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in the country, dated 20th October, 1603, she tells him that she had seen “Mr. Shakespeare of the Globe” in Southwark ”. At this date, according to the same authority, most of the companies of players who had left London for the provinces, on account of the prevalence of the plague, and the consequent cessation of dramatic performances, had returned to the metropolis; and it is not at all unlikely that Shakespeare was one of those who had returned, having taken the opportunity of visiting his family at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Under Elizabeth the children of the Chapel (originally the choir-boys of the royal establishment) had become an acknowledged company of players; and these, besides an association of adult performers, Queen Anne took under her immediate patronage, with the style of “the Children of her Majesty's Revels,” requiring that the pieces they proposed to represent should first be submitted to, and have the approval of the celebrated poet Samuel Daniel. The instrument of their appointment bears date 30th January, 1603-4; and from a letter from Daniel to his patron, Sir Thomas Egerton, preserved among his papers, we may perhaps conclude that Shakespeare, as well as Michael Drayton, had been candidates for the post of master of the Queen's revels : he says in it, “I cannot but know, that I am lesse deserving than some that sued by other of the nobility unto her Majestie for this roome ;” and, after introducing the name of “his good friend,” Drayton, he adds the following, which, we apprehend, refers with sufficient distinctness to Shakespeare “It seemeth to myne humble judgement, that one who is the authour of playes, now daylie presented on the public stages of London, and the possessor of no small gaines, and moreover him selfe an actor in the Kinges companie of comedians, could not with reason pretend to be Master of the Queene's Majesties Revells, for as much as he wold sometimes be asked to approve and allow of his own writings.”
This objection would have applied with equal force to Drayton, had we not every reason to believe that before this date he had ceased to be a dramatic author. He had been a constant writer for Henslowe and Alleyn's company during several years at the Rose on the Bankside; but he seems to have relinquished that species of composition about a year prior to the demise of Elizabeth, the last piece in which he was concerned, of which we have any intelligence, being noticed by Henslowe under the date of May, 1602 : this play was called “Two Harpies,” and he was assisted in it by Dekker, Middleton, Webster, and Munday*.
3 See the “ Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,” printed for the Shakespeare Society, p. 63. These words were clearly visible when we saw the letter in the year 1840, but the paper was much decayed.
It is highly probable that Shakespeare was a suitor for this office, in contemplation of his speedy retirement as an actor. We have already spoken of the presumed excellence of his personations on the stage, and of the tradition that he was the original player of the part of the Ghost in “Hamlet.” Another character he is said to have sustained is Adam, in “As you like it ;” and his brother Gilbert, (who in 1602 had received, on behalf of William Shakespeare, the 107 acres of land purchased from William and John Combe) who probably survived the Restoration, is supposed to have been the author of this tradition . Our great poet had acted also in Ben Jonson’s “Every Man in his Humour,” in 1598, after (as we believe) introducing it to the company; and he is supposed to have written part of, as well as known to have performed in, the same author's “Sejanus,” in 1603o. This is the last we hear of Shakespeare upon the stage, but that he continued a member of the company until April 9, 1604, we have the evidence of a document preserved at Dulwich College, where the names of the King's players are enumerated in the following order : - Burbadge,
Burbadge, Shakespeare, Fletcher, Phillips, Condell, Heminge, Armyn, Sly, Cowley, Ostler, and Day'. If Shakespeare had not then actually ceased to perform, we need not hesitate in deciding that he quitted that department of the profession very shortly afterwards.
4 Henslowe's Diary, p. 222. From the imperfect writing it is not easy to make out whether the drama was “ Two Harpies or “ Two Harps :" it stands as “ Too harpes ” in the original MS. ; and the name seems unfortunately to have been omitted in the index to the impression by the Shakespeare Society.
5 See the Introduction to “ As you like it,” Vol. ii. p. 351.
6 From lines preceding it, in the 4to, 1605, we know that it was brought out at the Globe; and Ben Jonson admits that it was ill received by the audience, for he says in the dedication, that his play“ suffered no less violence from our people here, than the subject of it did from the people of Rome.”
7 See the " Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,” 8vo, 1841, p. 68. The list of performers is appended to a letter from Lord Nottingham and five other members of the Privy Council to the Lord Mayor of London, requiring him to permit the three companies of the King, Queen, and Prince of Wales to act at the Globe, at the Fortune, and at the Curtain theatres.
Immediate consequences of Shakespeare's retirement. Offences given by the
company to the court, and to private individuals. “ Gowry's Conspiracy :" “ Biron's Conspiracy” and “Tragedy.” The Gunpowder Plot, and an original letter from John Marston offering to disclose it: letter from Ben Jonson on the same subject. Suspension of theatrical performances. Purchase of a lease of the tithes of Stratford, &c., by Shakespeare. “ Hamlet” printed in 1603 and 1604. Henry VIII.”
“ Macbeth." Supposed autograph letter of King James to Shakespeare. Susanna Shakespeare and John Hall married in 1607. Death of Edmund Shakespeare in the same year. Edward Shakespeare. Death of Mary Shakespeare in 1608. Shakespeare's great popularity : rated to the poor of Southwark.
No sooner had our great dramatist ceased to take part in the public performances of the King's players, than the company appears to have thrown off the restraint by which it had been usually controlled ever since its formation, and to have produced plays which were objectionable to the court, as well as offensive to private persons. Shakespeare, from his abilities, station, and experience, must have possessed great influence with the body at large, and due deference, we may readily believe, was shown to his knowledge and judgment in the selection and acceptance of plays sent in for approbation by authors of the time. The contrast between the conduct of the association immediately before, and immediately after his retirement, would lead us to conclude, not only that he was a man of prudence and discretion, but that the exercise of these qualities had in many instances kept his fellows from incurring the displeasure of persons in power, and from exciting the animosity of particular individuals. We suppose Shakespeare to have ceased to act in the summer of 1604, and in the winter of that very year we find the King's players giving offence to "some great counsellors” by performing a play upon the subject of Gowry's conspiracy. This fact we have upon the evidence of one of Sir R. Winwood's correspondents, John Chamberlaine, who, in a letter, dated 18th December, 1604, uses these expressions :-"The tragedy of Gowry, with all action and actors, hath been twice represented by the King's players, with exceeding concourse of all sorts of people; but whether the matter or manner be not well handled, or that it be thought unfit that princes should be played on the stage in their lifetime, I hear that some great counsellors are much displeased with it, and so, it is thought, it shall be forbidden." Whether it was so forbidden we do not hear upon the same or any other authority, but no such drama has come down to us.
In the next year (at what particular part of it is not stated) Sir Leonard Haliday, then Lord Mayor of London, backed no doubt by his brethren of the corporation, made a complaint against the same company, “that Kempe, (who at this date had rejoined the association) Armyn, and others, players at the Blackfriars, have again not forborne to bring upon their stage one or more of the worshipful aldermen of the city of London, to the great scandal and the lessening of their authority;" and the interposition of the privy council to prevent the abuse was therefore solicited ®. What was done in consequence, if anything were done, does not appear in
any extant document.
In the spring of the next year a still graver charge was brought against the body of actors of whom Shakespeare, until very recently, had been one; and it originated in no less a person than the French ambassador. George Chapmano had written two plays upon the conspiracy and execution
8 This piece of information was communicated by Mr. Woodthorpe, town-clerk of the city of London, but from whence he copied it is not stated, nor was the result of the complaint found in the record to which he referred. It puts an end to the notion that the William Kempe “a man,” buried at St. Saviour's, Southwark, on the 2 Nov. 1603, was William Kempe the comedian. He died, however, before 1609 : see the “Memoirs of Shakespeare's Actors,” p. 118.
9 We may here notice two productions by this great and various author, one of which is mentioned by Ant. Wood (Ath. Oxon. edit. Bliss. Vol. ii. p. 575), and the other by Warton (Hist. Engl. Poetr. Vol. iv. p. 276, edit. 8vo), on the authority merely of the Stationers' registers ; but none of our literary antiquaries seem to have been able to meet with them. They are both in existence. The first is a defence of his “ Andromeda Liberata," 1614, which he wrote in celebration of the marriage of the Earl of Somerset and the Countess of Essex, which Chapman tells us had been “most maliciously misinterpreted :" it is called “A free and offenceless Justification” of his poem, and it was printed in 1614. It is chiefly in prose, but at the end is a dialogue in rhyme, between Pheme and Theodines, the last being meant for Chapman : Wood only supposes that Chap-man wrote it, but if he had read it he could have entertained no doubt. It appears that Somerset himself had conceived that “Andromeda Liberata" a covert attack upon him, and from this notion Chapman was naturally anxious to relieve himself. The poetical dialogue is thus opened by Pheme, and sufficiently explains the object of the writer :
“ Ho, you! Theodines ! you must not dreame
Y’are thus dismist in peace: seas too extreame
of the Duke of Biron, containing, in the shape in which they were originally produced on the stage, such matter that M. Beaumont, the representative of the King of France in London, thought it necessary to remonstrate against the repetition, and the performance of it was prohibited: as soon, however, as the court had quitted London, the King's players persisted in acting it; in consequence of which three of the parties were arrested, (their names are not given) but the author made his escape. These two dramas were printed in 1608, and again in 1625; and looking through them, we are at a loss to discover anything, beyond the historical incidents, which could have given offence; but the truth certainly is, that all the objectionable portions were omitted in the press : there can be no doubt, on the authority of the despatch from the French ambassador to his court, that one of the dramas originally contained a scene in which the Queen of France and Mademoiselle Verneuil were introduced, the former, after having abused her, giving the latter a box on the ear.
This information was conveyed to Paris under the date of the 5th April, 1606; and the French ambassador, apparently in order to make his court acquainted with the lawless character of dramatic performances at that date in England, adds a very singular paragraph, proving that the King's players, only a few days before they had brought the Queen of France upon the stage, had not hesitated to introduce upon the same boards their own reigning sovereign in a most
Your Perseus is displeas’d, and sleighteth now
Wishing unpublisht your unpopular song.' The other production, of which our knowledge has also hitherto been derived from the Stationers' registers, is called “ Petrarch's Seven Penitentiall Psalms, paraphrastically translated,” with other poems of a miscellaneous kind at the end : it was printed in small 8vo, in 1612, dedicated to Sir Edward Phillips, Master of the Rolls, where Chapman speaks of his yet unfinished translation of Homer, which, he adds, the Prince of Wales had commanded him to complete. The editor of the present work has a copy of Chapman's “ Memorable Masque” on the marriage of the Palsgrave and Princess Elizabeth, corrected by the poet in his own hand; but the errors are few, and not very important. The Rev. Richard Hooper, M.A. and F.S.A., has recently superintended a beautiful and very accurate edition of Chapman's Poetical Works, with his versions of the Iliad and Odyssey, to be followed by his Homeric Hymns and miscellaneous productions, including those above mentioned.