Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
William Shakespeare the Man and the Actor by John Malone
THE LIFE records of the actor-poet Shakespeare are not less ample than those of his contemporaries not in public life. The place of his birth and something of his family are known,—more than can be said of Spenser, Chapman, or Ben Jonson. Though of the marvelous industry of his pen there be only five signatures of his name to witness, yet not that can be said of Sydenham, whose works are the study of all who have a care for the health of men. It is a convincing testimony to the gentle worth and modesty of the man that the earliest notices of his life, except such as are of purely domestic character, are the results of envy and detraction. Had not William Shakespeare been early a victim to that hurt of all true and simple-hearted great ones, the sting of venomed slander, the admirers of his incomparable genius had not known how to fix with certainty the first lights of his unfading day.  1
  “He was not of an age but for all time.” Shrewd old Ben Jonson never wrote a phrase which contributes more to his own immortality than this, in which he describes Will Shakespeare’s greatness, and foretells his everlasting fame. It is one of the evidences of the conviction with which true personal character forces itself upon the mind, that Jonson, who bore such a relation to Shakespeare in the affairs of their every day that he could not help expressing his jealousy during the time the latter lived, was yet willing, after Shakespeare’s death, to admit all the truth and greatness of the gentle-minded man against whom, living, he had been willing to practice the art and cunning of a court-favor-seeking rival.  2
  This “mighty line” of rare old Ben is true both of the man and of his work. Drama is not an invention: it is innate in the heart of man; it began under the roof-tree of the first family, and its life will last so long as there shall be prattling of children upon the earth.  3
  Knowledge of Shakespeare as a man and an actor is the best starting-point for earnest study of his work. From failure to begin their survey from this point, most of those who have voluminously written about him have floundered into the bogs and quicksand of mistake and misrepresentation.  4
  It is a plain and simple tale:—  5
  Born in the year 1564 at or near Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, England, he was married in 1582 and had three children, born within the early years of his wedded life. He left Stratford suddenly, and became an actor and writer of plays famous enough to be noticed by detraction in 1589, and cited amongst the foremost men of letters in England in 1592. He followed the calling of an actor in honor and eminence from early youth until a period as late as three years before his death. He made money and accumulated property both in London and in Stratford; was the companion, associate, and friend of the greatest and wisest men of his day, and was admired and beloved by them. Finally, while yet in active life, he died in the quiet of Stratford in his prime of years and fame, in the year 1616, and was buried there in the chancel of the parish church of the Holy Trinity.  6
  Beyond these facts all that we are told of the man Shakespeare is inference, more or less valuable according to its logical method; yet much do we know by invincible deduction from a strong array of known and recorded facts. What is positively told of him by the living witnesses of his own time may be written within the space of a visiting-card. What may be warrantably offered as logical presumptions from the circumstances of his life and times extend that space to volumes. As with all men, some of the most useful presumptions going to show his character and place in life spring from his family relations.  7
  The natural fortress or dune upon which stands the modern Castle of Warwick was in the Roman time a præsidium or camp of guard, on the wooded frontier beyond which the free Britons had taken refuge. In the time of William of Normandy there was in the possession of this stronghold a certain Turkhill of that free race, called Turkhill of Warwick. He took no part in the contest between Harold and the Norman, and believed, upon the accession of the Conqueror, that he would be allowed to retain his possessions in peace. William, when making his ‘Domesday Boke,’ set down the fact that nearly all of the property in Warwickshire was held from Turkhill; but sent out his own Earl of Warwick, William of Newburg, and Turkhill was dispossessed of all his holdings, except some inconsiderable properties in what was known as Hemlingford Hundred, in the center of the forest. To this small estate he retired, relinquishing the name of Warwick; and was thereafter known, himself and his successors, by the name of “Arden,” or “of the wood Arden,” signifying high or great forest. “This is the forest of Arden;” and Mary Arden, of Turkhill’s race,—a woman of gentle and loving character,—was the mother of our poet and a careful and devoted spouse to her husband John, called by home people “Shaxper.” It was the officers of heraldry who made invention of a punning meaning for this name; which like its woodland neighbor “Shuckborough” came evidently from the old British combination of “Shacks”—a word well known to woodmen who use split timber for their shelter—with the term used for a settlement or colony. The shortening of this termination has analogy in the use of “Kesper” for Kexborough in Yorkshire. When John and Mary Shakespeare were married in 1555 or 1556, the father of Mary Shakespeare, Robert Arden of Wilmecot, was a substantial farmer, owning several homesteads; of one of which the father of John Shakespeare, Richard, was tenant.  8
