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Cor. A goodly house, the feast smells well; but I Cor. Be gone!
Appear not like a guest. Mine ears against your suits are stronger, than
Act IV. Scene IV. Your gates against my force.
Act V. Scene IITHE LIFE AND WRITINGS
William Shakspeare was bora at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, April 23, 1501. His ancestors are mentioned as " gentlemen of good figure and fashion.*' His father was a considerable dealer in wool, and had been the high-bailiff or mayor of the body corporate of Stratford. He held also the oflice of justice of the peace, and at one time, it is said, possessed lauds uud tenements to tbe amount of £500; but he must have been greatly reduced in the latter part of his life, as he was excused the trifling weekly tax of fourpence, levied on all aldermen, and subsequently resigned tbe oflice to another individual. His wife was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of VVellingeote, in "Warwickshire, "a gentleman of worship." This lady brought him ten children; of whom William, our pcet, was the eldest. At a proprr age he was sent to the freeschool in Stratford, to which he was indebted for whatever learning he may have possessed; though his father had apparently no design to make him "a scholar," as he took liim, at an early period, into his own business. Air. Malone, on tbe contrary, conjectures, that he was placed in the oflice of some country attorney, after leaving school, or with the seneschal of some manor court, where he picked up those technical law phrases that so frequently occur in his plays, and could not have been in common use unless among professional men. However this may be, he resolved to write "man" earlier thnn usual, and before be was eighteen, married Anne Hathaway, eight years older than himself, the (laughter of John Hathaway, who is said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. Before the expiration of his minority he became the father or three children, a son and two daughters, his wife producing him twins. Nothing is known of his domestic economy or professional occupation at this time; though Mr. Capell supposes that this early marriage prevented his being sent to some university. Shortly after the birth of bis youngest child, he left Stratford for the metropolis: his motive for doing so, as well as his connexion and prospects in London, arc involved in considerable obscurity. It is said that he became acquainted with a gang of deer-stealers, and being detected with them in robbing the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Cbarlecote, was prosecuted with so much rigour as to be obliged to take shelter in London; having first revenged himself upon the knight by writing a satirical ballad. This Whs affixed to Sir Thomas's park-gates, and being liberally circulated in the neighbourhood, excited considerable attention, though it does no honoor to our poet's genius, and was manifestly unjust. Some writers have asserted, that Shakspeare escaped with impunity after his first offence; hut that, repeating it audaciously, he was prosecuted by Sir Thomas, whom he grossly lampooned— that to escape a prison, he fled to London, where, as might be expected from a man of wit and humour in similar circumstances, he threw himself among the players, and made bis first appearance on the stage in a very subordinate character. This account (according to a modern publication) is not entitled to full credence; for though he may have associated with some idle youths, either for the sake of catching deer, or for some less difficult and hazardous enterprise, yet the story seems improbable, and comes in such a questionable shape, that it ought to be strongly corroborated before it be believed. Without depending on this circumstance, or supposing that " he held horses at the door of a theatre for his livelihood," a rational motive for his visiting London may be found in the circumstance, that he had a relative and townsman already established there; Thomas Green, '* a celebrated comedian." The statement of John Aubrey, a student in the university of Oxford only twenty-six years after our poet's death, strongly substantiates this view of the case, though it differs in some particulars from the commonly accepted opinions respecting his parentage and occupation. "His father (says Aubrey) was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore, by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised bis father's trade, but when he killed a calfe, he would doc it in a high style, and make a speeche. This William, (meaning Shakspeare,) being naturally inclined to poetry and acting, came to London, I gnesse about eighteen, and was an actor at one o tbe play-houses, and did act exceedingly well. He began early to make essayes at di amatique poetry, which at that time was very lowe, and his playes tooke well." This is good to a certain exteut; but the truth probably is, that some freak, or it might he, felony, determined Shakspeare promptly to embrace that profession to which his habits an* inclinations had fur a long time previously inclined him. The plr.yful enthusiasm of his disposition wheu directed not to the useful purposes of life, but to " poetry and acting;" was calculated to encourage babits of idleness or improvidence, with a taste for those wild and irregular associations, which commence by despising order, and generally terminate in a defiance of law. When he made Fa]staff a deer-stealer, and played the battery of his wit so keenly upon Justice Shallow, the recollection of his own adventure was probably ■ppermost in his mind; and if there were any doubt on the subject, the ci renin si ance of bis having given to Shallow the identical quarterings of Sir Thomas Lucy, (bis Warwickshire prosecutor,) would effectually set it at rest. The balance of evidence, therefore, preponderating greatly against " this amiable man and supereminent author," his admirers may be