The Facts About Shakespeare
by William Allan Nielson
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Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1913. Reprinted April, 1914; July, 1915; May, November, 1916; January, 1918; February, September, 1920; September, 1921; March, 1922; February, December, 1923; October, 1924; June, 1926; January, December, 1927.


Transcriber's Notes:

Unique page headings have been retained, marked as [Page Heading:], and positioned at the first available paragraph break of the page or the preceding page.

Many spelling inconsistencies exist due to the historical period of the quoted sources. These, in addition to the original punctuation, have been retained.

Obvious typesetting errors have been corrected and noted in the Transcriber's Endnotes at the end of the text.

Some index entries have been re-sequenced to allow for clarity of sub-entries. These changes are recorded in the Transcriber's Endnotes along with a copy of the original text.

The following non-standard characters have been represented as follows:

[oe] oe ligature [OE] OE ligature ẽ tilde over e. A contraction of en.



















The Facts about Shakespeare



Shakespeare lived in a period of change. In religion, politics, literature, and commerce, in the habits of daily living, in the world of ideas, his lifetime witnessed continual change and movement. When Elizabeth came to the throne, six years before he was born, England was still largely Catholic, as it had been for nine centuries; when she died England was Protestant, and by the date of Shakespeare's death it was well on the way to becoming Puritan. The Protestant Reformation had worked nearly its full course of revolution in ideas, habits, and beliefs. The authority of the church had been replaced by that of the Bible, of the English Bible, superbly translated by Shakespeare's contemporaries. Within his lifetime, again, England had attained a national unity and an international importance heretofore unknown. The Spanish Armada had been defeated, the kingdoms of England and Scotland united, and the first colony established in America. Even more revolutionary had been the assertion of national greatness in literature and thought. The Italian Renaissance, following the rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature, had extended its influence to England early in the century, but only after the accession of Elizabeth did it bring full harvest. The names that crowd the next fifty years represent fine native endowments, boundless aspiration, and also novelty,—as Spenser in poetry, Bacon in philosophy, Hooker in theology. In commerce as well as in letters there was this same activity and innovation. It was a time of commercial prosperity, of increase in comfort and luxury, of the growth of a powerful commercial class, of large fortunes and large benefactions. Whatever your status, your birth, trade, profession, residence, religion, education, or property, in the year 1564 you had a better chance to change these than any of your ancestors had; and there was more chance than there had ever been that your son would improve his inheritance. The individual man had long been boxed up in guild, church, or the feudal system; now the covers were opened, and the new opportunity bred daring, initiative, and ambition. The exploits of the Elizabethan sea rovers still stir us with the thrill of adventure; but adventure and vicissitude were hardly less the share of merchant, priest, poet, or politician. The individual has had no such opportunity for fame in England before or since. The nineteenth century, which saw the industrial revolution, the triumphs of steam and electricity, and the discoveries of natural science, is the only period that equalled the Elizabethan in the rapidity of its changes in ideas and in the conditions of living; and even that era of change offered relatively fewer new impulses to individual greatness than the fifty years of Shakespeare's life.

[Page Heading: Tudor England]

Shakespeare's England was an agricultural country of four or five million inhabitants. It fed itself, except when poor harvests compelled the importation of grain, and it supplemented agriculture by grazing, fishing, and commerce, chiefly with the Netherlands, but growing in many directions. The forests were becoming thin, but the houses were still of timber; the roads were poor, the large towns mostly seaports. The dialects spoken were various, but the speech of the midland counties had become established in London, at the universities, and in printed books, and was rapidly increasing its dominance. The monasteries and religious orders were gone, but feudalism still held sway, and the people were divided into classes,—the various ranks of the nobility, the gentry, the yeomen, the burgesses, and the common people. But changes from one class to another were numerous; for many lords were losing their inheritances by extravagance, while many business men were putting their profits into land. In spite of persecutions, occasional insurrections, and the plague which devastated the unsanitary towns, it was a time of peace and prosperity. The coinage was reformed, roads were improved, taxes were not burdensome, and life in the country was more comfortable and secure than it had been. Books and education were spreading. Numerous grammar schools taught Latin, the universities made provision for poor students, and there were now many careers besides that of the church open to the educated man.

Stratford, then a village of some two thousand inhabitants, somewhat off the main route of traffic, was far more removed from the world than most towns of similar size in this day of railways, newspapers, and the telegraph. With the nearby country, it made up an independent community that attended to its own affairs with great thoroughness. The corporation, itself the outgrowth of a medieval religious guild, regulated the affairs of every one with little regard for personal liberty. It was especially severe on rebellious servants, idle apprentices, shrewish women, the pigs that ran loose in the streets, and (after 1605) persons guilty of profanity. Regular church attendance and fixed hours of work were required. The corporation frequently punished with fines (the poet's father on one occasion) those who did not clean the street before their houses; and it was much occupied in regulating the ale-houses, of which the village possessed some thirty. Like all towns of this period, Stratford suffered frequently from fire and the plague. Trade was dependent mainly on the weekly markets and semi-annual fairs, and Stratford was by no means isolated, being not far from the great market town of Coventry, near Kenilworth and Warwick, and only eighty miles from London.

[Page Heading: Sports and Plays]

Shakespeare's England was merry England. At least, it was probably as near to deserving that adjective as at any time before or since. There was plenty of time for amusement. There were public bowling-greens and archery butts in Stratford, though the corporation was very strict in regard to the hours when these could be used. Every one enjoyed hunting, hawking, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, dancing, until the Puritans found such enjoyments immoral. The youthful Shakespeare acquired an intimate knowledge of dogs and horses, hunting and falconry, though this was a gentleman's sport. The highways were full of ballad singers, beggars, acrobats, and wandering players. Play-acting of one kind or another had long been common over most of rural England. Miracle plays were given at Coventry up to 1580, and bands of professional actors came to Stratford frequently, and on their first recorded appearance received their permission to act from the bailiff, John Shakespeare (1568-1569). There was many a Holofernes or Bottom to marshal his pupils or fellow-mechanics for an amateur performance; and Shakespeare may have seen the most famous of the royal entertainments, that at Kenilworth in 1575, when Gascoigne recited poetry, and Leicester, impersonating Deep Desire, addressed Elizabeth from a bush, and a minstrel represented Arion on a dolphin's back. The tradition may be right which declares that it was the trumpets of the comedians that summoned Shakespeare to London.

In the main, life in the country was not so very different from what it is now in the remoter places. Many a secluded English village, as recently as fifty years ago, jogged on much as in the sixteenth century. Opportunity then as now dwelt mostly in the cities, but the city of the sixteenth century bore slight resemblance to a city of to-day.

London, with less than 200,000 inhabitants, was still a medieval city in appearance, surrounded by a defensive wall, guarded by the Tower, and crowned by the cathedral. The city proper lay on the north of the Thames, and the wall made a semicircle of some two miles, from the Tower on the east to the Fleet ditch and Blackfriars on the west. Seven gates pierced the wall to the north, and the roads passing through them into the fields were lined with houses. Westward along the river were great palaces, behind which the building was practically continuous along the muddy road that led to the separate city of Westminster. The Thames, noted for its fish and swans, was the great thoroughfare, crowded with many kinds of boats and spanned by the famous London Bridge. By one of the many rowboats that carried passengers hither and thither, or on foot over the arches of the bridge, between the rows of houses that lined it, and under the heads of criminals which decorated its entrance, you might cross the Thames to Southwark. Turning west, past St. Saviour's and the palace of the Bishop of Winchester, you were soon on the Bankside, a locality long given over to houses of ill fame and rings for the baiting of bulls and bears. The theaters, forbidden in the city proper, were built either in the fields to the north of the walls, or across the river close by the kennels and rings. Here, as Shakespeare waited for a boatman to ferry him across to Blackfriars, the whole city was spread before his eyes, in the foreground the panorama of the beautiful river, beyond it the crowded houses, the spires of many churches, and the great tower of old St. Paul's.

[Page Heading: Tudor London]

It was a city of narrow streets, open sewers, wooden houses, without an adequate water supply or sanitation, in constant danger from fire and plague. But dirt and disease were no more prevalent than they had been for centuries; in spite of them, there was no lack of life in the crowded lanes. The great palaces were outside the city proper, and there were few notable buildings within its precincts except the churches. The dismantled monasteries still occupied large areas, but were being made over to strange uses, the theaters eventually finding a place in Blackfriars and Whitefriars. The Strand was an ill-paved street running behind the river palaces, past the village of Charing Cross, on to the royal palace of Whitehall and to the Abbey and Hall at Westminster. The walls and surrounding moat had ceased to be of use for defense, and building constantly spread into the fields without. These fields were favorite places for recreation and served the purpose of city parks. The Elizabethans were fond of outdoor sports and spent little daytime indoors. The shops were open to the street, and the clear spaces at Cheapside and St. Paul's Church-yard seem to have been always crowded. St. Paul's, although still used for religious services, had become a sort of city club or general meeting place. Mules and horses were no longer to be found there as in the reign of Mary, but the nave was in constant use as a place for gossip and business. The churchyard was the usual place for holding lotteries, and here were the shops of a majority of the London booksellers. In its northeast corner was Paul's Cross, the famous pulpit whence the wishes of the government were announced and popularized by the Sunday preachers. And here the variety of London life was most fully exhibited. The processions and entertainments at court, the ambassadors from afar, the law students from the Temple, the old soldiers destitute after service in Flanders, the seamen returned from plundering the Spanish gold fleet, the youths from the university come to the city to earn their living by their wits, the bishop and the puritan, who looked at each other askance, the young squire come to be gulled of his lands by the roarers of the tavern, the solid merchant with his chain of gold, the wives who aped the court ladies with their enormous farthingales and ruffs, the court gallant with his dyed beard and huge breeches, the idle apprentices quick to riot, the poor poets in prison for debt—these and how many more are familiar to every reader of the Elizabethan drama. As often in periods of commercial prosperity, luxury became fantastic. Men sold their acres to put costly garments on their backs. Clothing was absurd and ran to extreme sizes of ruffs, farthingales, and breeches, or to gaudy colors and jewels. Enormous sums were spent on feasts, entertainments, and masques, especially in the reign of James I. Cleanliness did not thrive, perfumes took the place of baths, and rushes, seldom renewed, covered the floor even of the presence chamber of Elizabeth. But the comforts and luxuries of life increased and spread to all classes. Tobacco, potatoes, and forks were first introduced in Shakespeare's time. Building improved, streets were widened, and coaches became so common as to excite much animadversion and complaint. If some poets spent much time in the debtors' prison, others lived well, and some actors gained large fortunes.

[Page Heading: Commercial Prosperity]

The industrious apprentice who refused the allurements of pageants, theaters, tailors, and taverns, was sure to have his reward. It was a time of commercial expansion, such as the last generation has witnessed in Germany and the United States. Bankers, brokers, and merchants gained great fortunes and managed to protect them. Industry, thrift, and shrewdness were likely to win enough to buy a knighthood. The trade of the old East and the new West came to the London wharves, and every one was ready to take a risk. The merchants of London had furnished support to the policies of Henry VIII and were rich enough to fit out the expedition against Flanders and to pay for a third of the fleet that met the Armada. It was a time, too, for great enterprises and benefactions to charity. Sir Thomas Gresham built the Exchange, Sir Hugh Middleton paid for the New River water supply, and there were many gifts to hospitals. With all this increase in wealth, the various professions prospered, especially that of law. The inns of court were crowded with students, not a few of whom forsook the courts for the drama. The age of chivalry was over, that of commerce begun. No one gained much glory by a military career in the days of Elizabeth. The church, the law, banking, commerce, even politics and literature, offered better roads to wealth or fame.

The importance of the court in Elizabethan London is not easy to realize to-day. It dominated the life of the small city. Its nobles and their retainers, its courtiers and hangers-on, made up a considerable portion of the population; its shows supplied the entertainment, its gossip the politics of the hour. It was the seat of pageantry, the mirror of manners, the patron or the oppressor of every one. No one could be so humble as to escape coming somehow within its sway, and some of the greatest wrecked their lives in efforts to secure its approval. It is no wonder that the plays of Shakespeare deal so largely with kings, queens, and their courts. Under the Tudors, and still more under the Stuarts, the court aimed at increasing the central authority so as to bring every affair of its subjects under its direct control. In London, however, this effort at centralization met with strong opposition. The government was in the hands of the guilds representative of the wealth of the city, and was coming face to face with many of the problems of modern municipalities. The corporation was in constant clash with the court; and in the end the city, which had supported Henry VIII and Elizabeth against powerful nobles, became the Puritan London that aided in ousting the Stuarts.

[Page Heading: The City and the Court]

This conflict between city and court is illustrated in the regulation of the theaters and companies of actors. The actors had a legal status only as the license of some nobleman enrolled them as his servants, and they relied on the protection of their patron and the court against the opposition of the city authorities. The fact that they were employed to give plays before the Queen was, indeed, about the only argument that won any consideration from the corporation. This opposition was based in part on moral or puritan grounds, but was determined still more by the fear of three menaces, fire, sedition, and the plague. Wooden buildings were already discouraged by statute, and the danger of fire from the wooden theaters is shown by the burning of the Globe and the Fortune. The gathering of crowds was feared by every property holder, and the theaters were frequently the scenes of outbreaks of the apprentices. The danger of the plague from the crowd at plays was the greatest of all. London was hardly ever free from it, and suffered terrible devastation in the years 1593 and 1603. For these reasons the theaters were forbidden within the city's jurisdiction, and were driven into the outskirts. The best companies appeared frequently at court, and on the accession of James I they were licensed directly as servants of various members of the royal family. The actors were thereafter under the immediate control of the court, and certain "private" theaters were established within the city. But this triumph of the court over the long opposition of the city was not an unmixed blessing for the drama.

The theaters in 1590 represented the public on which they depended for support; by 1616 they were far less representative of the nation or London, and more dependent on the court and its following. The Blackfriars theater, before which gathered the crowd of coaches that annoyed the puritans of the neighborhood, was a symptom of the growth of wealth and luxury, and of the increased power of the monarchy; the protests of the puritan neighborhood were an indication of the growth of a large class hostile alike to an arbitrary court, luxury, and the theater.

Shakespeare's lifetime, however, saw little of this sharp division into parties or of that narrow moral consistency which Puritanism came to require. Looking back on his age in contrast with our own, we are perhaps most impressed by its striking incongruities. This London of dirt and disease was also the arena for extravagant fashion and princely display. This populace that watched with joy the cruel torment of a bear or the execution of a Catholic also delighted in the romantic comedies of Shakespeare. This people, so appallingly credulous and ignorant, so brutal, childish, so mercurial compared with Englishmen of to-day, yet set the standard of national greatness. This absurdly decorated gallant could stab a rival in the back or write a penitential lyric. Each man presents strange, almost inexplicable, contrasts in character, as Bacon or Raleigh, or Elizabeth herself. The drama mingles its sentiment and fancy with horrors and bloodshed; and no wonder, for poetry was no occupation of the cloister. Read the lives of the poets—Surrey, Wyatt, Sidney, Spenser, Raleigh, Marlowe, Jonson—and of these, only Spenser and Jonson died in their beds, and Ben had killed his man in a duel. The student of Elizabethan history and biography will find stranger contrasts than in the lives of these poets, for crime, meanness, and sexual depravity often appear in the closest juxtaposition with imaginative idealism, intellectual freedom, and moral grandeur.

[Page Heading: Elizabethan Incongruities]

The Italian Renaissance, with its mingled passions for beauty, art, blood, lust, and intellect, seems for a time transferred to London and dwelling alongside of commerce and Puritanism. Yet these incongruities of character, manners, and motives that seem so striking to us to-day may probably be explained by conditions already described. The opportunities created by the changes in church and religion, the new education and prosperity, the new America, and the revived classics, all tended to create a new thirst for experience. This thirst for experience led to excess and incongruity, but it also furnished an unparalleled range of human motive for a poet's observation and imitation.

In the wide range of our poet's survey, there is, however, one notable omission. The reign of Elizabeth, like those of her three predecessors, was one of religious controversy, change, and persecution. But all this strife, all this debate, repression, persecution, and all of this great turmoil working in the minds of Englishmen, find little reflection in Shakespeare's plays, and little in the whole Elizabethan drama. Religious controversy had played a part in the drama of the reign of Edward and Mary, but it rarely enters the Elizabethan drama, and then mainly in the form of ridicule for the puritan. Shakespeare's plays seem almost to ignore the most momentous facts of his time. They treat pagan, Catholic, and Protestant with cordiality and only smile at the puritan or Brownist. His England of the merry wives or Falstaff's justices seems strangely untroubled by questions of faith or ritual. There is, to be sure, plenty of religion and controversy in the literature of the time, but the drama as a whole is singularly non-religious. It reflects rather that freedom from restraint, that buoyancy of spirit, that lively interest in experience, which had their full course in the few years when the old garment was off and the new not quite fitted. The immense intellectual and imaginative activity of the period consists precisely in this freedom from restrictions, partisanship, dogmas, or caste. Things had lost their labels and some time and argument were required to find new ones. Ideas were free and not bound to any school, party, or cause. You grasped an idea without knowing whether it made you realist, romanticist, or classicist; papist, puritan, or pagan. After centuries of imprisonment, individuality had its full chance in the world of ideas as elsewhere.