  Upon Robert Arden’s death, Mary Shakespeare inherited two of these farms,—one called Asbies, and a smaller one in the little town of Snitterfield. John Shakespeare had given up the life of a husbandman to which he was born; and having entered into business in the market town of Stratford, was at the time of his marriage an active, prudent, and money-making man.  9
  When William, the first son, was born in 1564, the neighborhood of Stratford was afflicted by the plague, and many of the inhabitants were carried away; but that wise Providence which watches the fall of a sparrow sheltered the life of the infant who was to become the greatest poet of our tongue.  10
  John Shakespeare, in addition to his business, which was that of a glover and wool merchant, occupied an important position in the government of the borough. In the year 1558 he was appointed to one of the minor offices of his town, and passed through several years of service as an able alderman; until he became on September 4th, 1568, the chief magistrate or High Bailiff of the borough. It was at this period that he obtained from the Herald’s Office the right to bear a coat of arms,—a gold shield with a spear in bend impaled with the arms of the family of Arden. The crest assigned him was a falcon holding a spear erect. About the year 1578 he ceased to perform any of the functions of his office of alderman; and finally, in the year 1584, after having been for nearly six years absent from the meetings of the board, though frequently requested to appear, his name was removed from the roll of alderman, and his friend John Sadler was elected in his place. This removal of John Shakespeare from the board of town governors of Stratford, which was in fact a resignation, has been attributed by many writers to a sudden and inexplicable condition of poverty. It was in 1578 that the Oath of Supremacy was enforced upon all persons holding office, and the right to be sworn according to the custom of the borough abrogated. As John Shakespeare was and remained a recusant, it must be concluded that his absence from the board of aldermen was a direct consequence of the prohibition established by law.  11
  That John Shakespeare was a member of that class of persons who desired to practice the old religion, and that he lived in the respect of his neighbors, under the protection of some one powerful enough to prevent the application of the penal law in its severity, is clearly established by the ‘Warwickshire Book of Recusants’ made up by Sir Thomas Lucy and others, the Queen’s Commissioners, in 1592.  12
  Traditions must be very carefully studied before being let into the company of facts. About William Shakespeare’s youth there are several stories of a very misty kind. When we consider that there were in and around Stratford three other William Shakespeares in his time, but little faith is due to statements made half a century after his death about deer-stealing, lying drunk under roadside trees, and other tales of the simple country folk who but repeated hearsay. Whatever the cause for that single but not ill-natured instance of ridicule of his neighbor, indulged in by the gentle actor who made Justice Shallow and Sir Thomas Lucy twin laughing-stocks, it certainly was not all the memory of a merited punishment for wild and boyish pranks.  13
  In October of the year 1583, John Somerville, a gentleman living at the manor-house of Edston, within three miles of Stratford, was arrested for some inflammatory words uttered by him against Queen Elizabeth. As this was a time when plots were rife in England for the release of Mary Queen of Scots, and the advocacy of her claim to the throne of England, every individual who had any sympathy for her was most jealously watched. Somerville had been known to express himself strongly in favor of the claims of Mary; and when he gave voice to strong language against Queen Elizabeth, he was immediately arrested, sent up to London, and a commission was appointed from the Privy Council to go into Warwickshire for the arrest of all persons related to, or in any way connected with, the Somerville family. Somerville’s wife was the daughter of Edward Arden of Park Hall, the head of the family of Shakespeare’s mother. This commission held its sittings in Sir Thomas Lucy’s house of Charlecote, and Sir Thomas was himself most active in securing the arrest and prosecution of all persons connected with the accused. Amongst others brought before him was a boy, companion or confidential page to Somerville, not mentioned