SHAKESPEARE'S LOST YEARS IN LONDON
SHAKESPEARE'S LOST YEARS IN LONDON
Giving new light on the pre-Sonnet period; showing the inception of relations between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton and displaying
SIR JOHN FALSTAFF
AUTHOR OF "SHAKESPEARE AND THE RIVAL POET" "MISTRESS DAVENANT, THE DARK LADY OF THE SONNETS", ETC.
NEW YORK BRENTANO'S 1920
All rights reserved
TO MY SONS
ARTHUR MURRAY ACHESON
ALEXANDER G. ACHESON
I DEDICATE THIS VOLUME
"The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was, and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."
Hamlet, Act III. Scene ii.
I. INTRODUCTORY 1
II. THE STRATFORD DAYS, 1564-1586 19
III. SHAKESPEARE, THE BURBAGES, AND EDWARD ALLEYN, 1586-1591 38
IV. SHAKESPEARE AND THE EARL OF PEMBROKE'S COMPANY, 1591-1594 72
V. SHAKESPEARE AND THE SCHOLARS, 1588-1592 90
VI. THE POLITICAL PURPOSE OF KING JOHN, 1591-1592 131
VII. INCEPTION OF THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN SHAKESPEARE AND THE EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON, 1591-1594 150
VIII. JOHN FLORIO AS SIR JOHN FALSTAFF'S ORIGINAL 181
1. Dedication of Florio's Second Fruites, 1591 223
2. Address to the Reader from Florio's Second Fruites, 1591 229
3. Dedication of Florio's Worlde of Wordes, 1598 233
4. Address to the Reader from Florio's Worlde of Wordes, 1598 242
5. John Florio's Will, 1625 252
SHAKESPEARE'S LOST YEARS IN LONDON
The most interesting and important fifteen years in the records of English dramatic literature are undoubtedly those between 1588 and 1603, within which limit all of Shakespeare's poems and the majority of his plays were written; yet no exhaustive English history, intelligently co-ordinating the social, literary, and political life of this period, has ever been written.
Froude, the keynote of whose historical work is contained in his assertion that "the Reformation was the root and source of the expansive force which has spread the Anglo-Saxon race over the globe," recognising a logical and dramatic climax for his argument in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, ends his history in that year; while Gardiner, whose historical interest was as much absorbed by the Puritan Revolution as was Froude's by the Reformation, finds a fitting beginning for his subject in the accession of James I. in 1603. Thus an historical hiatus is left which has never been exhaustively examined. To the resulting lack of a clearly defined historical background for those years on the part of Shakespearean critics and compilers—who are not as a rule also students of original sources of history—may be imputed much of the haziness which still exists regarding Shakespeare's relations to, and the manner in which his work may have been influenced by, the literary, social, and political life of this period.
The defeat of the Armada ended a long period of threatened danger for England, and the following fifteen years of Elizabeth's reign were passed in comparative security. The social life of London and the Court now took on, by comparison with the troubled past, an almost Augustan phase. During these years poetry and the drama flourished in England as they never did before, or since, in any such space of time. Within a few years of the beginning of this time Shakespeare became the principal writer for, and later on a sharer in, a company of players which, at about the same time, was chosen as the favourite Court company; a position which—under various titles—it continued to hold thereafterwards for over forty years.
When we compare the plays of Shakespeare with those of his contemporaries and immediate successors, it becomes evident that this dominant position was maintained by his company largely through the superior merit of his work while he lived, and by the prestige he had attained for it after he had passed away.
In the time of Elizabeth the stage was recognised as one of the principal vehicles for the reflection of opinion concerning matters of public interest; the players being, in Shakespeare's phrase, "the abstract and brief chronicles of the time." The fact that laws were passed and Orders in Council issued prohibiting the representation of matters of Church or State upon the stage, clearly implies the prevalence of such representations. It is altogether unlikely that the most popular dramatist of the day should, in this phase of his art, have remained an exception to the rule.
I hold it to have been impossible that such an ardent Englishman as Shakespeare, one also so deeply interested in human motive, character, and action, should have lived during these fifteen years in the heart of English literary and political life,—coming, through his professional interests, frequently and closely in contact with certain of its central figures,—and should during this interval have written twenty original plays, three long poems, and over one hundred and fifty sonnets, without leaving in this work decipherable reflections of the characters and movements of his time. That these conscious, or unconscious, reflections have not long ago been recognised and interpreted I impute to the lack of an intimate knowledge of contemporary history on the part of the majority of his critics and biographers.
Competent text critics, in their efforts to establish the chronological order of the dramas, have long since displayed the facts that Shakespeare's earlier original plays were largely comedies of a joyous nature, and that, as the years pass, his work becomes more serious and philosophical; in time developing into the pessimistic bitterness of Lear and Timon of Athens, but softening and lightening, at the end of his career, in the gravely reflective but kindly mood of Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, and The Tempest; yet no serious attempt has ever been made to trace and demonstrate in the personal contact of the writer with concurrent life the underlying spiritual causes of these very palpable changes in his expression of it. Until this is done no adequate life of Shakespeare can be written.
Now, in order to be enabled to find in Shakespeare's personal observation and experience the well-springs of the plainly developing and deepening reflections of human life in action, so evident in his dramas when studied chronologically, a sound knowledge of contemporary social, literary, and political history is the first essential; possessing this, the serious student will soon realise in the likenesses between Shakespeare's dramatic expression, and his concurrent possibilities of observation and experience, that he portrayed life as he himself saw and felt it, and that he used the old and hackneyed stories and chronicles which he selected for his plots, not because he lacked the power of dramatic construction, but in order to hide the underlying purposes of his plays from the public censor. While no intelligent student needs any other warrant for this belief than the plays themselves, when chronologically co-ordinated with even an elementary knowledge of the history of the period, we have Shakespeare's own assertion that this was the actual method and spirit of his work. When he tells us in Hamlet that "the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was, and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure," he is not attempting to describe the dramatic methods of ancient Denmark, but is definitely expounding the functions of dramatic exposition as they prevailed in actual use in his own day, and as he himself had then exercised them for over ten years.
Any attempt to visualise Shakespeare in his contemporary environment, and spiritually to link his work year by year with the life of his time, would be impossible unless there can first be attained a far clearer idea than now exists of his theatrical connections, the inception of his dramatic work, and of the literary and social affiliations he formed and antagonisms he aroused, during his first six or eight years in London. The purpose of this book is—by casting new light upon this period of Shakespeare's career—to show the inception and development of conditions and influences which continued from that time forward materially to affect his and his friends' lives, and in turn to shape and colour the expression of life in action which he gives us in his works.
Though there is nothing known definitely concerning Shakespeare between 1587—when his name is mentioned in a legal document at Stratford regarding the transfer of property in which he held a contingent interest and which possibly infers his presence in Stratford at that date—and 1592, when Robert Greene alludes to him in his posthumously published A Groatsworth of Wit, it is usually assumed that he left Stratford in 1586 or 1587 with a company of players, or else that he joined a company in London at about that time.
As the Earl of Leicester's company is recorded as having visited Stratford-upon-Avon in 1587,—some time before 14th June,—and as James Burbage, the father of Richard Burbage, with whom we find Shakespeare closely affiliated in later years, was manager of the Earl of Leicester's company as late as 1575,—the year before he built the Theatre at Shoreditch,—it is generally assumed that he was still manager of this company in 1586-87, and that Shakespeare became connected with him by joining Leicester's company at this time. This assumption is, however, somewhat involved by another, nebulously held by some critics, i.e., that James Burbage severed his connection with Leicester's company in 1583, and joined the Queen's company, and that the latter company played under his management at the Theatre in Shoreditch for several years afterwards. It is further involved by the equally erroneous assumption that Burbage managed the Curtain along with the Theatre between 1585 and 1592.