[Page Heading: An Age of Freedom]

In a few years this was all over, and your sphere of life and the ideas proper to that sphere were prescribed for you. By another century, England had fought out the issues of creed and government with expense of blood and spirit, and had settled down to the compromise of 1688. In Shakespeare's day there was also, of course, some movement toward fixity of ideas, and there were great men who strove to convert others to their ideas and to dictate belief and conduct. But there was a breathing spell in which, comparatively speaking, men were not alike, but individual, and in which their motives and ideas revelled in a freedom from ancient precedent. In this era of flux the modern drama found its panorama of novel and varied experience making and marring character.

Shakespeare lived peaceably in the heyday of this change, nearly of an age with Sidney, Raleigh, Spenser, Bacon, Marlowe. Like Marlowe in the soliloquies of Barabbas and Faust, he recognized the new possibilities that the age opened through money or ideas. He made much out of the commercial prosperity of the day, gained such profits as were possible from his profession, raised his estate, and acquired wealth. He gave his mind not to any cause or party but to the study of men. The drunkards of the London inn, the yokels of Warwickshire, and the finest gentlewomen of the land alike came under the scrutiny of the creator of Falstaff, Dogberry, and Rosalind. And like his great contemporaries, he triumphed over incongruities, for he translated his studies of the human mind into verse of immortal beauty that yet delighted the public stage which was located halfway between the bear dens and the brothels.



In the time of Shakespeare, the fashion of writing lives of men of letters had not yet arisen. The art of biography could hardly be said to be even in its infancy, for the most notable early examples, such as the lives of Wolsey by Cavendish and of Sir Thomas More by his son-in-law in the sixteenth century, and Walton's handful in the seventeenth, are far from what the present age regards as scientific biography. The preservation of official records makes it possible for the modern scholar to reconstruct with considerable fullness the careers of public men; but in the case of Shakespeare, as of others of his profession, we must needs be content with a few scrappy documents, supplemented by oral traditions of varying degrees of authenticity. About Shakespeare himself it must be allowed that we have been able to learn more than about most of his fellow dramatists and actors.

In a matter which has been the subject of so much controversy, it may be an aid to clearness if the facts established by contemporary documents be first related, and the less trustworthy reports added later. The first indubitable item is trivial and unsavory enough. In April, 1552, a certain John Shakespeare, residing in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon, in the county of Warwick, was fined twelvepence for failing to remove a heap of filth from before his door. This John, who shared his surname with a multitude of other Shakespeares in the England and especially in the Warwickshire of his time, appears, without reasonable doubt, to have been the father of the poet. He is described in later tradition as a glover and as a butcher; the truth seems to be that he did a miscellaneous business in farm products. For twenty years or more after this first record he prospered, rising through various petty municipal offices to the position of bailiff, or mayor, of the town in 1568. His fortunes must have been notably improved by his marriage, for the Mary Arden whom he wedded in 1557 was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, Robert Arden, who bequeathed her L6 13s. 4d. in money and a house with fifty acres of land.

To John and Mary Shakespeare was born a son William, whose baptism was registered in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford on April 26, 1564. He was their eldest son, two daughters previously born being already dead. Their other children were Gilbert, Joan, Anna, Richard, and Edmund. The precise day of William's birth is unknown. The monument over his grave states that at his death on April 23, 1616, he was "AEtatis 53," which would seem to indicate that he must have been born at least as early as April 22; and, since in those days baptism usually took place within a very few days of birth, there is no reason for pushing the date farther back.

[Page Heading: Marriage]

Of the education of the poet we have no record. Stratford had a free grammar school, to which such a boy as the bailiff's son would be sure to be sent; and the inference that William Shakespeare was a pupil there and studied the usual Latin authors is entirely reasonable. About 1577 his father began to get into financial difficulties, and it is reported that about this time the boy was withdrawn from school to help in his father's business. We know nothing certainly, however, until we learn from the registry of the Bishop of Worcester that on November 28, 1582, two husbandmen of Stratford gave bonds "to defend and save harmless" the bishop and his officers for licensing the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. Of the actual marriage there is no record. Anne is probably to be identified with Agnes or Anne, the daughter of Richard Hathaway of the neighboring hamlet of Shottery, who had died in the previous July, and had owned the house of which a part still survives and is shown to visitors as "Anne Hathaway's cottage." The date on Anne's tombstone indicates that she was eight years older than the poet.

A comparison of the bond just mentioned with other documents of the kind indicates it to be exceptional in the absence of any mention of consent by the bridegroom's parents, a circumstance rendered still more remarkable by the fact that he was a minor. The bondsmen were from Shottery, and this, along with the considerations already advanced, has naturally led to the inference that the marriage was hurried by the bride's friends, and to the finding of a motive for their haste in the birth within six months of "Susanna, daughter to William Shakespere," who was baptized on May 26, 1583.

[Page Heading: "The only Shake-scene"]

The record of the baptism of Shakespeare's only other children, the twins Hamnet and Judith, in February, 1585, practically exhausts the documentary evidence concerning the poet in Stratford until 1596. It is conjectured, but not known, that about 1586 he found his way to London and soon became connected with the theater, according to one tradition, as call-boy, to another, as holder of the horses of theatergoers. But by 1592 we are assured that he had entered the ranks of the playwrights, and had achieved enough success to rouse the jealous resentment of a rival. Robert Greene, who died on the third of September in that year, left unpublished a pamphlet, Greenes Groatsworth of Witte: bought with a Million of Repentaunce, in which he warned three of his fellows against certain plagiarists, "those puppits, I meane, that speake from our mouths, those anticks garnisht in our colours." "Yes, trust them not," he goes on; "for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the only Shake-scene in a countrie. O that I might intreate your rare wits to be imployed in more profitable courses, and let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions! I know the best husband of you all will never prove an usurer, and the kindest of them all wil never proove a kinde nurse; yet, whilst you may, seeke you better maisters, for it is pittie men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes." The phrase about the "tyger's heart" is an obvious parody on the line,

Oh Tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide!

which occurs both in The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and in the variant of that play which is included in the First Folio as the third part of Henry VI. "The only Shake-scene" has naturally been taken as an allusion to Shakespeare's name; and it is scarcely possible to doubt the reference to him throughout the passage. This being so, we may infer that by this date Shakespeare had written, with whatever else, his share in the three parts of Henry VI, and was successful enough to seem formidable to the dying Greene. It is noteworthy, too, that thus early we have allusion to his double profession: as an actor in the words "player's hide" and "Shake-scene," and as an author in the charge of plagiarism. That the reference in "beautified with our feathers" is to literary plagiarism is confirmed by the following lines from Greene's Funeralls, by R. B., 1594, which seem to have been suggested by Greene's phrase:

Greene is the ground of everie painters die; Greene gave the ground to all that wrote upon him. Nay, more, the men that so eclipst his fame, Purloynde his plumes: can they deny the same?

Somewhat less certain is the allusion in a document closely connected with the foregoing. Greenes Groatsworth had been prepared for the press by his friend Henry Chettle, and in the address "To the Gentlemen Readers" prefixed to his Kind-Harts Dreame (registered December 8, 1592), Chettle regrets that he has not struck out from Greene's book the passages that have been "offensively by one or two of them taken." "With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be. The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that as I have moderated the heate of living writers, and might have usde my owne discretion,—especially in such a case, the Author beeing dead,—that I did not, I am as sory, as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because myselfe have seene his demeanor no lesse civill, than he exelent in the qualitie[1] he professes: Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that aprooves his Art." This characterization so well fits in with the tone of later contemporary allusions to Shakespeare that it is regrettable that Chettle did not make its reference to him beyond a doubt.

[1] I.e., profession, used especially at that time of the profession of acting.

