Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

SKETCH

OF THE

LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was born at Stratford-uponAvon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d day of April, 1564. Of the rank of his family it is not easy to form an opinion. Mr. Rowe says, that according to the register and certain public writings relating to Stratford, his ancestors were "of good figure and fashion" in that town, and are mentioned as "gentlemen;" but the result of the late as well as early inquiries made by Mr. Malone is, that the epithet gentleman was first applied to the poet, and even to him at a late period of his life. Mr. Malone's inclination to elevate Shakspeare's family cannot be doubted, yet he is obliged to confess that, after thirty years' labour, he could find no evidence to support it.

His father, John Shakspeare, according to Mr. Malone's conjecture, was born in or before the year 1530. John Shakspeare was not originally of Stratford, but, perhaps, says Mr. Malone, of Snitterfield, which is but three miles from Stratford. He came to Stratford not very long after the year 1550. Former accounts have reported him to have been a considerable dealer in wool, but Mr. Malone has discovered that he was a

glover; and, to add importance to this discovery', he has given us a historical dissertation upon the state of the glove-trade in queen Elizabeth's time. But, notwithstanding the flourishing state of that trade in Stratford, and a conjecture, that John Shakspeare furnished his customers with "leathern hose, aprons, belts, points, jerkins, pouches, wallets, satchels, and purses,' Mr. Malone confesses, that from all this, the poet's father derived but a scanty maintenance.

[ocr errors]

John Shakspeare had been, in 1568, an officer or bailiff (high-bailiff or mayor) of the body corporate of Stratford, and chief alderman in 1571. At one time, it is said, that he possessed lands and tenements to the amount of 500l., the reward of his grandfather's faithful and approved services to king Henry VII. This might account for his being elected to the magistracy, had it not been asserted upon very doubtful authority; but Mr. Malone is of opinion, that these "faithful and "approved services" must be meant of some of the ancestors of his wife, one of the Ardens.

Whatever may have been his former wealth, it appears to have been greatly reduced in the latter part of his life, as it is found in 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

1 "On the subject of the trade of John Shakspeare, I am not "under the necessity of relying on conjecture, being enabled, after a very tedious and troublesome search, to shut up this long agitated ques"tion for ever." Malone's Life of Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 70. of his new edition of Shakspeare's Plays and Poems, 21 vols. 8vo. 1821. It does not appear where any question about the trade of John Shakspeare was ever agitated. His being a dealer in wool was first asserted by Mr. Rowe, and silently acquiesced in by all succeeding editors and commentators, Mr. Malone not excepted, until he discovered that John's trade was that of a glover; and then, in his imagination, he had the honour of shutting up a long agitated question for ever.

consequence of his declining to attend on the business of that office.

His wife, to whom he was married in 1557, was the youngest daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote or Wilmecote, in the county of Warwick, by Agnes Webb, his wife. Mary Arden's fortune, Mr. Malone has discovered, amounted to one hundred and ten pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence!

Mr. Arden is styled "a gentleman of worship," and the family of Arden is very ancient. Robert Arden, of Bromich, Esq., is in the list of the Warwickshire gentry, returned by the commissioners in the twelfth year of king Henry V., A. D. 1433. Edward Arden was sheriff of the county in 1568. The woodland part of this county was anciently called Ardern, afterwards softened to Arden, and hence the name.

It was formerly said that John Shakspeare had ten children, and it was inferred, that the providing for so large a family must have embarrassed his circumstances; but Mr. Malone has reduced them to eight, five of whom only attained to the age of maturity,-four sons and a daughter. Our illustrious poet was the eldest of the eight, and received his education, however narrow or liberal, at the free-school founded at Stratford.

From this he appears to have been placed in the office of some country attorney, or the seneschal of some manor court, where, it is highly probable, he picked up those technical law phrases that frequently occur in his plays, and which could not have been in common use unless among professional men. It has been remarked, but the remark will probably be thought of no great value, that he derives none of his allusions from the other learned professions. Of amusements, his favourite appears to have been falconry. Very few, if any of his plays, are without some allusions to that sport; and archery, likewise, appears to have engaged much of his attention.

gentleman is certain, and that he retained it for many years is equally certain, for he gave vent to it in 1601, when he wrote "The Merry Wives of Windsor," about a year after sir Thomas's death.

Mr. Malone, after allowing that various passages in the first scene of the above-mentioned play, afford ground for believing that our author, on some account or other, had not the most profound respect for sir Thomas, adds, "the dozen white luces, however, which Shallow is made to commend as 6 a good coat,' was not sir Thomas Lucy's coat of arms: though Mr. Theobald asserts that it is found on the monument of one of the family, as represented by Dugdale. No such coat certainly is found, either in Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, or in the church of Charlecote, where I in vain sought for it. It is probable that the deviation from the real coat of the Lucies, which was gules, three lucies hariant, argent, was intentionally made by our poet, that the application might not be too direct, and give offence to sir Thomas Lucy's son, who, when this play was written, was living, and much respected, at Stratford."

As the deer-stealing story has hitherto been told in order to account for Shakspeare's arrival in London, it might have been expected that Mr. Malone would have been enabled to substitute some other reason, and to precede the arrival of our poet with some circumstances of more importance and of greater dignity; but nothing of this kind is to be found. We have lost the old tradition, with all its feasible accompaniments, but have got nothing in return. All that Mr. Malone ventures to conjecture, is, that when Shakspeare left Stratford, “he was involved in some pecuniary difficulties."

On his arrival in London, which was probably in the year 1586, when he was only 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 assistant. This is a menial 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 which 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 play-house, 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. 66 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

[ocr errors]

66

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 "life, or place of residence, from those who, if he found "himself distressed, could not fail to afford him such supplies as would have set him above the necessity of holding horses for subsistence. Mr. Malone has re"marked, in his Attempt to ascertain the Order in "which the Plays of Shakspeare were written,' that he

66

66

might have found an easy introduction to the stage: "for Thomas Green, a celebrated comedian of that

66

66

period, was his townsman, and perhaps his relation. "The genius of our author prompted him to write poetry; his connexion with a player might have given "his productions a dramatic turn; or his own sagacity might have taught him that fame was not incompatible

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »