« PoprzedniaDalej »
810n, in picture, fable, and poetry, is not so very hard a thing for the youthful faculties to catch and take in the virtue of. And it may be safely presumed that if average minds be duly placed and held within the reach of Shakespeare's light and warmth, their latent aptitudes for the exercise in question will gerninate and grow as early as, say, the middle period of ordinary academic life. They can at least be starte i in the process by that time, if not before. At all events, the Editor, using his own experience, as well as the reason of the thing, for his test and guide, can hardly think it a good use either of the time or of the book, for pupils to enter upon the study of Shakespeare, until they are prepared to go along with him in those points of his cunning workmanship. There is quite too much of crowding and cramming in our education already; the effects of which may be seen in a pretty large stock of intellectual and moral shoddy; and any extending of this process into the walks of Shakespeare cannot be too earnestly deprecated, or too carefully avoided.
As to exercises in the Poet's versification and art, the Editor never attempts to prosecute these at all, except in his older classes: the former because it is too dry; the latter because it is too high. Moreover, the peculiar richness and variety of the Poet's verbal modulation, the subtle and winding, yet severe and never-cloying music of bis verse, which seems to voice the essential harmonies of intellectual and emotional beauty, are among those qualities of his workmanship which are the last to be consciously appreciated even by the most pronounced Shakespearians. At least, the Editor has found it so in his own experience, and some of our ripest students of the Poet, those who have made a life-long study of him, have told the Editor that it was the same in theirs. So, too, the principles and philosophy of Art, as involved in Shakespeare's creations, are matter for the ripest and besttrained minds ; too steep and intricate perhaps for any but such as make a special study in parsuits of that nature. These points cannot be treated here, and must be reserved for such treatment elsewhere as the Editor can give them, and hopes to give them, as time may serve and other occupations allow.
In conclusion, the Editor begs to say, that for some years past he has felt a strong and growing desire to do what he could towards working Shakespeare into general and systematic use as a text-book in the education of youth. It was in pursuance of that long-cherished wish, that he undertook the present work. If the work should prove in any degree useful in furthering that cause, bc will deem his labours well taken and amply rewarded. For, in truth, it seems to him that we stay quite too much in the study of words, and quite too little in that of things; and that the reform now most needed in our educational modes is the giving much more time to the masters of our native language, which is to us naturally a medium of intellectual vision, and much less to the study of foreign languages, which, from the nature of the case, must needs be to us, for the most part, the object of such vision.
SRETCH OF THE POET'S LIFE.
ILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was baptised in the parish church of of his birth is not positively known, but the general custom then was to baptise infants at three days old, and the custom is justly presumed to have been followed in this instance. Accordingly the 231 of April is agreed upon everywhere throughout the English-speaking world as the Poet's birthday, and is often celebrated as such with appropriate festivities. His father was John Shakespeare, a well-reputed citizen of Stratford, who held, successively, various local offices, closing with those of Mayor of the town and Head-Alderman. His mother was Mary, youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a man of good landed estate, who lived at Wilmecote, some three miles from Stratford.
Nothing further is directly known of Shakespeare till his marriage, which took place in November, 1582, when he was in his nineteenth year. The bride was Anne, daughter of Richard Hathaway, a yeoman living at Shottery, which was a village near Stratford, and belong. ing to the same parish. The date of her baptism is not known; but the baptismal register of Stratford did not begin till 1558. She died August 6th, 1623, and the inscription on her monument gives her age as sixty-seven years ; so that her birth must have been in 1556, some eight years before that of her husband. Their first child, Susanna, was baptised May 26th, 1583. Two more children, twins, were christened Hamnet and Judith, on the 2d of February, 1585, the Poet then being nearly twenty-one years old.
We have no certain knowledge as to when or why Shakespeare became an actor. At the last-named date, his father, after some years of thrift, had evidently suffered a considerable decline of fortune. Perhaps this was one reason of his leaving Stratford. Another reason may have been, that, as tradition gives it, he engaged, along with others, in a rather wild poaching frolic on the grounds of Sir Thomas Lucy, who owned a large estate not far from Stratford; which act Sir Thomas resented so sharply, that Shakespeare thought it best to quit the place and go to London. But the Drama was then a great and rising institution in England, and of course the dramatic interest had its centre in the metropolis. There were various companies of players in London, who used, at certain seasons, to go about the country, and perform in towns and villages. Stratford was often visited by such companies during the Poet's boyhood, and some of the players appear to have been natives of that section. In particular, the company that he afterwards belonged to performed there repeatedly while lie was just about the right age to catch the spirit from them.
Shakespeare probably left Stratford in 1586 or thereabouts. Be that as it may, the next positive information we have of him is from a pamphlet written in 1592 by Robert Greene, a poor profligate whic was then dying from the effects of his vices. Greene, who had bimself written a good deal for the stage, there squibs some one as being, “in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country.” There is no doubt that this refers to Shakespeare ; and some of the terms applied to the Shuke-scene clearly infer that the Poet was already
getting to be well known as a writer of plays. After Greene's death, his pamphlet was given to the public by one Henry Chettle, who, on being remonstrated with by the persons assailed, published an apology, in which he expresses regret for the attack on Shakespeare, adiding, “because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil ihan he excel. lent in the quality he professes ; besiiles, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art.”