[Page Heading: First Publications]

Within a few months after the disturbance caused by Greene's charges, Shakespeare appeared in the field of authorship in quite unambiguous fashion. On April 18, 1593, Richard Field, himself a Stratford man, entered at Stationers' Hall a book entitled Venus and Adonis. The dedication, which is to the Earl of Southampton, is signed by "William Shakespeare," and the state of the text confirms the inference that the poet himself oversaw the publication. The terms of the dedication, read in the light of contemporary examples of this kind of writing, do not imply any close relation between poet and patron; and the phrase "the first heyre of my invention," applied to the poem, need not be taken as placing its composition earlier than any of the plays, since writing for the stage was then scarcely regarded as practising the art of letters. Lucrece was registered May 9, 1594, and appeared likewise without a name on the title-page, but with Shakespeare's full signature attached to a dedication, somewhat more warmly personal than before, to the same nobleman. The frequency of complimentary references to these poems, and the number of editions issued during the poet's lifetime (seven of Venus, and five of Lucrece), indicate that it was through them that he first obtained literary distinction.

Meanwhile he was gaining a footing as an actor. The accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber for March 15, 1594-5, bear record of Shakespeare's having been summoned, along with Kempe and Burbage, as a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company, to present two comedies before the Queen at Greenwich Palace in the Christmas season of 1594. This is the earliest mention of the poet as sharing with his company a kind of recognition as honorable as it was profitable.

The records now take us back to his family. On August 11, 1596, his only son Hamnet was buried. In the same year John Shakespeare applied to the College of Heralds for a grant of arms, basing the claim on services of his ancestors to Henry VII, the continued good reputation of the family, and John's marriage to "Mary, daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wilmcote, gent." Since there is evidence to show that the financial difficulties that had beset John Shakespeare before his son went to London had continued, and since the attempts of actors to obtain gentility by grants of arms were not uncommon, it is likely that the poet was the moving force in this matter. Though a draft granting this request was drawn up, it was not executed; but in 1599 a renewed application was successful, the heralds giving an exemplification of the coat which the applicants claimed had been assigned them in 1568, "Gold, on a bend sable, a spear of the first, and for his crest or cognizance a falcon, his wings displayed argent, standing on a wreath of his colours, supporting a spear gold steeled as aforesaid." The motto is "Non Sans Droit." These arms appear on the monument over Shakespeare's grave in Trinity Church in Stratford, and, impaled with the Hall arms, on the tombstone of his daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall.

[Page Heading: The Purchase of New Place]

A more substantial step towards restoring the standing of the family was taken when the poet bought on May 4, 1597, for sixty pounds, New Place, the largest house in Stratford. This was only the beginning of a considerable series of investments of the profits of his professional life in landed and other property in his native district. On his father's death in 1601 he inherited the two houses in Henley Street, the only real property of which the elder Shakespeare had retained possession; and in one of these the poet's mother lived until her death in 1608. About a hundred and seven acres of arable land with common pasture appertaining to it was conveyed to the poet on May 1, 1602, by William and John Combe, of Warwick and Old Stratford respectively, in consideration of L320; and twenty acres of pasture land were acquired from the same owners in 1610. On September 28, 1602, the Court Rolls of the Manor of Rowington record the transfer to Shakespeare from Walter Getley of a cottage and garden in Chapel Lane, Stratford. In 1605 he paid L440 for the thirty-one years remaining of a lease of the Stratford tithes, a purchase which involved him in a considerable amount of litigation. It was through this acquisition that he became involved in the dispute over the attempted inclosure of certain common fields belonging to the town of Stratford. John Combe, who died in July, 1614, bequeathing Shakespeare L5, left as heir a son, William, who with Arthur Mannering, sought to annex to their respective estates the aforesaid common lands. After having secured a deed safeguarding himself as part owner of the tithes from any loss that might result from the inclosure, Shakespeare seems to have lent his influence to Combe, in spite of the requests of the corporation for aid. The inclosure was not carried out.

His investments were not confined to his native county. A deed of sale has come down to us concerning the purchase of a house near the Blackfriars Theater in London, in March, 1613. The price was L140; but on the following day, March 11, Shakespeare gave the previous owner, Henry Walker, a mortgage deed for L60, which he never seems to have paid off. There is evidence of his ownership of other property in Blackfriars in three documents, recently discovered by Professor C. W. Wallace, dealing with a suit in Chancery, and dated April 26, May 15, and May 22, 1615, in which Shakespeare and others sought to obtain from one Matthew Bacon possession of certain deeds pertaining to their property within the precinct of Blackfriars.

[Page Heading: Litigation]

Other traces of Shakespeare's business transactions suggest that he was by no means averse to going to law. After his resumption of relations with Stratford in 1596, we find his parents engaged (November, 1597) in a lawsuit, the outcome of which does not appear to recover the mortgaged estate of Asbies, which had formed part of his mother's inheritance. The years 1600, 1604, 1608, and 1609 all contain records of suits by the poet to recover small sums of money; and, on the other hand, we find tax collectors in London seeking payment of taxes incurred on his goods while he lived in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopgate, in 1593 or 1594. These claims Shakespeare satisfied some years later when he was living across the river in Southwark. The documents of a law case of 1612, recently discovered by Professor C. W. Wallace in the Public Record office, include Shakespeare's deposition as a witness and add some interesting information. It appears that, possibly from 1598 to 1604, he lodged in the house of Christopher Mountjoy, a wigmaker, at the corner of Muggle and Silver streets near Cripplegate. In 1604 he had aided in arranging the marriage of Mary Mountjoy to her father's apprentice, Stephen Bellott. The lawsuit was brought by Bellott against his father-in-law to secure the dowry and promise of inheritance. Shakespeare's negotiations in regard to the marriage play an important part in the various depositions, as the question whether a dowry of L50 had been promised was crucial to the case. Shakespeare himself was examined on September 11, but the poet failed to remember that a definite sum had been agreed upon for the dowry.

Further evidence relating to Shakespeare as a man of substance is to be found in letters in the Stratford archives, written by prominent townsmen. One, from Abraham Sturley to a relative in London on the business of the town of Stratford, dated January 24, 1597-8, contains a reference to "Mr. Shaksper" as "willing to disburse some money upon some odd yard-land or other at Shottery or near about us," and suggests urging upon Shakespeare the purchase of the tithes. It seems fairly certain from other letters of Sturley's that this one was addressed to Richard Quiney, father of Shakespeare's future son-in-law, Thomas Quiney. On October 25 of the same year, this Richard Quiney wrote from the Bell in Carter Lane, London, "to my loving friend and countryman, Mr. Wm. Shackespere," asking for his help with L30. From a letter from Abraham Sturley to Richard Quiney on the following fourth of November it appears that Quiney was seeking an enlargement of the charter of Stratford, with a view to an increase of revenue. In Sturley's previous letter reference had been made to an attempt to gain "an ease and discharge of such taxes and subsidies wherewith our town is like to be charged, and I assure you I am in great fear and doubt by no means able to pay." In this extreme condition of affairs Sturley heard with satisfaction "that our countryman Mr. Wm. Shak. would procure us money, which I will like of as I shall here when, and where, and how; and I pray let not go that occasion if it may sort to any indifferent conditions." The poet is probably referred to in still another letter, of about the same period, to Richard Quiney, this time from his father Adrian: "If you bargain with Wm. Sha., or receive money therefor, bring your money home that you may." All of these documents carry the unmistakable implication that William Shakespeare in London was regarded by his fellow-townsmen as a person of resources, likely to be of service to his friends in financial stress.

[Page Heading: Professional Progress]

If we return now to the evidences of Shakespeare's professional progress, we shall see whence these resources were derived. Confining ourselves still to explicit and unambiguous records, we find the year 1598 marking Shakespeare's emergence as actor and dramatist into a somewhat opener publicity. The quarto editions of Richard II and Love's Labour's Lost, issued that year, are the first plays to exhibit his name on the title-page; and in the 1616 folio edition of Ben Jonson's works, attached to Every Man in His Humour, is the statement: "This Comedie was first Acted in the yeere 1598 by the then L. Chamberleyne his servants. The principal Comedians were Will. Shakespeare, Aug. Philips, Hen. Condel, Will. Slye, Will. Kempe, Ric. Burbadge, Joh. Hemings, Tho. Pope, Chr. Beeston, Joh. Dyke." These evidences of prominence are more than corroborated by the famous passage in the Palladis Tamia (1598) of Francis Meres, in which he not only compares the "mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare" with Ovid for his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, "his sugred sonnets among his private friends," but with Plautus and Seneca for his excellence "in both kinds for the stage; for comedy, witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labors Lost, his Love Labours Wonne, his Midsummers Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy, his Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet." Barnfield in the same year harps on the "honey-flowing vein" of the author of Venus and Lucrece, and "honey-tongued" is again the opening epithet of John Weever's epigram "Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare" (1599), in which "Romeo" and "Richard" share the praises with the narrative poems. From this time on, publishers of the plays recognize Shakespeare's reputation by generally placing his name on the title-page: a form of compliment which the author probably did not appreciate when it was extended, as in the case of The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), to pirated works, some of which were meant to be private, and others were not by him at all.