by name in any of the records, but who is referred to as having written down over his own hand an account of the proceedings of the day upon which Somerville was arrested. He must therefore have been a boy of more than common education, and of a family in a condition of life above the common sort. Somerville was about twenty years of age at this time, and was most carefully watched by his family because of his tendency to “midsummer madness.” His family preserved a tradition that William Somerville, his brother,—who after John’s death in prison, while under sentence for treason, became the head of the family, and was High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1610,—had an exquisite miniature of Shakespeare painted, which he transmitted to his descendants as a precious heirloom of the affection which existed between himself and our gentle Will. This miniature, the only portrait of Shakespeare which has lawful evidence to support its character, is now in the possession of a gentleman in London. The family, which guarded it sacredly to the opening of this century, has so far passed away that one of the most celebrated of the dormant peerage cases has waited long to put one of the race in possession of the title of Lord Somerville.  14
  From Charlecote, Mrs. Somerville, her sister-in-law Elizabeth, Mary Arden,—daughter of Sir George Throckmorton and wife of Edward Arden,—with all their servants and dependents, were sent up to London. Edward Arden had been previously taken there, and was hanged at Tyburn on November 23d. Somerville died in Newgate, it was said upon the rack. The others were kept in prison for weary months. Of the household of Mrs. Somerville was one whom Thomas Wilkes, the clerk of the council, writes down “Wm. Chacker.”  15
  Our young poet,—at this time but nineteen years of age, newly married to a neighbor, Anne Hathaway, and father of an infant daughter, Susanna,—a close kinsman of these Ardens, was liable to be suddenly and most unexpectedly obliged to answer the serious charge of aiding and abetting an overt act of treason; and in consequence of that charge to be sent, through the ministration of Sir Thomas Lucy as committing magistrate of the county, to one of the many prisons in London in which at that time all persons charged with these political offenses were confined, and from which many of them were from time to time taken out to execution. The natural disposition of all persons who were friendly to the family would impel the neighbors and friends on such an occasion to endeavor to cover or hide the real reason; and out of this, some boyish prank, which had perhaps excited the temporary anger of Sir Thomas Lucy, was made the traditionary cause of William Shakespeare leaving his home at this time.  16
  Evidences of the date of Shakespeare’s marriage are entirely inductive. The only fact positively known is, that in February 1582 he made an application to the Bishop of Worcester for a dispensation from the usual publication of the banns, which, upon his giving bond against impediments, was granted; but whether the marriage took place before or after this dispensation, no one at present knows. It was common custom at this time, and for long before and after, to marry privately without asking dispensation, and even without going to the parish church or having the marriage registered. The presence of “old priests,” as they were called, who lived in Arden in hiding, or went from house to house as tutors of the young, made such marriages easy. In the face of such patent facts, the notion that there was anything irregular in Shakespeare’s marriage is vicious.  17
  The family of Shakespeare, at the time of his separation from his native home, consisted of his wife Anne Hathaway; his daughter Susanna, born in 1582; his twin son and daughter Hamnet (or as the name was altered in Warwickshire speech, Hamlet) and Judith, born in 1584; his father and mother; a brother Gilbert, born October 1566; a sister Joan, born April 1569; and a brother Edmund, who, born in May 1580, afterward became a player with him in London.  18
  There are vague traditions which tend to explain the disposition of the young stranger towards the theatre when he found himself in London city. It is said that he began in a humble capacity by holding horses at the door. He is said to have been expert in the rudiments of acting, expressed in what was a common country sport known as “killing the calf.” This was a homely exercise of dramatic effort, which consisted in standing behind a screen and imitating the talk of a farmer (who had brought a calf to market) with the butcher to whom it was sold, and by whom it was killed,—interspersed with the bleatings of the victim as it went through the various stages of transport and transfer. That—
  “’Twas a brute part of him
  To kill so capital a calf there,”
he had remembered as the best compliment of his fitness for the actors’ calling before he looked up his former companions, then engaged in the fascinating work of the theatre under the patronage of such powerful men as the Earl of Leicester, Lord Strange, the Earl of Pembroke, and Philip, Earl of Arundel.