Certain biographical compilers also assert that Shakespeare, having joined the Earl of Leicester's company, continued to be connected with it under its supposed varying titles until the end of his London career, and that he was never associated with any other company. They assume that Leicester's company merged with Lord Strange's company of acrobats in 1589, the combination becoming known as Lord Strange's players; and that when this company left James Burbage and the Theatre, in 1592, for Philip Henslowe and the Rose Theatre, that Shakespeare accompanied them and worked for Henslowe both as a writer and an actor. They suppose that Edward Alleyn became the manager of a combination of the Admiral's company and Strange's men for a "short period," but that the companies "soon parted," "Strange's men continuing with Henslowe for a prolonged period." It is also asserted that "the Rose Theatre was the first scene of Shakespeare's successes alike as an actor and a dramatist," and that he "helped in the authorship of The First Part of Henry VI., with which Lord Strange's company scored a triumphant success in 1592."
These assumptions, which were advanced tentatively by former scholars and merely as working hypotheses, have now, by repetition and the dogmatic dicta of biographical compilers, come to be accepted by the uncritical as ascertained facts.
While it is now generally accepted that Greene's "Shake-scene" alludes to Shakespeare, and that his parody of a line from The True Tragedie:
"O Tyger's heart wrapt in a Player's hide"
denotes some connection of Shakespeare's with either The True Tragedie of the Duke of York, or with The Third Part of Henry VI. before September 1592, when Greene died, and while the title-page of the first issue of The True Tragedie of the Duke of York informs us that this play was acted by the Earl of Pembroke's company, and no mention of the play appears in the records of Henslowe, under whose financial management Shakespeare is supposed to have been working with Strange's company in 1592, nothing has ever been done to elucidate Shakespeare's evident connection with this play or with the Earl of Pembroke's company at this period.
In the same year—1592—Nashe refers to the performance by Lord Strange's company under Henslowe of The First Part of Henry VI., and praises the work of the dramatist who had recently incorporated the Talbot scenes, which are plainly the work of a different hand from the bulk of the remainder of the play. This also is generally accepted as a reference to Shakespeare and as indicating his connection with Henslowe as a writer for the stage. It is erroneously inferred from this supposed evidence, and from the fact that Richard Burbage was with Strange's company in 1592, that Shakespeare also acted with and wrote for this company under Henslowe.
No explanation has ever been given for the palpable fact that not one of the plays written by Shakespeare—the composition of which all competent text critics impute to the years 1591 to 1594—is mentioned in Henslowe's Diary as having been presented upon his boards. It is generally agreed that The Comedy of Errors, King John, Richard II., Love's Labour's Lost, Love's Labour's Won, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III., and Midsummer Night's Dream, were all produced before the end of 1594, yet there is no record nor mention of any one of these plays in Henslowe's Diary, which gives a very full list of the performances at the Rose and the plays presented between 1592 and 1594.
During the same years in which records of Shakespeare are lacking they are also very limited regarding Edward Alleyn, whose reputation as an actor and whose leadership in his profession were won during these years—1586-92. Nothing is at present known concerning him between 1584, when he is mentioned in the Leicester records as a member of the Earl of Worcester's company, and 3rd January 1589, when he bought Richard Jones' share of theatrical properties, owned conjointly by Edward Alleyn, John Alleyn, Robert Browne, and Richard Jones. As Edward Alleyn, Robert Browne, and Richard Jones were all members of Worcester's company in 1584, it is erroneously assumed that they were still Worcester's men in 1589, and that it was Jones' share in the Worcester properties that Alleyn bought at this time to take with him to the Admiral's company, which he is consequently supposed to have joined some time between 1589 and 1592. The next record we have of Alleyn is his marriage to Joan Woodward, Henslowe's stepdaughter, in October 1592. In the following May we find him managing Lord Strange's company in the provinces, though styling himself a Lord Admiral's man. Where, then, was Edward Alleyn between 1585 and 1589; where between 1589 and 1593; and when did he become a Lord Admiral's man?
Worcester's company, with which Alleyn was connected in 1584, is last mentioned in the records as appearing at Barnstaple in 1585; it then disappears from view for five years, and is next mentioned in the provincial records as appearing at Coventry in 1590. Between 1590 and 1603 it is mentioned regularly in the provincial records. Where was Worcester's company between 1585 and 1590?
I propose to demonstrate by new evidence and analysis that James Burbage ceased to be an active member of Leicester's company soon after he took on the responsibilities of the management of the Theatre; but continued his theatrical employees under Leicester's protection as Lord Leicester's musicians until 1582, when he began to work under the licence of Lord Hunsdon, his company being composed of his own employees and largely of musicians, to act as an adjunct to the companies to whom, from time to time, he let the use of the Theatre during the absence in the provinces of the companies, such as Leicester's and the Admiral's, with which I shall give evidence he held more permanent affiliations, and, seeing that he was owner and manager of the Theatre, that these affiliations were somewhat similar to those maintained by Henslowe—the owner of the Rose Theatre—with Lord Strange's company between 1592 and 1594, and with the Lord Admiral's, and other companies, at the several theatres he controlled in later years. I shall indicate that from the time Burbage built the Theatre in 1576 until early in 1585, he maintained such a connection with Leicester's company, and shall show that the disruption of this company in 1585 by the departure of seven of their principal members for the Continent—where they remained until July 1587—necessitated a similar connection with some other good company to take its place, and that he now secured Edward Alleyn and his fellows, who, ceasing to be Worcester's men at this time, and securing the licence of the Lord Admiral, affiliated themselves with the remnant of Leicester's men and joined Burbage and Lord Hunsdon's men at the Theatre. In this year the latter became the Lord Chamberlain's men through the elevation of Lord Hunsdon to that office. These companies, while retaining individual licences, continued to play when in London as one company until the end of 1588, or beginning of 1589, when another reorganisation took place, a number of the old men being eliminated and new blood being taken in from the restored Leicester company and Lord Strange's company of youthful acrobats, who had now become men. I shall give evidence that this organisation continued to work as one company for the next three years, though the Admiral's men still retained their own licence, and consequently that the company as a whole is at times mentioned in both Court and provincial records under one title and at times under the other. The principal reason that a number of companies, combining at a London theatre as one company, preserved their several licences was no doubt the greater protection afforded them by the patronage of several powerful noblemen against the hostility of puritanically inclined municipal authorities. Recorder Fleetwood, who was noted as an enemy of the players, in his weekly reports on civic affairs to Lord Burghley, frequently complains of the stoppage by Court influence of his prosecutions of alleged offenders. Upon one occasion he writes: "When the Court is farthest from London then is the best justice done in England."
Some time between the beginning of 1591 and the end of that year, James Burbage's disfavour with certain of the authorities, as well as legal and financial difficulties in which he became involved, made it necessary for the combined companies, which in December 1591 had attained to the position of the favourite Court company, to seek more convenient quarters and stronger financial backing than Burbage and the Theatre afforded. Under its various titles Strange's company continued to be the leading Court company for the next forty years. I shall indicate the probability that Strange's company in supplanting the Queen's company at Court at this time also supplanted it at the Rose Theatre, which was built by Henslowe in 1587 as a theatre. Henslowe repaired and reconstructed it late in 1591 and early in 1592 for the uses of Strange's men. I will show the unlikelihood that this was Henslowe's first venture in theatrical affairs, and the probability that the Queen's players, under his financial management, occupied the Rose Theatre from the time it was built in 1587 until they were superseded by Strange's men in 1591.
I shall also give evidence that Shakespeare did not accompany Strange's men to Henslowe and the Rose, but that he remained with Burbage, who backed him in the formation of Pembroke's company, and that he and Marlowe wrote for this company until Marlowe was killed in 1593, and that Shakespeare was probably its sole provider of plays from the time of Marlowe's death until the company disrupted early in 1594. I shall show further that during the time Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote for Pembroke's company, and for some years later, George Peele revised old and wrote new plays for Henslowe and Alleyn, and that it was he that revised Henry VI. and introduced the Talbot scene in 1592, and consequently that it was to Peele, and not to Shakespeare, that Nashe's praises were given at this time. Evidence shall be given to show that Nashe was antagonistic to Shakespeare and co-operated with Greene against him at this period.
It shall be made clear that Titus Andronicus, which was acted as a new play by Sussex's company under Henslowe on 23rd January 1594, was also written by Peele, or rewritten from Titus and Vespasian, which is now lost, but which—being written for Strange's men in the previous year—we may assume was also Peele's, or else his first revision of a still older play.