Reminiscences or references to his works are frequent in contemporary literature. Among these are several passages in two plays, The Return from Parnassus, acted in St. John's College, Cambridge, about 1601. In one passage, Kempe, the famous actor, speaks slightingly of the acting qualities of the plays by university pens and continues, "Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, ay, and Ben Jonson too,"—another identification of the actor and the dramatist Shakespeare. Another character in these plays prefers Shakespeare to Chaucer, Gower, and Spenser. Less enthusiastic though sincerely appreciative is John Webster, who, in the address to the Reader prefixed to The White Devil, 1612, acknowledges his indebtedness to his predecessors, Chapman, Jonson, Beaumont, and Fletcher and to "the right happy and copious industry of Master Shakespeare, Master Dekker, and Master Heywood." Though of widely varying significance and interest, the numerous allusions to Shakespeare or to his plays give further testimony to his growing reputation.

[Page Heading: Contemporary Allusions]

While it is probable that the sale of Shakespeare's poems brought him in some financial return, he is not likely to have profited from the publication of his plays. The playwright at that time sold his product to the manager or company, and thereby gave up all rights. To the end of the sixteenth century managers usually paid from L5 to L11 for a new play, adding a bonus in the case of success, and sometimes a share of the proceeds of the second performance. During the first decade of Shakespeare's activity as a dramatist, then, we may calculate that he obtained for about twenty-one plays an average of about L10 each, which, making the usual allowance for the greater purchasing power of money, would be equivalent to about $400, or an annual income of about $800. During his second decade the prices for plays had so risen that he may be estimated to have received about twice as much from this source as in the early half of his career.

More profitable than playwriting was acting. Lee estimates Shakespeare's salary as an actor before 1599 at L100 a year at least, exclusive of special rewards for court performances, and we know that by 1635 an actor-shareholder, such as Shakespeare latterly was, had a salary of L180. Besides this, he became about 1599 a sharer, with Heming, Condell, Philips, and others, in the receipts of the Globe Theater, erected in 1597-8 by Richard and Cuthbert Burbage. The annual income from a single share was over L200, and Shakespeare may have had more than one. In 1610 he became a sharer also in the smaller Blackfriars Theater, after it had been acquired by the Burbages.

The evidence thus accumulated of Shakespeare's having acquired a substantial fortune is corroborated by what we know of the earnings of other members of his profession, and it leaves no mystery about the source of the capital which he invested in real property in Stratford and London.

The death of Elizabeth and the accession of James I improved rather than impaired Shakespeare's prospects. A patent, dated May 19, 1603, authorizes the King's servants, "Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage ... and the rest of their associats freely to use and exercise the arte and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, moralls, pastorals, stage-plaies, and such other like as they have already studied, or hereafter shall use or studie, as well for the recreation of our lovinge subjects, as for our solace and pleasure when we shall thinke good to see them, duringe our pleasure." By this document the Lord Chamberlain's Company became the King's, and so remained during the rest of Shakespeare's connection with the stage. At least a dozen instances are recorded in the Revels Accounts of the Company's having acted before his Majesty, and on the occasion of a performance before the court at the Earl of Pembroke's mansion of Wilton House, L30 was given them "by way of his majesty's reward." Shakespeare's name stands first in a list of nine actors who walked in a procession on the occasion of James's entry into London, March 15, 1604, when each actor was granted four yards and a half of scarlet cloth for cloaks for the occasion.

[Page Heading: Growing Prosperity]

This recognition by the court is the latest evidence we have of Shakespeare's belonging to the profession of acting. He is mentioned in the Jonson Folio of 1616 as playing a part in Sejanus in 1603; but his name is absent from the list of the King's servants, as his company had now become, when they performed Volpone in 1605, The Alchemist in 1610, and Catiline in 1611. It would thus seem that he gave up acting shortly after the death of Elizabeth.

The date of his withdrawal from London to Stratford is less precisely indicated. The likelihood is that the transference was gradual; for after 1611, the date usually conjectured for his retirement from the metropolis, we have indications of at least occasional activities there, as in the collaboration with Fletcher, now generally admitted, in Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and in the business dealings in Blackfriars already described. On the other hand, he had disposed of his shares in the theaters before his death; as we have seen, he appears frequently in his last years in connection with municipal affairs in Stratford; and later formal references are usually to "William Shakespeare, gent., of Stratford-on-Avon." It was during this period that we find record of the poet serving in a new capacity. There has recently been discovered in the Household Book at Belvoir Castle the following entry: "Item 31 Martij (1613) to Mr. Shakspeare in gold about my Lordes Impreso xiiij s. To Richard Burbadge for paynting and making yt in gold xliiij s. (Total) iiij^li viij^s." This means that the Earl of Rutland, who took part in a tournament at Whitehall on March 24, 1613, had the heraldic device for his shield made by Shakespeare and Burbage,—Burbage, whose skill as painter is well known, being probably responsible for the design and Shakespeare for the motto. Rutland was a friend and associate of that Earl of Southampton to whom Shakespeare had dedicated his two narrative poems.

The remaining documents are chiefly domestic. On June 5, 1607, his elder daughter Susanna married John Hall, a physician of Stratford, who succeeded the poet in the occupancy of New Place; and on September 9, 1608, the Stratford Register records the burial of his mother, "Mayry Shaxspere, wydowe." His younger daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney on February 10, 1616, with such haste and informality as led to the imposition of a fine by the ecclesiastical court at Worcester. In the previous month Shakespeare had a draft of his will drawn up by Francis Collins, a solicitor of Warwick, and after certain changes this was signed in March. On the twenty-fifth of April the Registers show the burial of "Will. Shakespeare gent." The monument over his grave gives the day of his death as April 23 (Old Style). He was buried in the chancel of Stratford Church, and on the grave may still be read the much discussed lines:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare To dig the dust enclosed heare; Bleste be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.

William Hall, who visited Stratford in 1694, records the tradition that the poet himself composed the lines in a style calculated to impress sextons and prevent them from digging up his bones and throwing them into the adjacent charnel house. However this may be, the grave has remained unopened.

[Page Heading: Death and Burial]

Seven years later, thirty-six of Shakespeare's plays were collected by two of his former colleagues of the theater, Heming and Condell, whom he had remembered in his will, and published in the famous First Folio. The preliminary documents in this volume, printed in our appendix, close significantly the contemporary records of the man, and bind together the burgess of Stratford with the actor of London and the dramatist of the world.

Of Shakespeare's handwriting nothing that can be called his with complete assurance has survived except six signatures; one to the deposition in the matter of the Mountjoy marriage; one to the deed of the house he bought in Blackfriars in 1613, one to the mortgage-deed on the same house, executed on the day after the purchase, and one on each of the three sheets of paper containing his will, the last of which has in addition the words "By me." All six are somewhat crabbed specimens of the old English style of handwriting, which is the character he would naturally acquire in such a school as that at Stratford in the sixteenth century, as we learn from surviving examples of the copy-books of the period. The manuscripts of his plays have gone the way of all, or almost all, the autographs of the men of letters of his time, nor is it likely that future research will add materially to what we have. The exact signatures, though it is difficult to be certain of all the letters, seem to show a variation in spelling—Shakspere, Shakespere, or Shakspeare. His father's name appears in the records of the town in sixteen different forms, an illustration of the inconsistency in the orthography of proper names, as of other words, which was common with people of that time of greater worldly consequence and education than the poet or his father. The form of the name used in the present edition is that which generally appears on the title-pages of plays ascribed to him; it is that which he himself used in signing the dedications of his two poems to the Earl of Southampton; it is that which occurs in the legal documents having to do with his property; and it is the common spelling in the literary allusions of the seventeenth century.

