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growing; and he might well see, in their fellowship, a chance of retrieving, as he did retrieve, his father's fortune.
Of course there need be no question that Shakespeare held at first a subordinate rank in the theatre. Dowdal, writing in 1693, tells us "he was received into the playhouse as a servitor "; which probably means that he started as an apprentice to some actor of standing, — a thing not unusual at the time. It will readily be believed that he could not be in such a place long without recommending himself to a higher one. As for the well-known story of his being reduced to the extremity of "picking up a little money by taking care of the gentlemen's horses that came to the play," I cannot perceive the slightest likelihood of truth in it. The first we hear of it is in The Lives of the Poets, written by a Scotchman named Shiels, and published under the name of Cibber, in 1753. The story is there said to have passed through Rowe in coming to the writer. If so, then Rowe must have discredited it, else, surely, he would not have omitted so remarkable a passage. Be that as it may, the station which the Poet's family had long held at Stratford, and the fact of his having influential friends at . hand from Warwickshire, are enough to stamp it as an arrant fiction.
We have seen that the company of Burbadge and his fellows held a patent under the great seal, and in 1587 took the title of "The Lord Chamberlain's Servants." Eleven years before this time, in 1576, they had started the Blackfriars theatre, so named from a monastery that had formerly stood on or near the same ground. Hitherto the several bands of players had made use of halls, or temporary erections in the streets or the inn-yards, stages being set up, And the spectators standing below, or occupying galleries about the open space. In 1577, two other playhouses were in operation; and still others sprang up from time to time. The Blackfriars and some others were without the limits of the corporation, in what were called "the Liberties." The Mayor and Aldermen of London were from the first decidedly hostile to all such establishments, and did their best to exclude them the City and Liberties; but the Court, many of the chief nobility, and, which was still more, the common people favoured them. The whole mind indeed of Puritanism was utterly down on stage-plays of all sorts and in every shape. But it did not go to work the right way: it should have stopped off the demand for them. This, however, it could not do; for the Drama was at that time, as it long had been, an intense national passion: the people would have plays, and could not be converted from the love of them.
From what we shall presently see, it would be unreasonable not to suppose, that by the year 1590 the Poet was well started in his dramatic career; and that the effect of his cunning labours was beginning even then to be felt by his senior fellows in that line. Allowing him to have entered the theatre in 1586, when he was twenty-two years of age, he must have made good use of his time, and worked onwards with surprising speed, during those four years; though whether he got ahead more by his acting or his writing, we have no certain knowledge. In tragic parts, none of the company could shine beside the younger Burbadge; while Greene, and still more Kempe, another of the band, left small chance of distinction in comic parts. Aubrey, as before quoted, tells us that Shakespeare "was a handsome, well-shaped man," which is no slight matter on the stage; and adds, "He did act exceedingly well." Rowe "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. " But this part, to be fairly dealt with, requires an actor of no mean powers; and as Burbadge is known to have played the Prince, we may presume that "the Majesty of buried Denmark" would not be cast upon very inferior hands. That the Poet was master of the theory of acting, and could tell, none better, how the thing ought to be done, is evident enough from Hamlet's instructions to the players. But it nowise follows that he could perform his own instructions.
Let us see now how matters stood some two years later. One of the most popular and most profligate playwriters of that time was Robert Greene, who, having been reduced to beggary, and forsaken by his companions, died miserably at the house of a poor shoemaker, in September, 1592. Shortly after he died, his Gratsworth of Wit was given to the public by Henry Chettle. Near the close of this tract, Greene makes an address "to those gentlemen his quondam acquaintance, who spend their wits in making plays," exhorting them to desist from such pursuits. One of those "gentlemen" was Christopher Marlowe, distinguished alike for poetry, profligacy, and profanity; the others were Thomas Lodge and George Peele. Greene here vents a deal of fury against the players, alleging that they have all been beholden to him, yet have now forsaken him; and from thence inferring that the three worthies whom he is exhorting will fare no better at their hands. After which he goes on thus: "Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that, with his 'tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide,' supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank-verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."
Here the spiteful fling at Shakespeare is unmistakable, and nobody questions that he is the "Shake-scene" of the passage. The terms of the allusion yield conclusive evidence as to how the Poet stood in 1592. Though sneered at as a player, it is plain that he was already throwing the other playwriters into the shade, and making their labours cheap. Blank-verse was Marlowe's special forte, and some of his dramas show no little skill in the use of it, though the best part of that skill was doubtless caught from Shakespeare; but here was "an upstart" from the country who was able to rival him in his own line. Moreover, this Shakescene was a Do-all, a Johannes Fac-totum, who could turn his hand to any thing; and his readiness to undertake what none others could do so well naturally drew upon him the imputation of conceit from those who envied his rising, and whose lustre was growing dim in his light.
It appears that both Shakespeare and Marlowe were offended at the liberties thus taken with them. For, before the end of that same year, Chettle published a tract entitled Kind Hearts Dream, wherein we have the following: "With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted; and with one of them [Marlowe] I care not if I never be: the other I did not so much spare as since I wish I had; because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes: besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art."
On the whole, we can readily pardon the malice of Greene's assault for the sake of this tribute, which it was the means of drawing forth, to Shakespeare's character as a man and his cunning as a poet. The words "excellent in the quality he professes," refer most likely to the Poet's acting; while the term facetious is used, apparently, not in the sense it now bears, but in that of felicitous or happy, as was common at that time. So it seems that Shakespeare already had friends in London, some of them "worshipful," too, who were strongly commending him as a poet, and who were prompt to remonstrate with Chettle against the mean slur cast upon him.
This naturally starts the inquiry, what dramas the Poet had then written, to earn such praise. Greene speaks of him as "beautified with our feathers." Probably there was at least some plausible colour of truth in this charge. The charge, I have no doubt, refers mainly to the Second and Third Parts of King Henry the Sixth. The two plays on which these were founded were published, respectively, in 1594 and 1595, their titles being, The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of York and Lancaster, and The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York. In the form there given, the plays have, as Mr. White has clearly shown, along with much of Shakespeare's work, many unquestionable marks of Greene's hand. All those marks, however, were disciplined out of them, as they have come down to us in Shakespeare's works. There can be no doubt, then, that Greene, and perhaps Marlowe also, had a part in them as they were printed in 1594 and 1595, though no author's name was then given. Now it was much the custom at that time for several playwrights to work together. Of this we have many well-authenticated instances. The most likely conclusion, therefore, is, that these two plays in their original form were the joint workmanship of Shakespeare, Greene, and Marlowe. Perhaps, however, there was a still older form of the plays, written entirely by Marlowe and Greene; which older form Shakespeare, some time before Greene's death, may have taken in hand, and recast, retaining more or less of their matter, and working it in with his own nobler stuff; for this was often done also. Or, again, it may be that, before the time in question, Shakespeare, not satisfied to be joint author with them, had rewritten the plays, and purged them of nearly all matter but what he might justly claim as his own; thus making them as we now have them.
As regards the occasion of Greene's assault, it matters little which of these views we take, as in either case his charge would have some apparent ground of truth. It is further probable that the same course of remark would apply more or less to The Taming of the Shrew, and perhaps also to Titus Andronicus, and the original form of Pericles. At all events, I have no doubt that these five plays, together with the First Part of King Henry the Sixth, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Lovers Labour's Lost, in its first form, were all written before the time of Greene's death. Perhaps the first shape, also, of Romeo and Juliet should be added to this list.
My reasons for this opinion are too long to be stated