Some time before the middle of 1594 a new reorganisation of companies took place, the Admiral's and the Lord Chamberlain's separating and absorbing men from Pembroke's and Sussex's companies, which ceased to exist as active entities at this time, though a portion of Pembroke's men—while working with the Admiral's men between 1594 and 1597—retained their own licence and attempted to operate separately in the latter year, but, failing, returned to Henslowe and became Admiral's men. A few of their members whom Langley, the manager of the Swan Theatre, had taken from them, struggled on as Pembroke's men for a year or two and finally disappeared from the records.
A consideration of the affairs of Lord Strange's men—now the Lord Chamberlain's men—while under Henslowe's financial management between 1592 and 1594, and of Pembroke's company's circumstances during the same period, with their enforced provincial tours owing to the plague in London, will show that these were lean years for both organisations, and for the men composing them; yet in December 1594—as is shown by the Court records of March 1595—Shakespeare appears as a leading sharer in one of the most important theatrical companies in England. I shall advance evidence to show that his position in this powerful company, and its apparent prosperity at this time, were due to financial assistance accorded him in 1594 by his patron, the Earl of Southampton, to whom in this year he dedicated Lucrece, and in the preceding year Venus and Adonis.
If these hypotheses be demonstrated it shall appear that though Shakespeare, as Burbage's employee in the conduct of the Theatre, had theatrical relations with the Earl of Leicester's company that he was not a member of that company, and that if he may be regarded as having become a member of any company in 1586-87, when he came to London, he was a member of the Lord Chamberlain's company,—which was owned by James Burbage,—but as a bonded and hired servant or servitor to James Burbage for a term of years which ended in about 1589; that his work with Burbage from the time he entered his service was of a general nature, and more of a literary and dramatic than of an histrionic character, though it undoubtedly partook of both; that he worked in conjunction with both Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn from the time he came to London in 1586-87 until 1591; that neither he nor Burbage were connected with the Queen's company, nor with the Curtain Theatre, during these years, and that the ownership by the Burbage organisation of a number of old Queen's plays resulted from their absorption of Queen's men in 1591, when Pembroke's company was formed, and not from the supposed fact that James Burbage was at any time a member or the manager of the Queen's company; that Robert Greene's attack upon Shakespeare as "the onely Shake-scene," in 1592, was directed at him as the manager of Pembroke's company; that the Rose Theatre was not "the scene of Shakespeare's pronounced success, both as a writer and a dramatist," and that in fact he never was connected with that theatre, nor with Henslowe, either as a writer or an actor; that Nashe's laudation of the Talbot scenes in Henry VI. was complimentary to his friend Peele, and that whatever additions Shakespeare may have made to this play were made after he rejoined the Lord Chamberlain's men in 1594; that he had no hand in the composition of Titus Andronicus, acted by Sussex's company and published in 1594, which is the same as that now generally included in Shakespeare's plays; and finally that his business ability and social and dramatic prestige restored Burbage's waning fortunes and enabled his new organisation to compete successfully with the superior political favour and financial power of Henslowe and Alleyn, and started it upon its prolonged career of Court and public favour.
As a clear conception of Shakespeare's theatrical affiliations between 1586 and 1594 has not hitherto been realised so a knowledge of his relations with contemporary writers during his entire career still remains nebulous. Greene's attack in 1592 in A Groatsworth of Wit and Chettle's apology are the only things regarding Shakespeare's early relations with other writers that have been generally accepted by critics. Until the publication of Shakespeare and the Rival Poet in 1903, nothing was known of his prolonged enmity with Chapman; while the name of Matthew Roydon was unmentioned in connection with Shakespearean affairs until 1913. The revelations of the present volume regarding the enmity between Florio and Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's dramatic characterisations of Florio, have never been anticipated, though the possibility that they may have come at odds has been apprehended. The Rev. J.H. Halpin suggested in 1856 that the "H.S." attacked by Florio in his Worlde of Wordes in 1590 may have been directed at Shakespeare, but advanced no evidence to support his theory, which has since been relegated by the critics to the limbo of fanciful conjecture. I was not aware of Mr. Halpin's suggestion when I reached my present conclusions.
There has hitherto been no suspicion whatever on the part of critics that anything of the nature of a continuous collusion between the scholars existed against Shakespeare in these early years, and consequently, when at a later period it was manifested in plays presented upon rival stages, it was regarded as a new development and named "The War of the Theatres"; but even this open phase of the antagonism and the respective sides taken by its participants are still misunderstood. This critical opacity is due largely to the fact that Shakespearean criticism has for many years been regarded as the province of academic specialists in literature who have neglected the social and political history of Shakespeare's day as outside their line of specialisation. It was probably Froude's recognition of this nebulous condition in Shakespearean criticism that deterred him from continuing his history to the end of the reign of Elizabeth, and prevented Gardiner beginning his where Froude's ended. These great historians realised that no adequate history of that remarkable period could be written that did not include a full consideration of Shakespeare and his influence; yet, making no pretensions themselves to Shakespearean scholarship, and finding in extant knowledge no sure foundations whereon to build, they evaded the issue, confining their investigations to the development of those phases of history in which they were more vitally interested.
Froude's intimate knowledge of the characters and atmosphere of Elizabethan social and political life, acquired by years of devoted application to an exhaustive examination of documentary records and the epistolatory correspondence of the period, convinced him that Shakespeare drew his models and his atmosphere from concurrent life. He writes: "We wonder at the grandeur, the moral majesty of some of Shakespeare's characters, so far beyond what the noblest among ourselves can imitate, and at first thought we attribute it to the genius of the poet who has outstripped nature in his creations, but we are misunderstanding the power and the meaning of poetry in attributing creativeness to it in any such sense. Shakespeare created but only as the spirit of nature created around him, working in him as it worked abroad in those among whom he lived. The men whom he draws were such men as he saw and knew; the words they utter were such as he heard in the ordinary conversations in which he joined.... At a thousand unnamed English firesides he found the living originals for his Prince Hals, his Orlandos, his Antonios, his Portias, his Isabellas. The closer personal acquaintance which we can form with the English of the age of Elizabeth, the more we are satisfied that Shakespeare's great poetry is no more than the rhythmic echo of the life which he depicts."
As this book is intended as a precursor to one shortly to be published dealing with the sonnets and the plays of the Sonnet period, the only plays here critically considered are King John and The Comedy of Errors, which I shall argue are the only plays—now extant—written by Shakespeare before the inception of his intimacy with the Earl of Southampton, which I date, upon good evidence, in the autumn of 1591. In the former we have probably the best example of the manner in which Elizabethan playwrights dramatised contemporary affairs. In this instance Shakespeare worked from an older play which had been composed with the same intention with which he rewrote it, and as the old play had passed the censor and been for years upon the public boards, he was enabled to develop his intention more openly than even he dared to do in later years, when, owing to the influence of Lord Burghley and his son, Sir Robert Cecil, the enforcement of the statutes against the representation of matters of State upon the stage became increasingly stringent.
Though the political phases of Shakespeare's dramas become more veiled as the years pass, I unhesitatingly affirm that there is not a single play composed between the end of 1591 and the conclusion of his dramatic career that does not, in some manner, intentionally reflect either the social, literary, or political affairs of his day.
In order that the reader may approach a consideration of the rearranged sonnets with a clear perspective, and to keep the Sonnet story uninvolved by subsidiary argument, I now demonstrate not only the beginning of the acquaintance between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton—which has not hitherto been known—but also take a forward glance of several years in order definitely to establish the identity of John Florio as Shakespeare's original for Falstaff, Parolles, and Armado. His identity as the original for still other characters will be made apparent as this history develops in the Sonnet period.
[Footnote 1: Dr. Georg Brandes' William Shakespeare: A Critical Study, is by far the best attempt at an interpretation of Shakespeare's plays upon spiritual lines that has yet been made; but the biographical value of this excellent analysis is involved by the fact that Dr. Brandes, at the time he wrote,—now over thirty years ago,—accepted Thomas Tyler's Pembroke-Fitton theory of the sonnets, and with it the distorted chronology for the plays of the Sonnet period, which it necessarily involves.]