Our next authentic notice of Shakespeare is by the publication of his Venus and Adonis, in 1593. This poem was dedicated to Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, who was among the finest young noblemen of that time; and the language of the dedication is such as the Poet would hardly have used but to a warm personal friend. The following year, 1594, he published his Lucrece, dedicating it to the sume nobleman, in still warmer terms of address, and indirectly ac knowledging important obligations to him. The same year Spenser wrote his Colin Clou's Come Home again, in which we have the following, clearly reierring to Shakespeare:
“And there, though last not least, is Ætion :
A gentler Shepherd may nowhere be found,
Doth like himself heroically sound.”
“In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandishi'd at the eyes oť Ignorance." All which may suffice to show that the Poet was not long in making his way to the favourable regards of some whose good opinion was most to be desired, and whose respect was a strong pledge both of recognized genius and personal worth in the object of it. It is to be noted, however, that the forecited marks of consideration were paid to him altogether as an author, and not as an actor. As an actor it does not appear that he was ever much distinguished; though some of the parts which tradition reports him to have sustained would naturally inter him to have been at least respectable in that capacity. But it must have been early evident that his gift looked in another direction ; and his associates could not have been long in finiling his services most useful in the work for which he was specially gifted.
The dramatic company of which Shakespeare was a member were known as “the Lord Chamberlain's Servants.” Richard Burbage, the greatest actor of the time, was a member of the same. The company had for some years owned and occupied what was called the Blackfriars Theatre. This building did not afford accommodation enough for their business. So, in December, 1593, the company went about building the Globe Theatre, in which Shakespeare is known to have been a considerable owner. And the obligations which I have spoken of his being under to Southampton were probably on account of some generous aid which this nobleman rendered him towards that enterprise. Tradition tells us that the Earl gave him a thousand pounds for the occasion. As this would be nearly equivalent to $:30, 000 in our time, we may well stick at the alle cel amount of the gift; but the Earl's approved liberality in such matters renders even that sum not incredible, and assures us, at all events, that the present must have been something (lecidedly handsome; though, to be sure, tradition may have overdrawn the amount.
It does not appear that the Poet at any time had his family witb
him in London But it is very evident that his thoughts were a good deal with them at Stratford; for he is soon found saving up money from his London business, and investing it in lands and houses in his native town. The parish register of Stratford notes the death of his only son Hamnet, then in his twelfth year, on the 11th of August, 1596. So far as is known, he never had any children but the three already mentioned.
In the Spring of 1597, he bought of William Underhill the estab lishment called “New Place," and described as consisting of “ one messuage, two barns and two gardens.” This was one of the best dwell. ing-houses i: Stratford, and was situate in one of the best parts )f the town. From that time forward we have many similar tokens of hie thrift, which I must not stay to note in detail. Suffice it to say that for several years he continued to make frequent investments in Stratford and the neighbourhood ; thus justifying the statement of Rowe, that “he had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occa: sions ;” and that “ the latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends."
None of his plays are known to have been printed till 1597, in which year three of them, King Richard II., King Richard III., and Romeo and Juliet, came from the press, separately, and in quarto form. The next year, Francis Meres published his Wit's Treasury, in which we have the following: “ As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins; so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage.' The writer then specifies by title the three plays already named, and also nine others, in confirmation of his judgment. Besides these twelve, several others also are known to have been in being at that time; and it is all but certain that as many at least as eighteen of the Poet's dramas were written before 1598, when he was thirty-four years old, and had probably been in the theatre about twelve years.
The Poet seems to have been laudably ambitious of gaining a higher social position than that to which he was born. So, in 1599 he procured from the Herald's College in London a coat of arms iu the name of his father. Thus he got his yeoman sire dubbed a gentleman, doubtless that the honour might be his by inheritance, as he was his father's eldest son. An odd commentary on this proceeding is furnished by a passage in King Lear, Act iii. scene 6, where the Fool says to the old King, —“He's a mad yeoman that sees his son a gentleman before him.” The Poet's father was buried at Stratford, September 8th, 1601; and thenceforward we find him written down in legal documents as “ Williain Shakespeare, Gentleman."
King James the First came to the throne of England in March, 1603. On the 17th of May following, he ordered a patent to be issued under the ireat Seal, authorizing our servants, Laurence Fletcher, Wil. liam Shakespeare, Richard Burbage," and six others, to exercise their art in all parts of the kingdoms, “ as well for the recreation of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to see them.” By this instrument, the company who had hitherto been known as the Lord Chamberlain's Servants were taken directly under the royal patronage ; accordingly they were henceforth designated as " the King's Players.”
Whatever may have been his rank as an actor, Shakespeare evi. dently had a strong dislike to the vocation, and was impatient of liig connection with the stage as a player. We have an affecting proof of this in one of his Sonnets, where he unmistakeably discovers his per sonal feelir.ys on that point: