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drawn across it; and a sort of balcony in the rear enabled the writer to represent his characters at a window, on the platform of a castle, or on an elevated terrace.
To this simplicity, and to these deficiencies, we doubtless owe some of the finest passages in our early. plays; for it was part of the business of the dramatist to supply the absence of coloured canvas by grandeur and luxuriance of description. The ear was thus made the substitute for the eye, and the poet's pen, aided by the auditor's imagination, more than supplied the place of the painter's brush. Moveable scenery was unknown in our public theatres until after the Restoration; and, as has been observed elsewhere, " the introduction of it gives the date to the commencement of the decline of our dramatic poetry.”
How far propriety of costume was regarded, we have no sufficient means of deciding; but we apprehend that more attention was paid to it than has been generally supposed, or than was accomplished at a much later and more refined period. It is indisputable, that often in this department no outlay was spared: the most costly dresses were purchased, that characters might be consistently habited; and, as a single proof, we may mention, that sometimes more than 201. were given for a cloak,” an enormous price, when it is recollected that money was then five or six times as valuable as at present.
We bave thus briefly stated all that seems absolutely required to give the reader a correct notion of the state of the English drama and stage at the period when, according to the best judgment we can form from such evidence as remains to us, Shakespeare advanced to a forward place among the dramatists of the day. As long ago as 1679, Dryden gave currency to the notion, which we have shown to be mistaken, that Shakespeare “ created first the stage,” and he repeated it in 1692: it is not necessary to the just admiration of our noble dramatist, that we should do injustice to his predecessors or earlier contemporaries : on the contrary, his miraculous powers are best to be estimated by a comparison with his ablest rivals ; and if he appear not greatest when his works are placed beside those of Marlowe, Greene, Peele, or Lodge, however distinguished their rank as dramatists, and however deserved their popularity, we shall be content to think, that for more than two centuries the world has been under a delusion as to his claims. He rose to eminence, and he maintained it, amid struggles for equality by men of high genius and varied talents; and with his example ever since before us, no poet of our own, or of any other country, has even approached his excellence. Shakespeare is greatest by a comparison with greatness, or he is nothing.
1 “History of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage," vol. iii., p. 366. 2 See “ The Alleyn Papers," printed by the Shakespeare Society,
3 In his Prologue to the alteration of "Troilus and Cressida," 1679, he puts these lines into the mouth of the Ghost of Shakespeare :
“Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age,
I found not, but created first the stage. In the dedication of the translation of Juvenal, thirteen years afterwards, Dryden repeats the same assertion in nearly the same words; "he created the stage among us." Shakespeare did not create the stage, and least of all did he create it such as it existed in the time of Dryden: “it was, in truth, created by no one man, and in no one age; and whatever improvements Shakespeare introduced, when he began to write for the theatre our romantic drama was completely formed, and firmly established,"-Pref. to “ The Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage,” vol. i., p. xi
No Shakespeare advanced or rewarded by Henry VII. An
tiquity of the Shakespeares in Warwickshire, &c. Earliest occurrence of the name at Stratford-upon-Avon. The Trade of John Shakespeare. Richard Shakespeare of Spitterfield, probably father to John Shakespeare, and certainly tenant to Robert Arden, father of John Shakespeare's wife. Robert Arden's seven daughters. Antiquity and property of the Arden family. Marriage of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden : their circumstances. Purchase of two houses in Stratford by John Shakespeare. His progress in the corporation.
It has been supposed that some of the paternal ancestors of William Shakespeare were advanced, and rewarded with lands and tenements in Warwickshire, for services rendered to Henry VIL The rolls of that reign have been recently most carefully searched, and the name of Shakespeare, according to any mode of spelling it, does not occur in them. 4 Many Shakespeares were resident in different parts of Warwickshire, as well as in some of the adjoining counties, at an early date. The register of the Guild of St. Anne of Knolle, or Knowle, beginning in 1407 and ending in 1535, when it was dissolved, contains various repetitions of the name, during the reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., Richard III., Henry VII, and Henry VIII: we there find a Thomas Shakespere of Balishalle, or Balsal, Thomas Chacsper and John Shakespeyre of Rowington, Richard Shakspere of Woldiche, together with Joan, Jane, and William Shakespeare, of places not mentioned : an Isabella Shakspere is also there stated to have been priorissa de Wraxale in the 19th Henry VII. The Shakespeares of Wroxal, of Rowington, and of Balsal, are mentioned by Malone, as well as other persons of the same name at Claverdon and Hampton. He carries back his information regarding the Shakespeares of Warwick no higher than 1602, but a William Shakespeare was drowned in the Avon near Warwick in 1574, a John Shakespeare was resident on “ the High Pavement” in 1578, and a Thomas Shakespeare in the same place in 1585.
1 On the authority of a grant of arms from the Herald's College to John Shakespeare, which circumstance is considered hereafter.
The earliest date at which we hear of a Shakespeare in the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon is 17th June, 1555, when Thomas Siche instituted a proceeding in the court of the bailiff, for the recovery of the sum of 8l. from John Shakespeare, who has always been taken to be the father of our great dramatist. Thomas Siche was of Arlescote, or Arscotte, in Worcestershire, and in the Latin record of the suit John Shakespeare is called “glover," in English. Taking it for granted, as we have every reason to do,
that this John Shakespeare was the father of the poet, the document satisfied Malone that he was a glover, and not a butcher, as Aubrey had affirmed, nor a dealer in wool, as Rowe had stated. We think that Malone was right, and the testimony is unquestionably more positive and authen
1 For this information we are indebted to Mr. Staunton, of Longbridge House,
near Warwick, the owner of the original Registerium Frairum et Sororum Gilde Sancte Anne de Knolle, a. MS. upon vellum.
2 For the circumstance of the drowning of the namesake of our poet, we are obliged to the Rev. Joseph Hunter. Mr. Charles Dickens was good enough to be the medium of the information respecting the Shakespeares of Warwick, transmitted from Mr. Sandys, who derived it from the land-revenue records of the respective periods.
3 Aubrey's words, in his MS. in the Ashmolean Museum, at Oxford, are these :-“William Shakespeare's father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade ; but when he killed a calf, he would do it in a high style, and make a speech." This tradition certainly does not read like truth, and at what date Aubrey obtained his information has not been ascertained : Malone conjectured that Aubrey was in Stratford about 1680 : he died about 1700, and, in all probability, obtained his knowledge from the same source as the writer of a letter, dated April 10, 1693, to Mr. Edward South well, printed in 1638. It appears from hence that the parish clerk of Stratford, who was “above eighty years old" in 1693, had told Mr. Ed. ward Southwell's correspondent that William Shakespeare had been “bound apprentice to a butcher ;' but he did not say that his father was a butcher, nor did he add any thing as absurd as Aubrey subjoins, respecting the killing of a calf “in a high style."
4 Rowe is supposed to have derived his materials from Betterton, the actor, who died in 1710, and who, it is said, went to Stratford tó collect such particulars as could be obtained : the date of his visit is not known.