[Footnote 2: A Life of William Shakespeare, by Sir Sidney Lee, 1916, p. 59.]
[Footnote 3: Ibid. 61.]
[Footnote 4: A Life of William Shakespeare, by Sir Sidney Lee, 1916, pp. 61, 55.]
[Footnote 5: "Between 1586 and 1592 we lose all trace of Shakespeare." William Shakespeare: A Critical Study, Georg Brandes, p. 18.]
[Footnote 6: English Dramatic Companies, 1558-1641, vol. i. p. 57. By John Tucker Murray.]
[Footnote 7: Ibid.]
[Footnote 8: It is probable that previous to 1587 the Rose was an inn used for theatrical purposes.]
[Footnote 9: Mistress Davenant, the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's Sonnets.]
THE STRATFORD DAYS
"What porridge had John Keats?" asks Browning. So may we well inquire of what blood was Shakespeare? What nice conjunction of racial strains produced this unerring judgment, this heaven-scaling imagination, this exquisite sensibility? for, however his manner of life may have developed their expression, these qualities were plainly inherent in the man.
The name Shakespeare has been found to have existed during the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries in various parts of England, and has been most commonly encountered in and about Warwickshire. While it is spelt in many different ways, the commonest form is Shaxper or Shaxpeare, giving the a in the first syllable the same sound as in flax. Wherever Shakespeare families are found, however, they invariably show a very great preponderance of Christian names that are characteristically Norman: Richard, Gilbert, Hugh, William, John, Robert, Anthony, Henry, Thomas, Joan, Mary, Isabella, Ann, Margaret, being met with frequently. It is likely then that the widespread and persistent use of Norman Christian names by Shakespeare families denotes their Norman origin, and that this link with their past was preserved by family custom long after pride of ancestry—which first continued its use—was forgotten, as in the case of the Irish peasantry of Norman origin in Leinster—within what was formerly known as the Norman Pale—who have long forgotten their origin, but having Norman patronymics still preserve also Norman Christian names.
The etymological origin of Shakespeare's name is yet unsettled: one scholar suggests that it derives from the Anglo-Saxon, Saexberht. This would imply that the Anglo-Saxon prefix saex has by time been transmuted into Shake, and that the suffix, berht has become pear or pere. The instances in which the Anglo-Saxon sae have changed into the English sh are extremely rare. The modern sh in English when derived from Anglo-Saxon is almost invariably sc softened, or when derived from Danish or Norse sh, as, for instance, in the words sceadu shade, sceaft shaft, sceacan shake, sceal shall, scamu shame, skapa shape. I cannot find a single instance in the growth of Anglo-Saxon into English where the original berht has taken on the p sound and become pear or pere. The English for berht as a rule is bert, burt, or bard.
Shakespeare's sanity of judgment and spiritual self-reliance are qualities which we naturally associate with the Norse temperament; his fine sensibility and unfettered imagination strike us as much more characteristically Gallic or Celtic. It seems probable then that in his physical and spiritual composition we have a rare admixture of these related Aryan types. Physically he was not a large man, being, in fact, rather below the middle stature; his hair was strong in texture and dark reddish in colour, while his eyes were brown; his nose was large, and his lips full, but the face relieved of sensuousness by the dominant majesty of the brow. This is not descriptive of an Anglo-Saxon type: it is much more distinctly French or Norman. It is probable that the blood of the Norman ran full in Shakespeare's veins, and who was the Norman but the racial combination of the Norseman and the Gaul? In this light, then, I suggest that the name Shakespeare seems to be much closer to the Norman-French Jacquespierre than it is to the Anglo-Saxon saexberht. In the gradual transition of Norman-French into English pronunciation, Shakespeare, or as the name was pronounced in Elizabethan days, Shaxper, is exactly the form which the English tongue would have given to the name Jacquespierre. It is significant that Arden, his mother's name, is also of Norman origin; that his grandfather's name Richard, his father's name John, his own name William, and the names of all his brothers and sisters, but one, were Norman. In view of these indications, it is not unreasonable to assume that Norman blood held good proportion in the veins of this greatest of all Englishmen.
Exhaustive research by interested genealogists has failed to trace Shakespeare's forebears further into the past than to his grandfather, Richard Shakespeare, a substantial yeoman of Snitterfield, and this relationship, while generally accepted, is not yet definitely established. There is no doubt, however, that John Shakespeare, butcher, glover, woolstapler, or corndealer, or all of these things combined, of Stratford-upon-Avon, was his father, and that the poet was baptized in the Parish Church of that town upon 26th April, in the year 1564. He was born on, or shortly before, 23rd April in the same year.
Shakespeare's mother was Mary Arden, the youngest of eight daughters—by the first wife—of Robert Arden, a landed gentleman of Wilmcote, related to the Ardens of Parkhill, at that time one of the leading families of Warwickshire.
On the theory that men of great intellectual capacity inherit their qualities from the distaff side, it might help us to realise Shakespeare better if we know more about his mother: of her personality and character, however, we know absolutely nothing.
The mothers depicted by Shakespeare in his plays are, as a rule, devoted, strong, and noble characters, and are probably in some measure spiritual reflections of the model he knew most intimately. It is improbable that Shakespeare's childhood should not have shown some evidence of the qualities he later displayed, and impossible that such promise should be hidden from a mother's eye.
The wealth of Shakespeare's productiveness in the three years preceding the end of 1594 gives ample evidence that the dark years intervening between his departure from Stratford and the autumn of 1591 had not been idly spent. Such mastery of his art as he displays even at this early period was not attained without an active and interested novitiate in his profession. It is evident that the appellation Johannes factotum, which Greene in 1592 slurringly bestows upon him, had been well earned in the six or seven preceding years of his London life for which we possess no records.
Whatever misgivings their staid and thrifty Stratford neighbours may have had as to the wisdom of the youthful Shakespeare's London adventure, we may well believe that Mary Arden, knowing her son's fibre, felt fair assurance that his success there would come near to matching her desires, and that of the several spurs to his industry and pride of achievement the smile of her approval was not the least. There is possibly a backward glance to his mother's faith in him in the spirit of Volumnia's hopes for the fame of her son:
"When yet he was but tender-bodied, and the only son of my womb; when youth with comeliness plucked all gaze his way; when for a day of Kings' entreaties, a mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding; I—considering how honour would become such a person; that it was no better than picture-like to hang by the wall, if renown made it not stir,—was pleased to let him seek danger where he was like to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him; from whence he returned, his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter—I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child, than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man."
Mary Arden died in 1608, at about the time the passage quoted above was written, having lived long enough to see the fortunes of the family restored through her son's efforts, and also to see him become one of the most noted men in England, and returning to Stratford with his brows crowned, if not with martial oak, with more enduring laurels.
We have no record of Shakespeare's schooldays. We know that a free grammar school of good standard existed in Stratford during his boyhood, and later. It is usually assumed that it was here that Shakespeare got the elements of his education. Though he was in no sense a classical scholar, he undoubtedly had an elementary knowledge of Latin, and may possibly, in later years, have acquired a smattering of Greek. George Chapman accuses Shakespeare of spreading the report that his alleged translations of Homer from the original Greek were, in fact, made from Latin versions. Whatever truth there may have been in Chapman's accusation against Shakespeare in this connection, modern scholarship has found that there were good grounds for such a report, and that Chapman undoubtedly made free use of the Latin of Scapula in all of his translations. Chapman's allegation, if true, seems to imply that Shakespeare's knowledge of Latin was not so meagre but that he could, upon occasion, successfully combat his learned opponents with weapons of their own choice.
Once at work in London, Shakespeare wrought hard, and in view of his immense productiveness can have had little leisure in the ten or fifteen years following. We may infer, then, that the wealth of knowledge of nature he displays was acquired in his boyhood and youth in the country round about Stratford. His intimate acquaintance with animate and inanimate life in all their forms, his knowledge of banks where wild thyme grew, his love of flowers and of natural beauty which remained with him all through his life, were evidently gained at that receptive period:
"When meadow, grove, and stream, The earth and every common thing to (him) did seem, Appareled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream."
Though Shakespeare's schooldays were over long before he left Stratford for London, his real education had only then begun. To his all-gleaning eye and hungry mind every day he lived brought new accretions of knowledge. Notwithstanding the paucity of recorded fact which exists regarding his material life, and the wealth of intimate knowledge we may possess regarding the lives of other writers, I doubt if, in the works of any other author in the entire history of literature, we can trace such evidence of continuous intellectual and spiritual growth.
While we have no light on Shakespeare's childhood, a few facts have been gleaned from the Stratford records concerning his father's affairs and his own youth, a consideration of which may enable us to judge the underlying causes which led him to seek his fortunes in London.
There is something pathetic yet dignified about the figure of John Shakespeare as we dimly sight it in what remains of the annals of his town and time. The stage he treads is circumscribed, and his appearances are few, but sufficient for us to apprehend a high-spirited but injudicious man, showing always somewhat superior in spirit to his social conditions.
He settled in Stratford twelve years previous to the birth of our poet, and appears to have been recognised as a man of some importance soon after his arrival. We have record that he was elected to various small municipal offices early in his Stratford career, and also of purchases of property from time to time, all of which evidences a growth in estate and public regard. At about the time of Shakespeare's birth, and during a season of pestilence, we find him prominent amongst those of his townsmen who contributed to succour their distressed and stricken neighbours. A year later than this we find him holding office as alderman, and later still as bailiff of Stratford; the latter the highest office in the gift of his fellow-townsmen. While holding this office we catch a glimpse of him giving welcome to a travelling company of players; an innovation in the uses of his position which argues a broad and tolerant catholicity of mind when contrasted with the growing Puritanism of the times. And so, for several years, we see him prosper, and living as befits one who prospers, and, withal, wearing his village honours with a kindly dignity. But fortune turns, and a period of reverses sets in; we do not trace them very distinctly; we find him borrowing moneys and mortgaging property, and, later, these and older obligations fall due, and, failing payment, he is sued, and thereafter for some years he fights a stubborn rearguard fight with pursuing fate in the form of truculent creditors and estranged relatives.
In the onset of these troubles an event occurred which, we may safely assume, did not tend to ease his worries nor add to his peace of mind. In 1582, his son, our poet, then a youth of eighteen, brought to his home an added care in the shape of a wife who was nearly eight years his senior, and who (the records tell us) bore him a daughter within six months of the date of their betrothal. All the circumstances surrounding the marriage lead us to infer that Shakespeare's family was not enthusiastically in favour of it, and was perhaps ignorant of it till its consummation, and that it was practically forced upon the youthful Shakespeare by the bride's friends for reasons obvious in the facts of the case. About two and a half years from this date, and at a period when John Shakespeare's affairs had become badly involved and his creditors uncomfortably persistent, his son's family and his own care were increased by the addition of the twins, Judith and Hamnet. The few records we have of this period (1585-86) show a most unhappy state of affairs; his creditors are still on the warpath, and one, owning to the solid name of John Brown, having secured judgment against him, is compelled to report to the court that "the defendant hath no property whereon to levy." Shortly after this, John Shakespeare is shorn of the last shred of his civic honours, being deprived of his office of alderman for non-attendance at the council meetings. In this condition of things we may realise the feelings of an imaginative and sensitive youth of his son's calibre; how keenly he would feel the helplessness and the reproach of his position, especially if—as was no doubt the case—it was augmented by the looks of askance and wagging of heads of the sleek and thrifty wise-ones of his community.
We are fairly well assured that Shakespeare did not leave Stratford before the end of 1585, and it appears probable that he remained there as late as 1586 or 1587. Seeing that he had compromised himself at the age of eighteen with a woman eight years his senior, whom he married from a sense of honour or was induced to marry by her friends, we may infer that the three or four subsequent years he spent in Stratford were not conducive either to domestic felicity or peace of mind. How Shakespeare occupied himself during these years we may never know, though it is very probable that he worked in the capacity of assistant to his father. That these were years of introspection and remorse to one of his spirit, however, there can be little doubt; there can be still less doubt that they were also years of formative growth, and that in this interval the irresponsible youth, who had given hostages to fortune by marrying at the age of eighteen, steadied by the responsibility of a growing family, quickly developed into some promise of the man to be.
No biographer has yet taken into consideration the effect which the circumstances of Shakespeare's life during these four or five formative years must necessarily have had in the development of his character. That this exquisite poet, this builder of dreams, should in the common affairs of life have displayed such an effectively practical bent, has always appeared an anomaly; a partial explanation is to be found in the incentive given to his energies by the conditions of his life, and of his father's affairs, at this formative period. To the habitually poor, poverty is a familiar; to the patrician who has had reverses, it may be a foil to his spirit: he still has his pride of family and caste. To the burgher class, in which Shakespeare moved in Stratford, the loss of money was the loss of caste. To provide for the future of his children and to restore the declining fortunes and prestige of his family became now his most immediate concern, if we may form any judgment from his subsequent activities. The history of literature has given us so many instances of poetic genius being unaccompanied by ordinary worldly wisdom, and so few instances of a combination of business aptitude with poetic genius, that some so-called biographers, enamoured of the conventional idea of a poet, seem almost to resent our great poet's practical common sense when displayed in his everyday life, and to impute to him as a derogation, or fault, the sound judgment in worldly matters, without which he never could have evolved the sane and unimpassioned philosophy of life, which, like a firm and even warp, runs veiled through the multicoloured weft of incident and accident in his dramas.
All Shakespearean biographers now agree in dating his hegira from Stratford not later than the year 1587. Early in 1585 his twin children, Judith and Hamnet, were born. The fact that no children were born to him later is usually advanced in favour of the assumption that he left Stratford shortly after this date. In the next eleven years we have but one mention of him in the Stratford records. Towards the end of 1587 his name, in conjunction with his father's, appears upon a legal form relating to the proposed cancellation of a mortgage upon some property in which he held a contingent interest. This, however, does not necessarily indicate his presence in Stratford at that time.
At the present time the most generally accepted hypothesis regarding the beginning of Shakespeare's theatrical career is that he joined the Earl of Leicester's company of players upon the occasion of their visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, either in the year 1586 or 1587. Upon the death of the Earl of Leicester in 1588, when this company was disrupted, it is thought probable that in company with Will Kempe, George Bryan, and Thomas Pope (actors with whom he was afterwards affiliated for years), he joined Lord Strange's players, with which company under its various later titles he continued to be connected during the remainder of his theatrical career. I shall prove this theory to be erroneous and adduce evidence to show that of whatever company, or companies, he may later have been an active member, his theatrical experience had its inception in a connection as theatrical assistant with the interests of the Burbages; with whose fortunes he thereafter continued to be connected till the end of his London career.
In judging of the youthful Shakespeare, of whom we can only conjecture, we may reasonably draw inferences from the character of the man we find revealed in his life's work. I am convinced that Shakespeare's departure from Stratford was deliberate, and that when he went to London he did so with a definite purpose in view. Had Shakespeare's father been a prosperous man of business, in all probability the world would never have heard of his son; though the local traditions of Stratford might have been enriched by the proverbial wit and wisdom of a certain anonymous sixteenth-century tradesman.
Unconfirmed legend, originating nearly a hundred years after the alleged event, is the sole basis for the report that Shakespeare was forced to leave his native town on account of his participation in a poaching adventure. It is possible that Shakespeare in his youth may have indulged in such a natural transgression of the law, but supposing it to be a fact that he did so, it does not necessarily brand him as a scapegrace. A ne'er-do-well in the country would probably remain the same in the city, and would be likely to accentuate his characteristics there, especially if his life was cast, as was Shakespeare's, in Bohemian surroundings. Instead of this, what are the facts? Assuming that Shakespeare left Stratford in 1586 or 1587, and became, as tradition reports, a servitor in the theatre at that period, let us look ten years ahead and see how he has fared.