  It is an important fact that Shakespeare’s companions of the theatre were Warwickshire men. Many of them had been boys, who, before the monasteries at and about Coventry were secularized in Henry VIII.’s time, learned the rudiments of dramatic art under the guidance of the monks of those institutions. The Burbages, the Fields, the Greenes, the Underhills, are mentioned frequently in the records of the dramatic entertainments given in Coventry, in Chester, in Stratford, in Leicester, and in other neighboring towns, by companies traveling under the protection and patronage of different members of the county gentry. Most and the best of the companies of players were made up of West of England men. Their patrons, with the exception of the Earl of Arundel, were all from that part of the country. In 1574 James Burbage, joiner and actor, had builded The Theatre in the fields between the city of London and Shoreditch; and had established a company there under the patronage of Robert, Earl of Leicester, and the warrant of a royal license.  20
  Shakespeare himself, ten years of age in 1574, could have been a witness of the gorgeous pageants at Kenilworth, which were arranged and conducted by the Earl of Leicester, with the assistance of musicians and actors whom he was proud to protect, and who in their association bore the name of his servants and wore his livery. There might this wonderful boy have been himself an actor, and acquired the impulse of that dramatic spirit which has given us the inestimable privilege of enjoying in our generation the greatest of all human works of the dramatic character. If not there, in the entertainments given by the Leicester company, or by the company of the Earl of Derby, or by the Lord Chamberlain’s company in the Guildhall at Stratford, under his father’s patronage, he might well have taken part, and formed acquaintance with the playfellows of his after life, and established a reputation as a player which stood him in good stead when he was subsequently obliged to take shelter in the busy city of London from the danger of persecution in his own home.  21
  The silence of contemporary record as to Shakespeare’s education is apt to mislead those who do not realize how easy it was, in the unsettled social condition of the England of his day, to obtain an education without attendance at the schools. The old Oxford and Cambridge men—men who had studied at Padua and Rome and Paris and Salamanca—were scattered all over England in the houses of the great and low: in forest cells, in shops, in farm-houses, and in fishing-cots, ostensibly following the work of the poor, but in reality teaching the young in secret. The papers of the Record Office are filled with accounts of the huntings of them. When the history of the society and letters of England shall have been rewritten, as it must be, it will be known that the best of England’s schools were sometimes in the hidden recluse’s cell. To conclude that Shakespeare was an ignorant country lad, without the rudiments of polite learning, is only possible to those who ignore this living social power of his, and after, times. The very wood of Arden was filled with men who had been dishoused in the general secularization of religious establishments in Henry VIII.’s time, and who earned their bread by teaching the children of families connected with them by blood or by old association. Shakespeare gives us an intimation of this in the play of ‘As You Like It.’ When Orlando and Rosalind meet in Arden wood, and Orlando, finding the strange youth quick of wit and sharp of tongue, says that his speech savors rather of the city and the court than of the country, her answer is, “I have been told so of many, but indeed an old religious uncle of mine here in the forest taught me to speak.” Shakespeare himself was not without an old religious uncle. Many of his name were connected with the religious institutions of Warwickshire. Isabella Shakespeare, perhaps namesake of the sweet nun of ‘Measure for Measure,’ had been prioress of Wraxhall Convent, to which a Shakespeare had been bailiff. Roger Shakespeare, at the dissolution of the monastery of Baddeley, in Gloucestershire, a neighbor county to Warwick, retired upon a pension of forty shillings in the year 1553, eleven years before the poet’s birth.  22
  Be it as it may for the means, it is sure that before 1589 William Shakespeare had proved himself the foremost master of English speech. It is to be noted here that but four of those who professed play-making at this time were older than the Warwickshire boy. George Peele was born in 1552, John Lilly in 1553, George Chapman in 1559, and Robert Greene in 1561. Marlowe, who is most often referred to as a predecessor of Shakespeare, was only two months his elder, and did not leave his college at Cambridge until 1587. Marlowe, who was affectionately remembered by Shakespeare in ‘As You Like It,’ began in London as an actor, and if likelihoods are to be considered, was rather a pupil than a master. Shakespeare, like all simply great men, was the maker of the school of his time. He struck at once and unaided into the perfectest way of expression,—that sublime mastery of drama which was no man’s before, and will be no man’s again. He knew intuitively the purpose of playing. He became at once what he will always be, and what his actor ought to be,—champion of English speech.  23
  It was then considered the duty of every scholar who could obtain the means, to travel in Italy for the purpose of finishing his education in that language, which it was believed would displace all other languages of Continental Europe, and rival Latin in the struggle to restore a universal tongue. English was the language of the common people. Many of the best writers of Elizabeth’s time had no faith in the perpetuity of English as a literary language. The common speech was left to the actor, and his drudge the play-poet. But Sackville the courtier, by grafting the blank verse—and the poet Spenser the sonnet of Italy—to the sturdy English stock, had shown a way which Shakespeare the actor made safe and sure for the generations coming after, to keep all exotics from the garden of their thoughts.  24
  The power of the drama of Elizabeth’s day is never fully understood by the student of mere literature or history. Drama is a distinct thing, bearing such a relation to literature as the moving and speaking man does to an outline sketch of him. The trained actor is the only maker of drama. This Will Shakespeare well understood, as he understood most things; and so he went on with patience in his chosen work, while Greene, Marlowe, and Nash made faces at him, and called him rude and unlettered because he was nearer the great heart of nature than they were.  25
  Drama had, in 1492, been established under royal patronage in Spain by Isabella of Castile; and one of the earliest English companies of players (1530), not tradesmen or minstrels, was that of the Lady Princess, her granddaughter, afterwards Queen Mary. The method of establishing a distinct guild of players came from Spanish example. It was the custom of the actors to divide their gains according to certain interests which were called shares. Thus James Burbage, the owner of the first established theatre, and his rival Philip Henslowe,—who set up at ‘The Curtain,’ so called because built in that part of the ruin of the old monastery of Holywell which was called the Curtain, just across the field from Burbage’s Theatre,—paid the actors in their companies by giving certain of them a lease for a term of years of a share of the receipts. Burbage’s house, a spacious playing-place, was built of wood in octagonal form, with a stage projecting from one of the sides into the middle of the yard, as the inclosed space was called. There were two galleries or stories which were roofed over. The stage was also partly roofed, and the yard was open to the sky for air and light; for performances were given only in the afternoon from one to three o’clock. There were but two doors to the structure: one at which the public entered, and the other to the actors’ tiring or dressing room. There being no women actors, the common dressing-room of the theatre was a very exclusive sort of club. The stairs to the galleries or rooms were on the inside; and a fee of twopence was paid for the privilege of going above the place of the groundlings, and sixpence for a seat. To the boxes or lords’ rooms, which were next the stage on either side, entrance was obtained from the stage itself or through the tiring-room. At first the actors had only a moiety of the money that was paid at the doors. As the fees were only twopence for entrance at the public door, and a shilling for the more exclusive privilege of passing through the actors’ private way, it will readily be seen that the manager or owner had quite the best of the count. Yet out of their store the actors paid all costs of running the house, including the price of poets,—the least considerable of expenses, for no play was worth more than five pounds. The wages of the minor actors, called the hirelings, as well as those of the minstrels and mechanicians, were also paid by the actors. Perspectives, as scenes were then called,—painted cloths, curtains, tombs, houses, mounds, and rocks, as well as the flies or cloths which hung from the roof of the stage, to imitate sky and conceal the ropes by which the various machines used for the descent of gods or goblins were lowered from the property man’s quarters in a little house on the roof of the stage,—belonged to the owner of the house and were provided by him. Yet a share in a company of players was highly valued, and was often divided into many fractions, and made the subject of profitable barter. This kind of share must be kept in mind apart from another sharing first introduced by the sons of James Burbage, when they built the Globe Theatre in 1599, at which time they divided the leasehold into sixteen shares, eight of which they disposed of to Shakespeare, Heminge, Condell, and Philips.  26
