« ZurückWeiter »
understand how he could have spoken as he often does, "without some study in the law; but, as he seems thoroughly at home in the specialties of many callings, it is possible his knowledge in the law may have grown from the large part his father had, either as magistrate or as litigant, in legal transactions. I am sure he either studied divinity or else had a strange gift of knowing it without studying it; and his ripeness in the knowledge of disease and of the healing art is a standing marvel to the medical faculty.
Knight has speculated rather copiously and romantically upon the idea of Shakespeare's having been a spectator of the more-than-royal pomp and pageantry with which the Queen was entertained by Leicester at Kenilworth in 1575. Stratford was fourteen miles from Kenilworth, and the Poet was then eleven years old. That his ears were assailed and his imagination excited by the fame of that magnificent display cannot be doubted, for all that part of the kingdom was laid under contribution to supply it, and was resounding with the noise of it; but his father was not of a rank to be summoned or invited thither, nor was he of an age to go thither without his father. Positive evidence either way on the point there is none; nor can I discover any thing in his plays that would fairly infer him to have drunk in the splendour of that occasion, however the fierce attractions thereof may have kindled a mind so brimful of poetry and life. The whole matter is an apt theme for speculation, and for nothing else.
The gleanings of tradition apart, the first knowledge that has reached us of the Poet, after his baptism, has reference to his marriage. Rowe tells us that "he thought fit to marry while he was very young," and that "his wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." These statements are borne out by later disclosures. The marriage took place in the Fall of 1582, when the Poet was in his nineteenth year. On the 28th of November, that year Fulk Sandels and John Richardson subscribed a bond whereby they became liable in the sum of £ 40, to be forfeited to the Bishop of Worcester in case there should be found any lawful impediment to the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, of Stratford; the object being to procure such a dispensation from the Bishop as would authorize the ceremony after once publishing the banns. The original bond is preserved at Worcester, with the marks and seals of the two bondsmen affixed, and also bearing a seal with the initials R. H., as if to show that some legal representative of the bride's father, Richard Hathaway, was present and consenting to the act. There was nothing peculiar in the transaction; the bond is just the same as was usually given in such cases, and several others like it are to be seen at the office of the Worcester registry.
The parish books all about Stratford and Worcester have been ransacked, but no record of the marriage has been discovered. The probability is, that the ceremony took place in some one of the neighbouring parishes where the registers of that period have not been preserved.
Anne Hathaway was of Shottery, a pleasant village situate within an easy walk of Stratford, and belonging to the same parish. No record of her baptism has come to light, but the baptismal register of Stratford did not begin till 1558. She died on the 6th of August, 1623, and the inscription on her monument gives her age as sixty-seven years. Her birth, therefore, must have been in 1556, eight years before that of her husband.
From certain precepts, dated in 1566, and lately found among the papers of the Stratford Court of Record, it appears that the relations between John Shakespeare and Richard Hathaway were of a very friendly sort. Hathaway's will was made September 1, 1581, and proved July 19, 1582, which shows him to have died a few months before the marriage of his daughter Anne. The will makes good what Rowe says of his being " a substantial yeoman." He appoints Fulk Sandels one of the supervisors of his will, and among the witnesses to it is the name of William Gilbert, then curate of Stratford. One item of the will is: "I owe unto Thomas Whittington, my shepherd, £ 4 6 s. 8 Whittington died in 1601; and in his will he gives and bequeaths "unto the poor people of Stratford 40 s. that is in the hand of Anne Shakespeare, wife unto Mr. William Shakespeare." The careful old shepherd had doubtless placed the money in Anne Shakespeare's hand for safe keeping, she being a person in whom he had confidence.