We know that he had already returned to Stratford in 1597 and purchased one of the most important residences in the town. From the fact that John Shakespeare's creditors from this time forward ceased to harass him, we may assume that he had also settled his father's affairs. We have record that in 1596 he had, through his father, applied for the confirmation of an old grant of arms, which was confirmed three years later, and that he thereafter was styled "William Shakespeare, Gentleman of Stratford-upon-Avon." At this period he had also produced more than one-third of his known literary work, and was acknowledged as the leading dramatist of the time. All of this he had attained working in the same environment in which other men of about his own age, but of greater education and larger opportunities, had found penury, disgrace, and death. Marlowe, his confrere, at the age of thirty, in 1593, was killed in a tavern brawl. A year earlier, Greene, also a university man, would have died a beggar on the street but for the charity of a cobbler's wife who housed him in his dying hours. Spenser, breathing a purer atmosphere, but lacking the business aptitude of Shakespeare, died broken-hearted in poverty in 1599. George Peele, another university man, at about the same date, and at the age of thirty-four, we are told by Meres, died from the results of an irregular life. And those of his literary contemporaries who lived as long as, or outlived, Shakespeare, what were their ends, and where are their memories? Unknown and in most cases forgotten except where they live in his reflected light. Matthew Roydon lived long and died in poverty, no one knows when or where. George Chapman outlived his great rival many years, and died as he had lived, a friendless misanthropist.
Though Shakespeare won to fame and fortune over the temptations and vicissitudes of the same life and environments to which so many of his fellows succumbed, we have proof that this was not due to any inherent asceticism or native coldness of blood.
No man in Shakespeare's circumstances could have attained and accomplished what he did during those early years living at haphazard or without a controlling purpose in life. Whatever may have been the immediate accident of fate that turned his face Londonwards, we may rest assured that he went there with the purpose of retrieving his good name in his own community and rehabilitating the fortunes of his family.
Shakespeare's literary history does not show in him any evidence of remarkable precocity. Keats was famous and already gathered to the immortals at an age at which Shakespeare was still in the chrysalid stage of the actual buskin and sock. It may reasonably be doubted that Shakespeare produced any of his known poems or plays previous to the years 1590-91. Though his genius blossomed late his common sense and business capacity developed early, forced into being, no doubt, by a realisation of his responsibilities, as well as by the deplorable condition into which his father's affairs had fallen. So, between the years 1583, when he was married, and 1591-92, when we first begin to get some hints of his literary activities, his Pegasus was in harness earning bread and butter and, incidentally, gleaning worldly wisdom. "Love's young dream" is over; the ecstatic quest of the "not impossible she," almost at its inception, has ended in the cold anticlimax of an enforced marriage.
We may dismiss the deer-stealing rumour as referring to this period. The patient industry, sound judgment, and unusual business capacity exhibited by Shakespeare from the time we begin to get actual glimpses of his doings until the end of his career, belie the stupid and belated rumour of his having been forced to leave Stratford as a fugitive from justice on account of his participation in a poaching adventure upon Sir Thomas Lucy's preserves. While it is apparent that this bucolic Justice of the Peace is caricatured as Justice Shallow in Henry IV., Part II., it is still more clear that this play was not written until the end of the year 1598. When Shakespeare's methods of work are better understood it will become evident that he did not in 1598 revenge an injury from ten to twelve years old. Whatever may have been his animus against Sir Thomas Lucy it undoubtedly pertained to conditions existent in the year 1598. In 1596 John Shakespeare's application for arms was made, but was not finally granted until late in 1598, or early in 1599. It was still under consideration by the College of Heralds, or had very recently been granted when Shakespeare wrote Henry IV., Part II., late in 1598. It is not likely that such a grant of arms would be made even by the most friendly disposed authorities without consultation with, or reference to, the local magistracy or gentry regarding the character and social standing of the applicant. It is quite likely then that the rustic squire resented—what such a character would undoubtedly have regarded as a tradesman's presumption, and that Shakespeare, becoming cognizant of his objections, answered them in kind by caricaturing the Lucy arms. The critical student of Shakespeare's works will find that wherever a reflection of a topical nature is palpable in his plays, that the thing, or incident, referred to is almost invariably a matter of comparatively recent experience. If it is a reflection of, or a reference to, another writer we may be assured that Shakespeare has recently come from a perusal of the writer in question. If the allusion is of a social or political nature it will refer to some recent happening or to something that is still of public interest. Should such an allusion be in any sense autobiographical and pertaining to his own personal interests or feelings, it is still more likely to refer to recent experience. Whatever may have been the reason for his caricature of Sir Thomas Lucy, its cause was evidently of a later date than his departure from Stratford. It was no shiftless runagate nor fugitive from justice who went to London in, or about, 1585-87; neither was it a wrathful Chatterton, eating out his heart in bitter pride while firing his imagination to
"Paw up against the light And do strange deeds upon the clouds."
It was a very sane, clear-headed, and resourceful young man who took service with the Players, one, as yet, probably unconscious of literary ability or dramatic genius, but with a capacity for hard work; grown somewhat old for his years through responsibility, and with a slightly embittered and mildly cynical pose of mind in regard to life.
An early autobiographical note seems to be sounded in Falconbridge's soliloquy in King John, Act II. Scene ii., as follows:
"And why rail I on this commodity? But for because he hath not woo'd me yet; Not that I have the power to clutch my hand, When his fair angels would salute my palm; But for my hand, as unattempted yet, Like a poor beggar, raileth on the rich. Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail And say there is no sin but to be rich; And being rich, my virtue then shall be To say there is no vice but beggary. Since kings break faith upon commodity, Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee."
I have new evidence to show that this play was composed by Shakespeare in 1591, and though it was revised in about 1596, the passage quoted above, which exhibits the affected cynicism of youth, pertains to the earlier period. Aside from the leading of the natural bent of his genius it is evident that the greater pecuniary reward to be attained from the writing rather than from the acting of plays would be quickly apparent to a youth who in this spirit has left home to make London his oyster.
As research and criticism advance and we are enabled, little by little, more intimately to apprehend the personality of Shakespeare and to construct a more definite chronology of his doings, the shifting lights of evidence in the form of tradition and legend, which in the past have dazed, or misled, searchers, either disappear or take on new values. When we remember that Shakespeare, when he went to London, was about twenty-three years old, the father of a family, and the son of an ex-bailiff of the not unimportant town of Stratford, we may dismiss as a fanciful distortion the story of his holding horses at the theatre doors for stray pennies; and in the added embellishment of the story which describes this Orpheon, yet thrifty street Arab, as organising for this purpose a band of his mates who, to prove their honesty when soliciting the care of a horse, would claim to be "Shakespeare's boys," we may find a clue to the actual facts of the case. We have hitherto had no definite record of, nor recognised allusion to, Shakespeare between the year 1587, when his name is mentioned with his father's in a legal document, and the year 1592, when we have the well-known allusions of Robert Greene. Greene's references in this latter year reveal Shakespeare as having already entered upon his literary career, and at the same time, in the phrases "upstart crow beautified with our feathers" and "the onlie Shake-scene in the country," seem to point to him as an actor; the expression "Johannes factotum" seems still further to widen the scope of his activities and to indicate the fact that Shakespeare wrought in several capacities for his masters during his earlier theatrical career. Part of his first work for his employers, it is possible, consisted in taking charge of the stabling arrangements for the horses of the gentlemen and noblemen who frequented the Theatre. The expression "rude groome," which Greene uses in his attack upon Shakespeare, is evidently used as pointing at his work in this capacity. The story of the youths who introduced themselves as "Shakespeare's boys" seems to indicate that he was the recognised representative of the theatrical proprietors who provided accommodations for this purpose. It is to be assumed then that Shakespeare, having charge of this work, would upon occasions come personally in contact with the noblemen and gentry who frequented Burbage's Theatre, which was situated in the parish of Shoreditch, then regarded as the outskirts of the City.
