression: "An I have not balads made on you all, and sung to filthy tunes."
that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some time and shelter himself in London." Omitting the modem decorations of the story, we may admit the facts of the deer-stealing in the poet's case, as in that of many others of his contemporaries. It may be hard to point to any direct evidence in the poet's works in confirmation of this act of youthful delinquency ; but we think that the impression left on the minds of most of his readers will warrant the belief that the poet had been a lad of spirit, of no "vinegar aspect;" popular—boy, youth, and man—among his contemporaries, and taking life easy in all its stages, laughing heartily at a jest, and perfectly willing to bear his part in one. So complete and perfect are the harmony and unity of his dramatic characters that we cannot safely derive from them any hypothesis as to the poet's dislikes and predilections; yet the humors of Eastcheap, the mad pranks of Prince Hal and his associates, the reckless adventures of hair-brained, hot blooded youth, are painted by the poet with such a zest as can scarcely be held otherwise than an indication of his own temperament. But deer-stealing, though a perilous offence, was too popular and too common in all ranks to entail disgrace or compel an offender to flee from his native town. That Shakspeare entertained a personal dislike for the Lucys, we can well believe; and the more so, as of all his signal and numerous opportunities to take poetical vengeance on his unfriends, that of the Lucys is the only prominent instance.* But the feud between the Lucys and the natives of Stratford was of earlier date than this affair of the deer-stealing, and crops out on various occasions. The Lucys were arrogant and imperious Puri
* That the Lucys were fond of litigation is implied by the opening lines of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," and justified by history. In the conversation between Shallow, Slender, and Evans, Slender says, "They may give the dozen white luces in their coat." To which Shallow replies, "It is an old coat." Evidently referring to the family pride of the Lucys, as well as their antiquity. Evans: "The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant:" (That being their heraldic characteristic ; iz luces, passant) "It is a familiar beast to man, and signifies—love." Excessively comical in the mouth of a Welshman 1
Now, though it is true that already, some six years before the date of this commission, Shakspeare's father had fallen into difficulties and was deprived of his alderman's gown, it is hardly probable, had he been notoriously affected towards the
* Unpublished papers in the Record Office, t MSS. in the Record Office.
Protestant religion, that his name would have been inserted in the return of the commissioners; for the object of the commission was not so much to learn who absented themselves from the parish church, as to discover Jesuits, seminary priests, and papal emissaries, now, more than ever, busily engaged in sowing disaffection among the people of Warwickshire, and those who harbored them. The government of the day—as is clear from the cases cited by the commissioners —required attendance at church once a month ; that done, it did not trouble itself with inflicting further penalties, or requiring more distinct proofs of the recusant's loyalty. John Shakspeare was a recusant in this sense, and the note was appended to explain the reason why he had not complied with the requirements of the government. If then he were a recusant in the ordinary use of the term, this might account for the pecuniary difficulties into which he fell some years before, when the government of Elizabeth exacted the fines for recusancy with unsparing severity.
That the townspeople of Stratford cordially hated the Lucys, and were particularly anxious to avoid incurring their displeasure, is apparent from the records of the town, printed by Mr. Halliwell. He selects numerous items of sack and sugar for the lips of Sir Thomas and his chief friends, Sir Fulke and Sir Edward Greville. In one entry, dated 1598, the chamberlain very bluntly records : " Paid to Sir Fowle (sic) Greville, for nothing, 40s !" And again in 1601, in an action for trespass brought by Sir Edward Greville against the burgesses of Stratford, the name of John Shakspeare appears as a witness on behalf of the defendants.