  To enter such a company in any capacity except as a hireling was impossible except by purchase of some part of a share; and shares could only be obtained by him who could show merit and experience. Even with such influence as would flow from boyhood acquaintance, and a known ability to “pen a part,” the boy Shakespeare must have spent some years in the condition of apprenticeship before he could seriously be considered a person important enough to be a sharer.  27
  When therefore, in 1589, it is found by Nash’s petulant preface to Greene’s ‘Menaphon’ that some skilled and formidable actor-poet had incurred the writer’s sarcasm by putting forth a play called ‘Hamlet,’ instead of sticking to the trade of noverint or scrivener to which he was born, we have to remember that there was but one ‘Hamlet,’ Shakespeare’s; and that Arden Waferer—a lawyer of London and counsel to Edward Arden in 1584—was in the same degree of kindred to Walter Arden, their common ancestor, as William Shakespeare. ‘Hamlet’ was sold by Shakespeare to the players before he became a member of the company of the Lord Chamberlain, with which he had been some time identified when ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was published in 1597. The Lord Admiral’s Company, which was under the management of Philip Henslow in 1589, owned ‘Hamlet’ in 1603, when they became the Prince’s (his Highness’s) players. This then old play was no longer of sufficient value as dramatic property to prevent its being published as a History “diverse times acted” in the city of London, at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and elsewhere. New plays were plentiful, and public appetite for novelty as keen as now. There was no copyright; and a play once printed, the actors no longer held exclusive right over it. This consideration is of the first importance, and too often ignored in dealing with the history of Shakespeare’s work.  28
  The long continuance of the plague in 1593–4 gave occasion for the publication of ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘Lucrece.’ Shakespeare’s days were days of a very busy life, wherein the study and playing of a multitude of new parts was blithely done, while he was forming the strange and bodiless creatures of imagination which sing to the ages the glory of his name. The habit of such days gave way in 1593 to an idle seclusion. In that time Shakespeare busied himself by getting out his version of old Ovid’s wildwood song of ‘Adonis,’—a thing done in his own boyhood, “the first heir of his invention,”—and to it he wrote a companion poem on the story of the Roman matron.  29
  Francis Meres tells us the “Sugard Sonnets” were known as early as 1598 amongst Shakespeare’s private friends. They were the whimsical recreations of a busy brain, done in the fashionable spirit of the time, to amuse himself and to please and assist his companions. That they were gathered up for a publisher eleven years after Meres first praised them, gives no reason to think they were addressed to any one person. The printer applied the sentiment of one of the sonnets to Master W. H., who had helped him to obtain them. William Hewes, a popular singer, had been the favorite minstrel of the old Earl of Essex; and to a man of his name Sonnet 20 seems to have been addressed.  30
  Looking then from 1589 and 1592, when we get the first glimpses of his work, we must find the personal history of Shakespeare in the practice of the actor’s calling. That he was of the company which went with Lord Leicester to the Low Countries in 1585, and traveled to Denmark, Germany, and it may be to Italy, are fascinating conjectures, but valueless at present for want of evidence. That he was one of the young players who went to various patrons during the first decade of his career is certain. ‘Titus Andronicus,’ one of the first of his plays to be printed (1594), and consequently old in public favor, was written for the company which had been Lord Derby’s. ‘Henry VI.’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ were written for the Earl of Pembroke’s,—the company to which James Burbage belonged before 1585.  31
  To ‘Henry VI.’ we owe the best evidence of Shakespeare’s early industry and reputation as an actor. In 1592 Robert Greene, who, on account of dissipated habits and disregard for his obligations, had failed in his efforts to obtain recognition as a writer of plays, uttered his disappointment in the most rancorous terms, designating the players as “burrs, puppets, antic crows, apes, rude grooms, buckram gentlemen, peasants, and painted monsters.” Following these extravagant terms, and urging his companions, scholars of the university like himself, to cease writing for the stage, he says:—  32
  “For unto none of you like me sought those burrs to cleave, those puppets (I mean) that speak from our mouths, those antics garnished in our colors. Yes, trust them not, 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.”  33
  The expression “his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” is an unequivocal reference to a play written by Shakespeare, in which a similar line occurs: the ‘History of Henry VI.,’ in the third part of which occurs the line spoken by the Duke of York to Queen Margaret:—
  “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.”