content to have him charged with an act of poaching, since it was the apparent cause of his producing those immortal dramas, which have rendered him the delight of successive ages. It is not agreed in what situation he was first employed at the theatre, and Mr. Rowe has not been able to discover any character in which lie appeared to more advantage than that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player, and other passages of his works, evince an intimate acquaintance with the science of acting, and shew that he studied nature in it, as much as in writing; but all this might be mere theory. The situation of an actor neither deserved nor engaged hii attention, and was far from adequate to the prodigious powers of his mind; he turned it to a higher and nobler use; and having, by practice and observation, acquainted himself with the mechanical part of a theatre, his native genius inspired all the other essentially superior qualities of a ploy-wright. The date at which his first play appeared is unknown, and the greatest uncertainty prevails with respect to the chronological order in which the whole series was written, exhibited, or published. As no oertain authority could be adduced upon this point, recourse has been bad to internal evidence; and by searching for those marks of progressive excellence, which are supposed to result from exercise and improvement, the dates of each play have been pretty positively fixed.
Though Shakspeare continued lo write till the year 1614, he had probably declined appearing as an actor long before that period ; as no mention of his name can be found amnng the list of players subsequent to the production of Ben Jonson's Sejanus in 1003. He now succeeded in obtaining a license from king James to exhibit comedies, tragedies, histories, &c. at the Globe Theatre or elsewhere, and was enabled to acquire, during hi» dramatic career, property to a considerable amount. Gildon (in his " Letters and Essays/' 1694) estimated the amount at £300 per annum, a sum at least equal to £1000 in our days; but Mr. Malone thinks it could not exceed £200, which yet was a considerable fortune in those limes. It is supposed that he might have derived £200 per annum from the theatre, while he continued on the stage. Besides his thirty-five plays, Shakspeare wrote some poetical pieces, which were published separately, viz. Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Passionate Pilgrim, A Lover's Complaint, and a volume of Sonnets. The Earl of Southampton, with whom he was a great favourite, is said to hare presented him with a sum of £1000, to enable him to complete a purchase—an act of munificent patronage, which has never been exceeded. He enjoyed in a great degree the personal favour of Queen Elizabeth ; and King James the First " was pleased with his own band to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare," in return (as Dr. Farmer supposes) for the compliment paid to bim in Macbeth; where allusion is made to the kingdoms of England and Scotland being united under one monarch, and James's having begun to touch for the king's evil. Having acquired such a fortune as suited his views and wishes, he quitted the stage and all other business, and passed the remainder of bis life in an honourable ease, at his native town of Stratford. Of the exact time when this took place, nothing certain is known; but Mr. Theobald supposes he did not resign the theatre before 1610, since, in his Tempest, he mentions the Bermuda islands, which were unknown to the English till 1600, when Sir John Sumners discovered them on his voyage to North America, He lived in a very handsome house of his own purchasing, to which, having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, be gave the name of New Place; and he had the good fortune to save it from the flames in the dreadful fire which shortly afterwards laid waste the town. During Sbakspeare's abode in this bouse, his wit and good-hummir engaged him the acquaintance and entitled hiin to the friendship of all the surrounding gentry. He was (says Aubrey) a handsome, well-shaped man, verie good companie, and of a verie ready, pleasant, and smooth wit. It is not difficult, indeed, to suppose that Shakspeare was a man of humour and a social companion, and that he excelled in that species of minor wit not ill adapted to conversation, of which it is to be wished be had been more sparing in his writing*. In the beginning of the year 1616 he made his will, wherein he testified his respect to his quondam theatrical partners, appointing his youngest daughter, jointly with her husband, his executors, and bequeathing them the bulk of his estate, which came into their possession not long afterwards. It is inferred from this document, that our poet's lady did uot enjoy much of his affection, as his "second-best bed, with two furoHore/' constituted the only bequest to her. It is not known what particular malady terminated, at no very advanced age, the life and In hours of this incomparable genius; bat be died on the 23d of April, 1616, being the anniversary or his birth-day, when he exactly completed his fifty-second year. He was interred among his ancestors, on the north side of the chance I, iu the great church of Stratford, aud a handsome monument, bearing the following Laiiu distich, was erected to his memory:
Judicio Pylmrn, genlo Sooratcm, arte Maroneni,
On the grave-stone iu the pavement are the following singular lines*
Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
In the year 1741, another very noble and beautiful monument was raised lo his memory, at the public expense, iu Westminster Abbey, under the direction of the Earl of Burlington, pr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Blr. Martyn. It stands near the south door of the Abbey, in what is called Poets' Corner, and was the work of Scheemaker, after a design of Kent's. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter took nothing for the ground.