We are, therefore, inclined to believe that Shakspeare's departure from his native town was a more deliberate act than Rowe's anecdote of the deer-stalking and the vengeance of the Lucys would lead us to expect. It is impossible that the poet, living so near to Coventry, should not often have witnessed the crude dramatic representations of the times, and equally impossible that the dramatic genius within him, that was never crude, never less than powerful, should not have been mightily stirred by what he saw. "Mute, inglorious Mil tons "may have died unseen; but that was because their Miltonic genius was neither all-powerful nor lasting. It was the slave, not the master, of circumstances. But overpowering genius, like mastering passion, admits of no repulse, and suffers no cold obstruction. Besides, it must be remembered that in Shakspeare's time—before Puritanism had done its work—the profession of an actor as well as of a dramatist led to fame and opulence. The stage had not yet been regarded as the illusion of antichrist. It still shared with the pulpit the task of instructing the people. It still bore upon its features the marks of its ecclesiastical origin. It still reckoned amongst its authors and patrons bishops like Bale and Still.
On Shakspeare's arrival in London all accounts concur in asserting that the poet embraced the profession of an actor; and the old clerk's account—that "he was received into the play-house as a servitor"—is not without probability. Such a practice was not unusual. Mr. Halliwell has referred to an instance in Henslow"s diary in which it is stated that "he hired a covenant servant, William Kendall, for two years, after the statute of Winchester, with two single pence, and to give him for his said service every week of his playing in London Ioj. and in the country $s."
Of the theatres then in vogue the most eminent was the Globe, on the Bankside; and with this or the Black Friars, belonging to the same company, Shakspeare was connected, and in one or other of these all his plays were subsequently performed. In 1603 the company consisted of Laurence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillipes, John Heminge, and Henry Condell, Shakspeare's literary executors, and several others; the most eminent performers of their age. The theatre, an hexagonal wooden building, was partly thatched and partly exposed to the weather, and the performances generally, if not always, took place in the afternoon, then the idlest time of the day. Rooms or boxes were provided for the wealthier classes, the admission to which varied from a shilling to half a crown; whilst the frequenters of the pit either stood or sat on the ground. The wits and critics of the times were admitted on the stage; and so far was this practice from detracting, as might be imagined, from the interest and illusion of the play, this identification of the audience with the actors,
at a time when the scenery was of the simplest kind, and the costume of the actors differed not from that of ordinary life, must on most occasions have given to the scene a lifelike reality to which we are strangers. Such briefly were the theatres in which Shakspeare—
"Made those flights upon the banks of Thames That so did take Eliza and our James."
Such, also, in the dearth of clubs and coffee-houses, of novels, newspapers, and other means of information, were the studies as well as the entertainment of the age, where men picked up, in the main, whatever they knew of foreign countries and distant times, of classical lore and English history. And here, by the great good fortune of that age, were brought together the court and its statesmen, from Nonsuch House or Westminster—the Sydneys, the Raleighs, the Essexes, the Cecils, and the Bacons; the soldier of fortune, like Falstaff, the grave citizen, the humorist and man of pleasure, the weather-beaten adventurer of the waterside just landed from Guinea or Bermuda; —all to see set before them every shade of human character—their own among the number—every exhibition of human passion, affection, and caprice; from the most daring and subtle intellect to the poorest driveller; genius at one time taking mystic flights, at another flickering on the verge of imbecility and madness.
At the time when Shakspeare set foot in the metropolis the stage was passing through a new epoch. The Moralities which might in his childhood have satisfied a less critical audience at Coventry or Stratford, and the dumb shows and pageants provided for the Virgin Queen at Kenilworth or Windsor had lost their attractions.* The diffusion of classical
* Thus, in Greene's "Never too Late," the strolling actor says to Roberto: "Why, I am as famous for Delphrygus and The King of the Fairies as ever was any of my time. The Twelve Labors of Hercules have I terribly thundered on the stage, and played three scenes of the Devil in The High Way to Heaven." "H ave ye so ?" said Roberto; "then I pray you pardon me." "Nay, more," quoth the player, "I can serve to make a pretty speech, for I was a country author passing (good) at a Moral; for it was I that penned the Moral of Man's Wit, The Dialogue of Dives, and for seven years' space was absolute interpreter of the puppets. But now my almanack is out of date.
The people make no estimation