  The scene in which this line occurs is one of the most dramatic in the scope of Shakespearean work. It is the description of the humiliation of the Duke of York after his capture by Queen Margaret, in one of the latest battles of the long series of bloody contests of the Wars of the Roses. This history, as arranged to suit the situations of the stage, was already old enough in 1594–5 to go into print as the ‘Contention’ (2 Henry VI.) and ‘The True Tragedy’ (3 Henry VI.).  35
  That Jonson spoke truly when he said of Shakespeare that it was necessary to suppress much that he wrote is true in fact, but not in the inference spitefully left by him. A clear-headed study of the early prints of Shakespeare’s plays shows that these greatly misunderstood works were acting copies made by Shakespeare himself from the longer and therefore unplayable originals. ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Henry VI.,’ ‘Richard III.,’ cannot even to-day,—when a patient public will give three instead of two hours to the theatre,—be played in their entirety. The use of unnecessary speech, a fault of the young Shakespeare, was avoided, as experience of his calling gave the actor mastery of every element of his art.  36
  In the study of his plays for actual performance, it will be found that they show abundant corroboration of this fact. A few show plainly the marks of the author’s own cutting, merciless to mere making of speeches, but always enhancing dramatic force. In the present condition of evidences it is useless to apply to them any other test of chronological order.  37
  The slander uttered by poor Greene produced an evidence of the integrity of Shakespeare’s life, as well as a further record of the fact that he was at this early period of his career known and recognized as an actor. Chettle, who had published Greene’s ‘Groatsworth of Wit’ in 1594, very soon afterward published a pamphlet called ‘Kind Heart’s Dream,’ in the preface to which he took occasion to apologize for the harshness of Greene’s attack upon Shakespeare. He spoke of Shakespeare in these words:—
          “The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had: for that as I have moderated the heat of living writers, 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 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.”
  Four important statements: That Shakespeare was an excellent actor (“the quality he professes”), that he was befriended by “divers of worship,”—that is, by influential nobles,—that he was upright in his dealings, and that he wrote with grace and wit. These are not three-hundred-year-after theories: they are the spontaneous declarations of his contemporaries.  39
  It is not important to discuss Spenser’s reference in 1591, in the ‘Tears of the Muses,’ where Thalia laments to her sisters of the sacred choir the intrusion of distasteful plays into the “painted theatres,” and the enforced silence of—
      “—the man whom Nature self had made
To mock herself, and Truth to imitate
  With kindly counter under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy.”
  Shakespeare’s fellow actors called him “a happy imitator of Nature.” Camden, who knew him well, spoke of him in 1619 as the “late eminent tragedian.” The royal license for the establishment of the King’s players in 1603 names him second in the list. Cuthbert and Winifred Burbage in 1635 testify that Shakespeare was an active player in 1613. A most convincing evidence of Shakespeare’s excellence as an actor is given by Sir John Davies, who declared himself a lover of players and their quality. Writing about 1607, “To our English Terence, Mr. Wm. Shakespeare,” he said:—
  “Some say, good Will, which I in sport do sing,
  Hadst thou not played some kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst beene a companion for a king,
  And beene a king among the meaner sort.
Some others raile: but raile as they thinke fit,
  Thou hast no rayling, but a raigning wit;
And honesty thou sow’st which they do reape,
So to increase their stocke which they do keepe.”