[Page Heading: Signatures and Portraits]

Our knowledge of Shakespeare's personal appearance is also far from being definite. The bust on the monument in the church at Stratford was cut apparently before 1623 by a Dutch stone cutter called Gerard Janssen. It was originally colored; probably the eyes light hazel, and the hair auburn. Its crude workmanship renders it unreliable as a likeness. The frontispiece to the First Folio was engraved for that work by Martin Droeshout, who was only twenty-two years old at the time, so that he is more likely to have made it from a portrait than from memory. No portrait has been found that seems actually to have served this purpose, though there are resemblances between the engraving and the portrait, dated 1609, presented to the Memorial Picture Gallery at Stratford by Mrs. Charles Flower. The numerous other portraits that have been claimed as likenesses of the dramatist have varying degrees of probability, but none has a pedigree without a flaw. Those with most claim to interest are the Ely Palace portrait, the Chandos portrait, the Garrick Club bust, and the Kesselstadt death-mask.[2]

[2] See frontispieces in the Tudor Shakespeare to editions of Henry V (Droeshout original), King Lear (Ely Palace), Romeo and Juliet (Chandos), Pericles (Garrick Club bust), and The Tempest (Death-mask). The Stratford Monument and the Droeshout engraving are reproduced in the present volume.

* * * * *

Such is the very considerable body of authenticated facts about the life of Shakespeare. Lacking though they are in intimate and personal touches, they can hardly be said to leave the main outlines of his career shadowy or mysterious. But they do not by any means exhaust the data at our disposal for forming an impression of the poet's personality. A large mass of tradition, of less than legal validity but much of it of a high degree of probability, has come down to us, the sources of which may now be detailed.

In the seventeenth century we have several biographical and critical collections in which Shakespeare figures, the most important being these: Fuller's Worthies of England (1662), Aubrey's Lives of Eminent Men (compiled 1669-1696), Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum (1675), and Langbaine's English Dramatic Poets (1691). The two last are for strictly biographical purposes negligible, though interesting as early criticism. Fuller began his work in 1643, so that he may be supposed to have had access to oral tradition from men who actually knew Shakespeare. He gives few facts, but some hints as to temperament. "Though his genius generally was jocular and inclining him to festivity, yet he could, when so disposed, be solemn and serious.... Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson; which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war; master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow, in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."

[Page Heading: Sources of Traditions]

Among the actors who, with Shakespeare, took part in the first production of Jonson's Every Man in His Humour was Christopher Beeston, who when he died in 1637 was manager of the Cockpit Theater in Drury Lane. He was succeeded in this office by his son William, who became in his old age the revered transmitter to Restoration players and playwrights of the traditions of the great age in which he had spent his youth. From him, and from another actor of the same period, John Lacy, as well as from other sources, the antiquary John Aubrey collected fragments of gossip for his lives of the English poets. According to Aubrey's notes, confused and unequal in value, Shakespeare "did act exceeding well"; "understood Latin pretty well, for he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country"; "was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit." It is Aubrey, too, that reports that John Shakespeare was a butcher, and he adds, "I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade.... When he killed a calf, he would doe it in a high style and make a speech. There was at that time another butcher's son in this towne, that was held not at all inferior to him for a naturall wit, his acquaintance, and coetanean, but dyed young." The same writer is authority for the statement that it was at Grendon, near Oxford, on the road from Stratford to London, that the dramatist "happened to take the humour of the constable in Midsummer Night's Dream"—a remark that may refer loosely either to Bottom and his friends, or to Dogberry and Verges. He also ascribes to the poet an apocryphal epigram on a Stratford usurer, John Combe.

The Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford-on-Avon for 1662 to 1668, kept about the time of his coming to this charge a diary in which he relates certain echoes of the conversation of the town at a time when the poet's nephews were still living there. From him we hear that in his elder days Shakespeare retired to Stratford; that in his most active period he wrote two plays a year; that he spent at the rate of L1000 a year; and that his death was due to a fever following a "merry meeting" in Stratford with Jonson and Drayton.

An additional reference to the tradition of Shakespeare's convivial tendencies is to be found in the legend of his visit to Bidford, six miles from Stratford, with a group of cronies to compare capacities with the Bidford Drinkers. According to the earliest version of this somewhat widespread tale, that of a visitor to Stratford in 1762, "he enquired of a shepherd for the Bidford Drinkers, who replied they were absent but the Bidford sippers were at home, and, I suppose, continued the sheepkeeper, they will be sufficient for you; and so, indeed, they were; he was forced to take up his lodging under that tree [the crab-tree, long pointed out] for some hours."

[Page Heading: Traditions]

The earliest description of Shakespeare as "a glover's son" is found in the memoranda of Archdeacon Plume of Rochester, written about 1656. Plume adds, "Sir John Mennes saw once his old father in his shop—a merry cheeked old man that said, 'Will was a good honest fellow, but he darest have crackt a jeast with him at any time.'" No Sir John Mennes who could have seen John Shakespeare is known, but the saying may well be the echo of contemporary gossip.

A manuscript preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, contains certain notes made before 1688 by the Rev. William Fulman. Among them are interpolated others (given here in italics) by the Rev. Richard Davies previously to 1708. "William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire about 1563-4. Much given to all unluckinesse in stealing venison and rabbits, particularly from Sr. ... Lucy, who had him whipt and sometimes imprisoned, and at last made him fly his native country to his great advancement; but his reveng was so sweet that he is his Justice Clodpate, and calls him a great man, and that in allusion to his name bore three lowses rampant for his arms. From an actor of playes he became a composer. He dyed Apr. 23, 1616, aetat 53, probably at Stratford, for there he is buried, and hath a monument (Dugd. p. 520), on which he lays a heavy curse upon any one who shall remove his bones. He dyed a papist." The inaccuracy of Davies's version of facts otherwise known warns us against too great a reliance on his individual contribution.

A certain John Dowdall left a short account of places he visited in Warwickshire in 1693. He describes the monument and tombstone, giving inscriptions, and adds, "The clarke that shew'd me this church is above 80 years old; he says that this Shakespeare was formerly in this towne bound apprentice to a butcher, but that he run from his master to London, and there was received into the play-house as a serviture, and by this means had an opportunity to be what he afterwards prov'd. He was the best of his family, but the male line is extinguished. Not one for feare of the curse abovesaid dare touch his gravestone, tho his wife and daughters did earnestly desire to be leyd in the same grave with him." The traditional explanation of the curse as reported by William Hall, has already been given (p. 35).

[Page Heading: Rowe's Biography]

The first regular biography of Shakespeare is that by Nicholas Rowe, written as a preface to his edition of the plays which, issued in 1709, stands at the beginning of modern Shakespearean interpretation. Though compiled nearly a century after the poet's death, Rowe's life has claims upon our credit more substantial than might be expected. His chief source of information was the great actor Betterton, a Shakespeare enthusiast, who had himself taken pains to accumulate facts concerning his hero. Much of Betterton's material came to him through John Lowin and Joseph Taylor, two actors who had been colleagues of Shakespeare's and who lived into the Restoration period. According to John Downes, a theatrical prompter in the end of the seventeenth century, these veterans brought to the new generation the actual instruction they had received from the dramatist himself on the playing of the parts respectively of Henry VIII and Hamlet. Theatrical and other traditions reached Rowe also through Sir William D'Avenant, the leading figure in the revival of the stage after 1660. D'Avenant's father was host of the Crown Inn at Oxford, where, according to the statements of Aubrey and of Anthony Wood in 1692, Shakespeare was accustomed to put up on his journeys between London and Stratford. Wood reports that the elder D'Avenant was a "man of grave and saturnine disposition, yet an admirer of plays and play-makers, especially Shakespeare," and that Mrs. D'Avenant was "a very beautiful woman, of a good wit and conversation." William D'Avenant was generally reputed to be Shakespeare's godson, and Aubrey, whose gossip must be accepted with great hesitation, says that he was not averse to being taken as his son. In spite of the fact of this scandal's appearance in various seventeenth century anecdotes, the more careful account of the D'Avenants by Wood points to its rejection. The story is usually linked with another recorded by the lawyer Manningham in his Diary, March 13, 1602, that Burbage, who had been playing Richard III, was overheard by Shakespeare making an appointment with a lady in the audience. When the tragedian arrived at the rendez-vous, he found Shakespeare in possession; and on knocking was answered that "William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third."

To return to the D'Avenants, the elder son, Robert, used to tell that when he was a child Shakespeare had given him "a hundred kisses." Sir William was Rowe's authority for the statement that the Earl of Southampton once gave the poet L1000 "to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to"; but no purchase of this magnitude by Shakespeare is recorded. D'Avenant himself was said to own a complimentary letter written to Shakespeare by James I, and the publisher Lintot says that the Duke of Buckinghamshire claimed to have examined the document. The story about Shakespeare's first connection with the theater consisting in his holding horses outside, told first in a manuscript note preserved in the Library of the University of Edinburgh, 1748, is also credited to D'Avenant. According to this tradition, frequently repeated, the future dramatist organized a regular corps of boys and monopolized the business, so that "as long as the practice of riding to the play-house continued the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare's Boys."

[Page Heading: Further Traditions]

Many of the natural inferences to be drawn from the data in the first part of the chapter are given by Rowe as facts. Thus he states positively that Shakespeare attended a free school, from which he was withdrawn owing to "the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of assistance at home." He repeats the deer-stealing anecdote, with further detail. As to his acting, Rowe reports, "Tho' I have inquir'd, I could never meet with any further account of him this way than that the top of his performance was the ghost in his own Hamlet." He corroborates the general contemporary opinion of Shakespeare's fluency and spontaneity in composition. As to his personality, he says, "Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natur'd man, of great sweetness in his manners and a most agreeable companion." Rowe credits Shakespeare with having prevented his company from rejecting one of Jonson's plays at a time when Jonson was altogether unknown, and is inclined to consider the latter ungenerous in his critical remarks on Shakespeare.

William Oldys, in his manuscript Adversaria, now in the British Museum, reports a few further fragments of gossip, the chief of which is that Shakespeare's brother Gilbert was discovered still living about 1660 and was questioned by some actors as to his memory of William. All he could give them was a vague recollection of his having played the part of Adam in As You Like It.

Such are the most significant details which tradition, unauthenticated but often plausible, has added to our knowledge of the documents. There exists also a very considerable amount of literary allusion to Shakespeare's productions from 1594 onwards, which is easily accessible in collected form. The most notable of these are the comments of his friend and contemporary, Ben Jonson. Besides the splendid eulogy prefixed to the First Folio, Jonson talked of Shakespeare's lack of art to Drummond of Hawthornden, and expressed himself with affection and discrimination in the famous passage in Timber.

After all allowances have been made for the inaccuracies of oral tradition, we may safely gather from those concerning Shakespeare some inferences which help to clothe the naked skeleton of the documented facts. It is clear that, within a generation after Shakespeare's death, common opinion both in Stratford and London recognized that in the actor and dramatist a great man had passed away, that he had been in a worldly sense highly successful, though starting from unpropitious beginnings, that he wrote with great swiftness and ease, and that in his personal relations he was gentle, kindly, genial, and witty. That the bailiff's son who returned to his native town as a prosperous gentleman, is to be identified with the actor and shareholder of the London theaters, and with the author of the plays and poems, it is difficult to see how there can remain any reasonable doubt; and, though the facts which prove this identity contain little to illuminate the vast intellect and soaring imagination which created Hamlet and Lear, they contain nothing irreconcilable with the personality, which these creations imply rather than reveal.

[Page Heading: Evidence of the Sonnets]

One further source of information about Shakespeare's personality has figured largely in some biographies. The Sonnets were published in 1609, evidently without Shakespeare's cooeperation or consent, with a dedication by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, to a Mr. W. H., "the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets." All attempts to identify this Mr. W. H. have failed. He may have been merely the person who procured the manuscript for Thorpe, though the language of the dedication seems to imply that he was the young gentleman who is the subject of a considerable number of the poems. Of this young gentleman and of a dark lady who seems to have been the occasion of other of the sonnets, much has been written, but no facts of Shakespeare's life have been established beyond those which are obvious to every reader: that Shakespeare wrote admiring and flattering sonnets to a young man who is urged to marry (and who may have been the Earl of Southampton, or an unknown Mr. W. H., or another); and that he treats of an intrigue with some unknown woman. The identification of the young man of the first seventeen sonnets with other friends who are praised in later sonnets is not certain, though in some cases probable; and much research and conjecture have entirely failed to make clear the relations between the poet, the rival poet, the lady, and the friend. The Sonnets furnish us with no knowledge of Shakespeare's personal affairs, and only a meager basis even for gossip as to some of his experiences with men and women.

Another kind of inquiry has sought to discover in the sonnets not facts or incidents of Shakespeare's life, but indications of his emotional experiences. The results of such inquiry are manifestly outside the scope of this chapter. For their discussion, the reader must be referred to Professor Alden's introduction to the Tudor edition of the Sonnets. Shakespeare's personality as it is reflected from his works will also be considered in the concluding chapter of this volume. So much stress, however, has been placed on interpretations of the sonnets, and these have so often occupied an exaggerated place in his biography, that it may be worth while to remark that whether these lyrical poems are genuine and personal or are conventional and literary, and whether they make the poet more clearly discernible or not, they must certainly be taken not alone by themselves, but in connection with the dramas as affording us an impression of the man who wrote them. Of the sonnets, it may be said in almost the same words just now used of the documents and traditions, that whether they contain much or little to illuminate the vast intellect and soaring imagination which created Hamlet and Lear, they contain nothing irreconcilable with the personality which these creations imply rather than reveal.



We have called the present chapter "Shakespeare's Reading" rather than "The Learning of Shakespeare," because, apart from the famous line in which Ben Jonson stated that the poet had "small Latin and less Greek," it is evident from the allusions throughout the plays that Shakespeare was a reader rather than a scholar. In other words, he used books for what interested him; he did not study them for complete mastery; and many and varied as are the traces of his literary interests, they have the air of being detached fragments that have stuck in a plastic and retentive mind, not pieces of systematic erudition. It is true that many books have been written to show that Shakespeare had the knowledge of a professional in law, medicine, navigation, theology, conveyancing, hunting and hawking, horsemanship, politics, and other fields; but such works are usually the products of enthusiasts in single subjects, who are apt to forget how much a man of acute mind and keen observation can pick up of a technical matter that interests him for the time, and how intelligently he can use it. The cross-examination of an expert witness by an able lawyer is an everyday illustration; and in the literature of our own day this kind of versatility is strikingly exemplified in the work of such a writer as Mr. Kipling.

[Page Heading: School-Books]

How Shakespeare learned to read and write his own tongue we do not know; that he did learn hardly needs to be argued. The free grammar school at Stratford-on-Avon, like other schools of its type, was named from its function of teaching Latin grammar; and we may make what is known of the curricula of such schools in the sixteenth century the basis for our inferences as to what Shakespeare learned there.

The accidence, with which the course began, was studied in Lily's Grammar, and clear echoes of this well-known work are heard in the conversation between Sir Hugh Evans and William Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, IV. i, in 1 Henry IV, II. i. 104, in Much Ado, IV. i. 22, in Love's Labour's Lost, IV. ii. 82 (and perhaps, V. i. 10 and 84), in Twelfth Night, II. iii. 2, in The Taming of the Shrew, I. i. 167,—a line of Terence altered by Lily,—and in Titus Andronicus, IV. ii. 20-23, where Demetrius reads two lines from Horace, and Chiron says,

O, 'tis a verse in Horace; I know it well. I read it in the grammar long ago.

Such fragments of Latin as we find in the dialogue between Holofernes and Nathaniel in Love's Labour's Lost, IV. ii, and V. i, are probably due to some elementary phrase-book no longer to be identified. It is to be noted how prominently this early comedy figures in the list of evidences of his school-day memories.

Among the first pieces of connected Latin prose read in the Elizabethan schools was AEsop's Fables, a collection which, after centuries of rewriting and re-compiling for adults, had come in the sixteenth century to be regarded chiefly as a school-book, but allusions to which are everywhere to be found in the literature of the day. In 2 Henry VI, III. i. 343, and Richard II, III. ii. 129, we find references to the fable of "The Countryman and a Snake"; in 2 Henry VI, III. i. 69, and Timon of Athens, II. i. 28, to "The Crow in Borrowed Feathers"; in 2 Henry VI, III. i. 77, to "The Wolf in the Sheep's Skin"; in King John, II. i. 139, to "The Ass in the Lion's Skin"; in Henry V, IV. iii. 91, to "The Hunter and the Bear"; in As You Like It, I. i. 87, to "The Dog that Lost his Teeth"; in All's Well, II. i. 71, to "The Fox and the Grapes"; besides a number of slighter and less definite allusions. The most detailed fable in Shakespeare, that of "The Belly and the Members," in Coriolanus, I. i. 99, is derived, not from AEsop, but from Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus.