The Poet's match was evidently a love-match: whether the love was of that kind which forms the best pledge of wedded happiness, is another question. It is not unlikely that the marriage may have been preceded by the ancient ceremony of troth-plight, or handfast, as it was sometimes called; like that which almost takes place between Florizel and Perdita in The Winter's Tale, and quite takes place between Olivia and Sebastian in Twelfth Night. The custom of troth-plight was much used in that age, and for a long time after. In some places it had the force and effect of an actual marriage. Serious evils, however, sometimes grew out of it; and the Church of England did wisely, no doubt, in uniting the troth-plight and the marriage in one and the same ceremony. Whether such solemn betrothment had or had not taken place between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, it is certain from the parish register that they had a daughter, Susanna, baptized on the 26th of May, 1583.
Some of the Poet's later biographers and critics have supposed he was not happy in his marriage. Certain passages of his plays, especially the charming dialogue between the Duke and the disguised Viola in Act ii., scene 4, of Twelfth Night, have been cited as involving some reference to the Poet's own case, or as having been suggested by what himself had experienced of the evils resulting from the wedlock of persons "misgraffed in respect of years." There was never any thing but sheer conjecture for this notion. Rowe mentions nothing of the kind; and we may be sure that his candour would not have spared the Poet, had tradition offered him any such matter. As for the passages in question, I know no reason for excepting them from the acknowledged purity and disinterestedness of the Poet's representations; where nothing is more remarkable, or more generally commended, than his singular aloofness of self, his perfect freedom from every thing bordering upon egotism.
Our Mr. White is especially hard upon the Poet's wife, worrying up the matter against her, and fairly tormenting the poor woman's memory. Now the facts about the marriage are just precisely as I have stated them. I confess they are not altogether such as I should wish them to have been; but I can see no good cause why prurient inference or speculation should busy itself in going behind them. If, however, conjecture must be at work on those facts, surely it had better run in the direction of charity, especially as regards the weaker vessel. I say weaker vessel, because in this case the man must in common fairness be supposed to have had the advantage at least as much in natural strength of understanding as the woman had in years. And as Shakespeare was, by all accounts, a very attractive person, it is not quite clear why she had not as good a right to lose her heart in his company as he had to lose his in hers. Probably she was as much smitten as he was; and we may well remember in her behalf, that love's "favourite seat is feeble woman's breast"; especially as there is not a particle of evidence that her life after marriage was ever otherwise than clear and honourable. And indeed it will do no hurt to remember in reference to them both, how
In support of his view, Mr. White urges, among other things, that most foul and wicked fling which Leontes, in his mad rapture of jealousy, makes against his wife, in Act i. scene 2, of The Winter's Tale. He thinks the Poet could not have written that and other strains of like import, but that he was stung into doing so by his own bitter experience of "sorrow and shame"; and the argument is that, supposing him to have had such a root of bitterness in his life, he must have been thinking of that while writing those passages. The obvious answer is, To be sure, he must have been thinking of that; but then he must have known that others would think of it too; and a reasonable delicacy on his part would have counselled the withholding of any thing that he was conscious might be applied to his own domestic affairs. Sensible men do not write in their public pages such things as would be almost sure to breed or foster scandal about their own names or their own homes. The man that has a secret cancer on his person will naturally be the last to speak of cancers in reference to others. I can hardly think Shakespeare was so wanting in a sense of propriety as to have written the passages in question, but that he knew no man could say he was exposing the foulness of his own nest. So that my inferences in the matter are just the reverse of Mr. White's. As for the alleged need of personal experience in order to the writing of such things, why should not this hold just as well in regard, for instance, to Lady Macbeth's pangs of guilt? Shakespeare's prime characteristic was, that he knew the truth of Nature in all such things without the help of personal experience.
Mr. White presumes, moreover, that Anne Shakespeare was a coarse, low, vulgar creature, such as, the fascination of the honeymoon once worn off, the Poet could not choose but loath and detest; and that his betaking himself to London was partly to escape from her hated society. This, too, is all sheer conjecture, and rather lame at that. That Shakespeare was more or less separated from his wife for a number of years, cannot indeed be questioned; but that he ever found or ever sought relief or comfort in such separation, is what we have no warrant for believing. It was