Of the several records concerning this alleged incident in Shakespeare's early London experience, that which is simplest and latest in date seems to bear the greatest evidence of truth when considered in connection with established facts and coincident circumstantial evidence. Traditions preserved in the poet's own family would in essentials be likely to be closer to the truth than the bibulous gossip of Sir William Davenant, from which source all the other records of this story are derived. In the monthly magazine of February 1818 the story is told as follows: "Mr. J.M. Smith said he had often heard his mother state that Shakespeare owed his rise in life and his introduction to the theatre to his accidentally holding the horse of a gentleman at the door of the theatre on his first arriving in London; his appearance led to inquiry and subsequent patronage." The "J.M. Smith" mentioned here was the son of Mary Hart, a lineal descendant of Joan Hart, Shakespeare's sister. While it is clearly impossible that Shakespeare owed his introduction to the theatre to Southampton, there can be little doubt, in the light of data to follow, that his rise in life was much enhanced by his friendship and patronage. What truth there may be in this story is evidently a distorted reflection of Shakespeare's earlier work in the Theatre at Shoreditch and of his later acquaintance with the Earl of Southampton. We have no record, hint, or suggestion of his personal acquaintance or business connection with any noblemen or gentlemen other than Southampton, and possibly Sir Thomas Heneage, at this early period. It shall later be shown that Southampton first became identified with London and Court life in October 1590. I am led by good evidence to the belief that Shakespeare's acquaintance with this nobleman had its inception very soon after this date, and that he, and the theatrical company to which he was attached at that time, attended the Earl of Southampton at Cowdray House and at Tichfield House in August and September 1591, upon the occasion of the Queen's progress to, and sojourn at, these places.
SHAKESPEARE, THE BURBAGES, AND EDWARD ALLEYN
As we have well-attested evidence that Shakespeare was connected with the interests of James Burbage and his sons from 1594 until the end of his London career, it is usually, and reasonably, assumed that his early years in London were also spent with the Burbages; but as nothing is definitely known regarding Burbage's company affiliations between 1575, when we have record that he was still manager of Leicester's company, and 1594, when the Lord Chamberlain's company left Henslowe and Alleyn and returned to Burbage and the Theatre, knowledge of Shakespeare's company affiliations during these years is equally nebulous. Only by throwing light upon Burbage's activities during these years can we hope for light upon Shakespeare during the same period. Much of the ambiguity regarding Burbage's affairs during these years arises from the fact that critics persist in regarding him as an actor and an active member of a regular theatrical company after 1576, instead of recognising the palpable fact that he was now also a theatrical manager with a large amount of borrowed money invested in a theatre upon which it would take all of his energies to pay interest and make a profit. After 1576 Burbage's relations with companies of actors were necessarily much the same as those of Henslowe's with the companies that acted at his theatres, though it is probable that Burbage acted at times for a few years after this date. He was now growing old, and his business responsibility increasing, it is unlikely that he continued to act long after 1584, when his son Richard entered upon his histrionic career.
When Shakespeare came to London in 1586-87, there were only two regular theatres,—the Theatre and the Curtain,—though there were usually several companies playing also at innyards within and about the City. The Theatre at Shoreditch, owned by James Burbage, was built by him in 1576, and was the first building designed in modern England specially for theatrical purposes. Though he had many troubles in later years with his brother-in-law and partner, John Brayne, and with his grasping landlord, Giles Allen, he retained his ownership of the Theatre until his death in 1597, and he, or his sons, maintained its management until the expiration of their lease in the same year.
In 1571 an Act of Parliament was passed making it necessary for a company of players who wished to exercise their profession without unnecessary interference from petty officials and municipal authorities, to secure a licence as the players, or servants, of a nobleman; lacking such licences members of their calling were classed before the law, and liable to be treated, as "vagabonds and sturdy beggars." Such a licence once issued to a company was regarded as a valuable corporate asset by its sharers. At times a company possessing a licence would diminish by attrition until the ownership of the licence became vested in the hands of a few of the original sharers, who, lacking either the means or ability to continue to maintain themselves as an effective independent organisation, would form a connection with a similarly depleted company and perform as one company, each of them preserving their licensed identity. In travelling in the provinces such a dual company would at times be recorded under one title, and again under the other, in the accounts of the Wardens, Chamberlains, and Mayors of the towns they visited. Occasionally, however, the names of both companies would be recorded under one payment, and when their functions differed, they seem at times to have secured separate payments though evidently working together—one company supplying the musicians and the other the actors.
If we find for a number of years in the provincial and Court records the names of two companies recorded separately, who from time to time act together as one company, and that these companies act together as one company at the same London theatre, we may infer that the dual company may be represented also at times where only the name of one of them is given in provincial or Court records. It is likely that the full numbers of such a dual company would not make prolonged provincial tours except under stress of circumstances, such as the enforced closing of the theatres in London on account of the plague; and that while the entire combination might perform at Coventry and other points within a short distance of London, they would probably divide their forces and act as separate companies upon the occasions of their regular provincial travels.
Such a combination as this between two companies in some instances lasted for years. The provincial, and even the Court records, will make mention of one company, and at times of the other, in instances where two companies had merged their activities while preserving their respective titles. A lack of knowledge of this fact is responsible for most of the misapprehension that exists at present regarding Shakespeare's early theatrical affiliations.
Under whatever varying licences and titles the organisation of players to which Shakespeare attached himself upon his arrival in London may have performed in later years, all tradition, inference, and evidence point to a connection from the beginning with the interests of James Burbage and his sons.
Though other companies played at intervals at Burbage's Theatre at, and shortly following, 1586-87, the period usually accepted as marking the beginning of Shakespeare's connection with theatrical affairs, it shall be made evident that the Lord Chamberlain's—recently Lord Hunsdon's—company, of which James Burbage was at that date undoubtedly the manager, made their centre at his house when performing in London. That this was a London company with an established theatrical home in the most important theatre in London, between the years 1582 and 1589, is established by the facts that James Burbage was its manager, and the infrequency of mention of it in the provincial records. It is probable that at this early period it was not a full company of actors, but that Lord Hunsdon's licence covered Burbage and his theatrical employees and musicians.
Numerous and continuous records of provincial visits for a company infer that it would be better known as a provincial than as a London company, while the total lack of any record of Court performances, taken in conjunction with a large number of records of provincial performances, would imply that such a company had no permanent London abiding-place, such as Lord Hunsdon's company undoubtedly had in Burbage's Theatre.
The fact that James Burbage, the leader of Leicester's company in its palmy days—1574 to 1582—was, between 1582 and 1589, the leader of Lord Hunsdon's company, when coupled with the fact that they appeared before the Court during this interval, gives added evidence that it was a recognised London company at this period.
Much ambiguity regarding James Burbage's theatrical affiliations in the years between 1583 and 1594 has been engendered by the utterly gratuitous assumption that he joined the Queen's players upon the organisation of that company by Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, in 1583, leaving the Earl of Leicester's players along with Robert Wilson, John Laneham, and Richard Tarleton at that time. We have conclusive evidence, however, against this assumption. James Burbage worked under the patronage of Lord Hunsdon and was undoubtedly the owner of the Theatre in 1584, although Halliwell-Phillipps, and others who have followed him in his error have assumed, on account of his having mortgaged the lease of the Theatre in the year 1579 to one John Hyde, a grocer of London, that the actual occupancy and use of the Theatre had also then been transferred. There is nothing unusual or mysterious in the fact that Burbage mortgaged the Theatre to Hyde. In the time of Elizabeth, leases of business property were bought, sold, and hypothecated for loans and regarded as investment securities. Burbage at this time was in need of money. His brother-in-law, John Brayne, who had engaged with him to advance half of the necessary expenses for the building and conduct of the Theatre, defaulted in 1578 in his payments. It is evident that Burbage borrowed the money he needed from Hyde, mortgaging the lease as security, probably agreeing to repay the loan with interest in instalments. It is not unlikely that it was Giles Allen's knowledge of this transaction that excited his cupidity and led him to demand L24 instead of L14 a year when Burbage sought an agreed upon extension of the lease in 1585. As Hyde transferred the lease to Cuthbert Burbage in 1589, it appears that he held a ten years' mortgage, which was a common term in such transactions. In 1584 Burbage was clearly still manager of the Theatre, and in the eyes of the companies playing there from time to time, who were not likely to be cognizant of his private business transactions, such as borrowing of money upon a mortgage, was also still the owner of the Theatre.