Mrs. Shakspeare survived her husband eight years, dying in 1623, at the age of sixtyseven. Of Sbakspeare's family, the son died in 1596; the eldest daughter, Susanna, married Dr. John Hall, a physician of Stratford, who is said to have obtained much reputalioL and praclice. She brought ber busband an only child, Elizabeth, who was married, first to Thomas Nashe, Esq. and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abingdon, in Northamptonshire, but had no issue by either of them. The second daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney, a gentleman of good family, by whom she had three children; but as none of them reached their twentieth year, they left no posterity. Hence our poet's last descendant was Lady Barnard, who was buried at Abingdou, Feb. 17, 1669-70. Dr. U:ilJ, her father, died Nov. 25, 1635, and her mother, July 11, 1649, and were bolb interred in Stratford cburch. Our poet's house and lands continued in the possession of bis descendants to tho time of the Restoration, when they were rc-purcbased by the Cloptna family, the original proprietors. Sir Hugh Cloplon, who was knighted by King George the First, died in 1751, and his executor sold the estate to a clergyman of large fortuue, who resided in it but a few years, and in consequence of a disagreement with his neighbours respecting a parochial assessment, peevishly pulled down the house, sold the materials, and left the town. To defeat the curiosity of the numerous strangers who were led to visit this classic ground, he had some time before cut down the mulberry-tree, which Shakspeare is known to have planted, and had piled it as a stack of firewood, to the great vexation, loss, and disappointment, of the inhabitants of Stratford. But an honest silversmith bought the whole slack, and converted it into a number of toys and implements, which were eagerly purchased by the curious. The purpose to which one of these trifles was applied gave rise to an occurrence, harmless, and perhaps laudable iu itself, though by many considered as verging on the mock-heroic. The corporation of Stratford having presented Garrick with the freedom of the town in a box made from the wood of the tree, this incident suggested to him the idea of a festival in commemoration of Shakspeare, upon the very spot where he was born; and the plan was carried into execution in the autumn of 1769. Temporary buildings were raised—entertainments suited to every taste were provided—and company of all ranks, from llie most distant parts of the kingdom, assembled to celebrate the memory of the poet. The jubilee lasted tbree days; but the weather was exceedingly unfavourable, and the pleasure enjoyed was by no means equal to tbat which the enthusiastic admirers of Shakspeare bad anticipated, though Garrick exerted all bis talents to gratify both the eye and the understanding. He composed several songs for music, with an ode of considerable length to the honour of his hero; and having expended a large sum of money upou various parts of the entertainment, took a method of reimbursing himself, which gives a laughable finale to this overflow of eothusi asm :—the jubilee was converted into a dramatic representation, during the following witilcr, in London, and became so popular, that it was repeated night after night to tbe most crowded audiences.
The nature and extent of Sbakspeare's biblical learning will form a necessary introduction to the review of bis dramatic writings; especially as there is no question connected with his history, upon which more ingenious speculation has been hazarded. There has always prevailed a tradition Unit Shakspeare wanted learning, aud Ben Jouson, who wrote at a time when the charactei and acquisitions of our poet were* known to multi