The traces of the well-known collection of sayings from various writers called Sententiae Pueriles, and of the so-called Distichs of Cato, both of which were commonly read in the second and third years, are only slight. Battista Spagnuoli Mantuanus, whose Eclogues, written about 1500, had become a text-book, is honored with explicit mention as well as quotation in Love's Labour's Lost, IV. ii. 95. Cicero, who was read from the fourth year, has left his mark on only a phrase or two, in spite of his importance in Renaissance culture; but Ovid is much more important. The motto on the title-page of Venus and Adonis is from the Amores, and the matter of the poem is from Metamorphoses, X. 519 ff., with features from the stories of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis (Meta. IV. 285 ff.), and the hunting in Calydon (Meta. VIII. 270 ff.). Ovid is quoted in Latin in three early plays; and even where a translation was available, the phrasing of Shakespeare's allusions sometimes shows knowledge of the original. Most of Ovid had been translated into English before Shakespeare began to write, and Golding's version of the Metamorphoses (1567) was used for the references to the Actaeon myth in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, IV. i. 107 ff., and for a famous passage in The Tempest, V. i. 33. Livy, who had been translated in 1545 according to Malone, seems to have been the chief source of Lucrece, with some aid from Ovid's Fasti, II. 721 ff. Among other Ovidian allusions are those to the story of Philomela, so pervasive in Titus Andronicus; to the Medea myth in four or five passages; to Narcissus and Echo, Phaeton, Niobe, Hercules, and a score more of the familiar names of classical mythology. Pyramus and Thisbe Shakespeare may have read about in Chaucer as well as in Ovid, but Bottom's treatment of this story in A Midsummer-Night's Dream gives but a slight basis for proving literary relations.

[Page Heading: Ovid]

Virgil followed Ovid in the fifth year, and with Virgil, Terence. Of direct knowledge of the latter the plays bear no trace, but of the former there seems to be an influence in the description of the painting of Troy in Lucrece, 1366 ff., and in two short Latin sentences in 2 Henry VI, II. i. 24, and IV. i. 117. Horace, Plautus, Juvenal, Persius, and Seneca were the new authors taken up in the last years in school. All the Horace in the plays may have been taken from other works, like the passage already quoted from Lily's Grammar. Juvenal and Persius have left no mark. The Menaechmi and Amphitruo of Plautus furnish the basis for The Comedy of Errors, and no English translation of either of these is known before that of the Menaechmi in 1595, which some critics think Shakespeare may have seen in manuscript. But no verbal similarities confirm this conjecture, and there is no reason why the dramatist should not have known both plays at first hand.

The influence of Seneca is dramatically the most important among the classical authors. All the plays that go by his name had been translated into English in the first part of Elizabeth's reign; he was the main channel through which the forms of classical tragedy reached the Renaissance; and when Shakespeare began to write he was the dominant force in the field of tragedy. This makes it hard to say whether the Senecan features in Titus Andronicus, Richard III, and even Hamlet, are due to Seneca directly, or to the tradition already well established among Shakespeare's earlier contemporaries.

[Page Heading: Results of Schooling]

The impression which the evidence from the textbooks as a whole leaves on one is that Shakespeare took from school enough Latin to handle an occasional quotation[3] and to extract the plot of a play, but that he probably preferred to use a translation when one was to be had. The slight acquaintance shown with authors not always read at school, Caesar, Livy, Lucan, and Pliny, does not materially alter this impression. Much more conclusive as to the effect of his Latin training than the literary allusions are the numerous words of Latin origin either coined by Shakespeare, or used in such a way as to imply a knowledge of their derivation. The discovery of a lost translation may modify our views as to whether a particular author was used by him in the original, but the evidence from his use of Romance words gives clear proof that his schooling was no unimportant element in his mastery of speech.

[3] See the list in the appendix to Schmidt's Lexicon.

Greek was occasionally begun in the Elizabethan grammar school, but we do not know whether this was the case in Stratford. Certainly we have no reason to believe that Shakespeare could read Greek, as all his knowledge of Greek authors could have been obtained from translations, and only two Greek words, misanthropos and threnos, occur in his writings. Yet no single author was so important in providing material for the plays as the Greek Plutarch. His Lives of Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus, Marcus Antonius, and Caius Martius Coriolanus, in Sir Thomas North's translation, are the direct sources of the great Roman tragedies, and in a less important way the Lives of Antonius and Alcibiades were used in Timon of Athens. Homeric elements are discoverable in Troilus and Cressida, which derives mainly from the medieval tradition. As the Trojan story was already familiar on the stage, these need not have come from Chapman's Homer. The knowledge of Lucian which seems implied in Timon was probably not gained from the Greek original. The late Greek romances, which were popular in translation, may have been read by Shakespeare, since the reference to the "Egyptian thief" in Twelfth Night, V. i. 120, is from the AEthiopica of Heliodorus, translated in 1569. Attempts have been made by the assembling of parallel passages to prove a knowledge of Greek tragedy on the part of Shakespeare, but such parallelisms are more naturally explained as coincidences arising from the treatment of analogous themes and situations.

Of modern languages, French was the easiest for an Elizabethan Englishman to acquire, and the French passages and scenes in Henry V make it fairly certain that Shakespeare had a working knowledge of this tongue. Yet, as in the case of Latin, he seems to have preferred a translation to an original when he could find it. Montaigne, whose influence some have found pervasive in Shakespeare, he certainly used in Gonzalo's account of his ideal commonwealth in The Tempest, II. i. 143 ff., but it seems that he employed Florio's translation here. Rabelais's Gargantua is explicitly mentioned in As You Like It, III, ii. 238, and the great humorist is possibly the inspirer of some of Sir Andrew's nonsense in Twelfth Night, II. iii. 23. Many of the Sonnets contain reminiscences of the French sonneteers of the sixteenth century, and it is thought that in some cases Shakespeare shows direct acquaintance with Ronsard. He was thus acquainted with the three greatest French writers of his century, and French may well have been the medium through which he reached authors in other languages.

[Page Heading: French and Italian]

The class of Italian literature with which Shakespeare shows most acquaintance is that of the novelle, though there is no proof that he could read the language. The Decameron of Boccaccio contains the love-story of Cymbeline, though there may have been an intermediary; the plot of All's Well came from the same collection, but had been translated by Painter in his Palace of Pleasure; and the story of the caskets in The Merchant of Venice is found in a form closer to Shakespeare's in the English translation of the Gesta Romanorum than in the Decameron. Thus we cannot conclude that the poet knew this work as a whole. Similarly with Bandello and Cinthio. The plot of Much Ado is found in the former, and is translated by Belleforest into French, but at least one detail seems to come from Ariosto, and here again an intermediary is commonly conjectured. The novel from Cinthio's Hecatommithi which formed the basis of Othello existed in a French translation; and his form of the plot of Measure for Measure came to Shakespeare through the English dramatic version of George Whetstone. The version of the bond story in The Merchant of Venice closest to the play is in Il Pecorone of Sir Giovanni Fiorentino, but the tale is widespread. Incidents in The Merry Wives have sources or parallels in the same work, in Straparola's Piacevoli Notti, and in Bandello, but in both cases English versions were available. A mass of Italian and French prototypes lies behind the plot of Twelfth Night, but most of the details are to be found in the English Apolonius and Silla of Barnabe Riche, and there is reason to conjecture a lost English play on the subject. The Taming of the Shrew, based on an extant older play, draws also on Gascoigne's version of Ariosto's I Suppositi; and the echoes of Petrarch in the Sonnets may well have come through French and English imitators. The introduction of stock types from the Italian drama, such as the pedant and the braggart-soldier, can be accounted for by the previous knowledge of these in England, and does not imply a first-hand reading of Italian literature. The negative position is still stronger in the case of Spanish, where the use of episodes from George of Montemayor's Diana in The Two Gentlemen, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer-Night's Dream, can be supposed to be due to the author's having access to Yonge's translation in manuscript, especially since there is no other trace of Spanish influence.

[Page Heading: Early English]

The conclusion with regard to Italian and Spanish, then, seems to be that Shakespeare in his search for plots was aware of the riches of the novelle, but that he found what he wanted as a rule in English or French versions; and that we have no evidence of his knowledge of anything but fiction from these literatures.

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