In one of the witty Recorder Fleetwood's reports to Lord Burghley, dated 18th June 1584, we have the following matter referring to the Theatre and the Curtain: "Upon Sondaie, my Lord sent two aldermen to the court, for the suppressing and pulling downe of the theatre and curten, for all the Lords agreed thereunto, saving my Lord Chamberlayn and Mr. Vice-Chamberlayn; but we obtayned a letter to suppresse them all. Upon the same night I sent for the Queen's players, and my Lord of Arundell his players, for they all well nighe obeyed the Lords letters. The chiefest of her Highnes' players advised me to send for the owner of the theatre, who was a stubborne fellow, and to bynd him. I dyd so. He sent me word that he was my Lord of Hunsdon's man, and that he would not come to me, but he would in the morning ride to my Lord. Then I sent the under-sheriff for hym, and he brought him to me, and at his coming he showted me out very justice. And in the end, I showed hym my Lord his master's hand, and then he was more quiet. But to die for it he wold not be bound. And then I mynding to send hym to prison, he made sute that he might be bounde to appeare at the oier and determiner, the which is to-morrowe, where he said that he was sure the court wold not bynd hym, being a counsellor's man. And so I have graunted his request, where he is sure to be bounde, or else is lyke to do worse." The "stubborne fellow" was, without doubt, none other than the high-spirited and pugnacious James Burbage, who fought for twenty-one years over leases with his avaricious landlord, Giles Allen, and of whom Allen's lawyer writes in a Star Chamber document in 1601: "Burbage tendered a new lease which he, the said Allen, refused to sign because it was different from the first and also because Burbage had assigned the Theatre to John Hyde and has also been a very bad and troublesome tenant to your orator." This document also makes mention of the fact as one of the reasons for Allen refusing to sign the new lease that "Hyde conveyed the lease to Cuthbert, son of James." The conveyance here mentioned was made in 1589. It is plain that Allen's lawyer implies that the mortgaging of the Theatre to Hyde and its later conveyance to Cuthbert Burbage were made, not alone for value received, but also for the protection of James Burbage against legal proceedings. Here, then, we have good evidence that James Burbage, who, in the year 1575, had been the manager, and undoubtedly a large owner, of the Earl of Leicester's company,—at that time the most important company of players in England,—was in 1584 a member of Lord Hunsdon's company, and if a member—in view of his past and present prominence in theatrical affairs—also, evidently, its manager and owner. As no logical reasons are given by Halliwell-Phillipps, or by the compilers who base their biographies upon his Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, for declining to accept the reference in Fleetwood's letter to the "owner of the Theatre" as an allusion to Burbage, whom they admit to have been, and who undoubtedly was, the owner of the Theatre from 1576 until he transferred his property to his sons, Cuthbert and Richard, shortly before he died in 1597, their refusal to see the light must arise from their obsession that Burbage at this time was a member of either Leicester's or the Queen's company, and as to which one they do not seem to have a very clear impression. Shakespearean biography may be searched in vain for any other recorded facts concerning Burbage's company affiliations between 1575 and 1594. In view of this general lack of knowledge of Burbage in these years the critical neglect of such a definite allusion as Recorder Fleetwood makes to the "owner of the Theatre" as a servant of Lord Hunsdon is difficult to understand.
The alleged reason for the proposed suppression of the Theatre and the Curtain at this, and at other times, was that they had become public nuisances by attracting large crowds of the most unruly elements of the populace, which led to disturbances of the peace.
In this same report of Fleetwood's to Burghley, he informs him that on the previous Monday, upon his return to London from Kingston, he "found all the wardes full of watches. The cause thereof was for that neare the theatre or curten, at the time of the plays, there laye a prentice sleeping upon the grasse; and one Challes alias Grostock did turne upon the toe upon the belly of the prentice; whereupon this apprentice start up, and afterwards they fell to playne blowes. The companie increased of both sides to the number of 500 at the least. This Challes exclaimed and said, that he was a gentleman, and that the apprentice was but a rascal and some there were littel better than roogs, that took upon them the name of gentleman, and said the prentices were but the skume of the worlde. Upon these troubles, the prentices began the next daye, being Tuesdaye, to make mutinies, and assemblies, and conspyre to have broken the prisones, and to have taken forth the prentices that were imprisoned. But my Lord and I having intelligence thereof, apprehended four or fyve of the chief conspirators, who are in Newgate, and stand indicted of their lewd demeanours.
"Upon Weddensdaye, one Browne a serving man in a blew coate, a shifting fellowe, having a perilous wit of his owne, intending a spoil if he could have brought it to passe, did at the theatre-doore quarrell with certayn poore boyes, handicraft prentices, and strooke some of them; and lastlie, he, with his sword, wounded and maymed one of the boyes upon the left hand. Whereupon there assembled near a thousand people. This Browne did very cunningly conveye himself away, but by chance he was taken after and brought to Mr. Humprey Smithe, and because no man was able to charge him, he dismyssed him."
Though the Council ordered the suppression of both the Theatre and the Curtain at this time, Fleetwood's report of the disturbances seems to place the blame largely upon the Theatre. If the Queen's players were then performing at the Theatre, under the management of Burbage, it is most unlikely that the "chiefest of her Highnes' players"—who informed Fleetwood that the owner of the Theatre was a "stubborne fellow," and advised that he be sent for and "bounde"—would have given advice and information so unfriendly to their own manager, and there cannot be the slightest doubt that Burbage was "the owner" of the Theatre from 1576 to 1596. It is apparent that the leader of the Queen's company was willing that the onus of the disturbances should be placed upon the Theatre rather than upon the Curtain, where the Queen's players were evidently performing at this time—Lord Arundel's company temporarily occupying the Theatre, Lord Hunsdon's company being at that time upon a provincial tour. They are recorded as performing in Bath in June 1584.
A consideration of the records of Lord Hunsdon's company, and of previous companies that performed under this name, gives fair evidence that James Burbage established this company in 1582, at or before which date he severed his active connection as a player with the Earl of Leicester's players, though still continuing his own theatrical organisation at the Theatre under the patronage of Leicester, as the Earl of Leicester's musicians, and maintaining relations with Leicester's players as a theatre owner.
Burbage's reason in 1582 for transferring from the patronage of Leicester for his theatrical employees to that of Lord Hunsdon was, no doubt, the fact of Leicester's departure for the Continent in this year. The constant attacks being made by the puritanical authorities upon the London theatrical interests made it expedient for him to have the protection of a nobleman whose aid could be quickly invoked in case of trouble. As I will show later that Burbage was regarded with disfavour by Burghley in 1589, it is likely that the opposition he met with from the local authorities in these earlier years was instigated by Burghley's agents and gossips. Recorder Fleetwood, chief amongst these, reports Burbage's alleged transgressions with such evident unction it is apparent that he knew his message would have a sympathetic reception.
It shall be shown that in later years the Burbage theatrical organisation was anti-Cecil and pro-Essex in its tacit political representations; it is not unlikely that it was recognised as anti-Cecil and pro-Leicester in these early years, and that in this manner it incurred Burghley's ill-will.
Previous to the year 1567 there existed a company under the patronage of Lord Hunsdon; between that date and 1582 there is no record of any company acting under this nobleman's licence. In July 1582 there is record that Lord Hunsdon's company acted at Ludlow, and upon 27th December 1582 we have record that Lord Hunsdon's players acted before the Court, presenting A Comedy of Beauty and Housewifery. The provincial records show a few performances by this company in the provinces in every year, except one, between 1582 and 1589; while 1587 shows no provincial performance, a payment of five shillings is recorded in Coventry "to the Lord Chamberlain's Musicians that came with the Judge at the assizes"; these were, no doubt, a portion of Burbage's company, Lord Hunsdon then being Lord Chamberlain. This entry, however, is immediately preceded by the entry of a payment of twenty shillings to the Lord Admiral's players. It shall be shown that the Admiral's company was affiliated with Burbage at this time.