  In all Shakespearean or contemporaneous literature, the parts of Prince Hal and Henry V. are the only ones which can be called “kingly parts in sport.” The conclusion from Davies’s lines must be that Shakespeare was their original actor. The reference to being a king among the meaner sort, alludes to an effort to obtain the place of court poet finally conferred upon Jonson. The storm of opposition which followed the production of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV.,’ upon the part of the Puritans, who took great offense at the character of Sir John Falstaff, supposed by them to be conceived in ridicule of the Protestant martyr Sir John Oldcastle, fell upon Shakespeare, and undoubtedly interfered with any good-will evinced toward him by King James; who, besides taking the company to which Shakespeare belonged into the royal household as the King’s Players, never would, even when the Puritan influence became strongest at court, consent to give up his attachment for these actors, however he might be prevented from advancing one of them from his humble station.  42
  It would have been worth all the inconvenience of living in that time, to have seen and heard Will Shakespeare making merry with the fair Catherine of France, or provoking the drolleries of Falstaff!  43
  In a play, author unknown, but produced by the students of St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1601 or 1602, the then general estimation of Shakespeare is voiced through the mouth of Will Kempe, who speaks thus of university-bred poets:—
          “Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all downe, ay and Ben Jonson too!”
  Of Shakespeare’s domestic life we know only that his wife was eight years his elder, and gave him but the three children already named. That he was attached to his home and family is plainly shown by the fact that he bought for them in Stratford in 1597 the “great house,” which was regarded as the most respectable residence in the town. His son Hamnet died in 1596, and he must then have been without expectation of a male heir. Yet there is absolutely no reason to believe that he was estranged from his wife. His will, made but a short time before his death, shows him to have been prudent and careful of the interests of his family to the last.  45
  In worldly property he was, according to the chances of his time,—though not to be compared in wealth to Edward Alleyn, the Burbages, or his fellow player John Heminge,—fairly fortunate. He accumulated an estate of about £2,000 value, most of which was in lands and leaseholds in the vicinity of Stratford. His great popularity as a play-writer brought him little money until 1599; when, upon the removal of The Theatre from the fields on the north of the city to the bankside, Southwark, where it was re-edified and called The Globe, he was admitted by Richard and Cuthbert Burbage (who had succeeded their father James upon his death in 1596) to an interest in the larger profits of his work, as one of the actors holding a share in the ownership of the house. The importance of this increase in his resources is shown by the fact that in 1602 he invested £380 in lands near Stratford, and in 1605 £440 more in a moiety of a thirty-one years’ remainder of a lease of certain tithes, an investment which gave him an income of £120 per year. On March 12th, 1613, he bought land in the Blackfriars in London, for which he paid £120; and in the same year had been admitted by the Burbages to a share in the Blackfriars Theatre, which they owned in fee, and which they then took up from Evans, the manager of the company of Paul’s Boys who had leased it in 1596–7. These shares in the Globe and Blackfriars were disposed of by Shakespeare at some time between 1613 and the date of his death, April 1616. There is a hint in the purchase of the Blackfriars estate; for £80 only was paid down, and a mortgage was executed for £60 by Shakespeare and two of his fellow players,—John Heminge and Henry Condell. These two, as appears by subsequent dealings with the Globe and Blackfriars stock, became the owners of all the shares in both theatres not accounted for by the Burbages and Augustine Philips.  46
  Shakespeare had never been a manager, although an important actor in the company. He was in the prime of life, and his investment in London property might well have set him at the head of a theatre of his own had not his death been sudden.  47
  It is a mistake to suppose that Shakespeare retired to a life of inaction in Stratford, as some say, early in the first years of the seventeenth century, although he was buried there in April 1616. The modest, gentle player-man, known to his friends as “Sweet Master Shakespeare,” simply and justly complied with the obligations of a humble and contented life,—neither the companion of kings nor an envier of their greatness. He bore the same cares which beset the lowly, with unfailing constancy; and though death took from him one by one the men-children of his own and his father’s house, he uttered no vain or querulous cry against the dispensation which caused the extinction of his name. For a brief space, undoubtedly, his soul quivered at the untimely loss of his only son, when in the year 1597 he followed his little ten-year-old Hamlet, as he was fondly called, to the church-yard of Holy Trinity; but when in the early spring of 1616 the last call came to him, he was still an active player of that sublime part for which great Mother Nature had cast him,—a teacher of men by the simplest yet subtlest of arts, the drama.  48

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