« ZurückWeiter »
But in whatever situation he was first employed at the theatre, he appears to have soon discovered those talents which afterwards made him
Th' applause, delight, the wonder of our stage! Some distinction he probably first acquired as an actor, although Mr. Rowe has not been able to discover any character in which he appeared to more advantage than that of the ghost in Hamlet. The instructions given to the player in that tragedy, and other passages of his works, show an intimate acquaintance with the skill of acting, and such as is scarcely surpassed in our own days. He appears to have studied nature in acting as much as in writing. But all this might have been mere theory. Mr. Malone is of opinion he was no great actor. The distinction, however, which he might obtain as an actor could only be in his own plays, in which he would be assisted by the novel appearance of author and actor combined. Before his time, it does
actor could avail himself of the wretched pieces repre. sented on the stage.
Mr. Rowe regrets that he cannot inform us which was the first play he wrote. More skilful research has since found, that Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II. and III. were printed in 1597, when he was thirty-three years old; there is also some reason to think that he commenced as a dramatic writer in 1592, and Mr. Malone even places his first play, “First Part of Henry VI.," in 1589. His plays, however, must have been not only popular, but approved by persons of the higher order, as we are certain, that he enjoyed the gracious favour of Queen Elizabeth, who was.very fond of the stage: and the particular and affectionate patronage of the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his poems of " Venus and Adonis," and his “ Tarquin and Lucrece.” On Sir William Davenant's authority, it has been asserted that this nobleman at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to complete a pur. chase. At the conclusion of the advertisement prefixed to Lintot's edition of Shakspeare's poems, it is said, " That most learned prince, and great patron of learning, King James the First, was pleased, with his own hand, to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakspeare; which letter, though now lost remained long in the hands of Sir William D'Avenant, as a credible person now living can testify.” Dr. Farmer with great probability supposes, that this letter was written by King James, in return for the compliment paid to him in Macbeth. The relater of this anecdote was Sheffield, Duke of Buck. ingham. These brief notices, meagre as they are, may show that our author enjoyed high favour in his day. Whatever we may think of King James as a "learned prince,” his patronage, as well as that of his predecessor, was suf. ficient to give celebrity to the founder of a new stage. It may be added, that his uncommon merit, his candour, and good-nature, are supposed to have procured him the admiration and acquaintance of every person distinguished for such qualities. It is not difficult, indeed, to suppose that Shakspeare was a man of humor, and a social companion, and probably excelled in that species of minor wit not ill adapted to conversation, of which it could have been wished he had been more sparing in his writings.
Iluw long he acted has not been discovered, but he continued to write till the year 1614. During his dramatic career he acquired a property in the theatre,' which he must have disposed of when he rciired, as no mention of it occurs in his will. His connection with Ben Jonson has been variously related. It is said, that when Jonson was unknown to the world, he offered a play to the theatre, which was rejected after a very careless perusal, but that Shakspeare having accidentally cast his eye on it, conceived a favorable opinion of it, and afterwards recommended Jonson and his writings to the public. For this candour he was repaid by Jonson, when the latter became a poet of note, with an envious disrespect. Jonson acquired reputation by the variety of his pieces, and endeavoured to arrogate the supremacy in dramatic genius. Like a French critic, he insinuated Shakspeare's incorrectness, his careless manner of writing, and his want of judgment; and, as he was a remarkably slow writer himself, he could not endure the praise frequently bestowed on Shakspeare, of seldom altering or blotting out what he had written. Mr. Malone
says, " that not long after the year 1600, a coolness arose between Shakspeare and him, which, however he may talk of his almost idolatrous affection, produced on his part, from that time to the death of our author, and for many years afterwards, much clumsy sarcasm, and many malevolent re. flections.” But from these, which are the commonly received opinions on this subject, Dr. Farmer is inclined to depart, and to think Jonson's hostility to Shakspeare absolutely groundless; so uncertain is every circumstance we attempt to recover of our great poet's life. Jonson had only one advantage over Shakspeare, that of superior learning, which might in certain situations give him a superior rank, but could never promote his rivalship with a man who attained the highest excellence without it. Nor will Shakspeare suffer by its being known, that all the dramatic poets before he appeared were scholars. Greene, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, Nashe, Lily, and Kyd, had all, says Mr. Malone, a regular university education; and, as scholars in our universi. ties, frequently composed and acted plays on historical subjects.?
The latter part of Shakspeare's life was spent in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had accumulated considerable property, which Gildon (in his “ Letters and Essays,” 1694) stated to amount to £300 per annum, a sum at least equal to £1000 in our days; but Mr. Malone doubts whether all his property amounted to much more than £200 per an. num, which yet was a considerable fortune in those times, and it is supposed that he might have derived £200 per annum from the theatre while he continued on the stage.
He retired some years before his death to a house in ord, of which it has been thought important to give the history. It was built by Sir Hugh
1 In 1603, he and several others obtained a licence from King James to exhibit comedies, tragedies, histories, &c., at the Globe Theatre and elsewhere.
2 This was the practice in Milton's days. “One of his objections to academical Education, as it was then conducted, is, that men designed for orders in the Church were perInitted to act plays," &c. Johnson's Life of Milton.
Clopton, a younger brother of an ancient family in that neighborhood. Sie Flugh was Sheriff of London in the reign of Richard III., and Lord Mayor in the reign of Henry VII. By his will, he bequeathed to his elder brother's
his manor of Clopton, &c., and his house by the name of the Great House in Stratford. A good part of the estate was in possession of Edward Clopton, Esq., and Sir Hugh Clopton, Knight, in 1733. The principal estate had been sold out of the Clopton family for above a century, at the time when Shak. speare became the purchaser; who having repaired and modelled it to his own mind, changed the name to New Place, which the mansion house, afterwards erected in the room of the poet's house, retained for many years. The house and lands belonging to it continued in the possession of Shakspeare's descendants to the time of the Restoration, when they were re-purchased by the Clopton family. Here, in May, 1742, when Mr. Garrick, Mr. Macklin, and Mr. Delane visited Stratford, they were hospitably entertained under Shakspeare's mulberry tree by Sir Hugh Clopton. He was a barrister at law, was knighted by King George I., and died in the 80th year of his age, in December, 1751. His executor, about the year 1752, sold New Place to the Rev. Mr. Gastrell, a man of large fortune, who resided in it but a few years, in consequence of a disagreement with the inhabitants of Stratford. As he resided part of the year at Litchfield, he thought he was assessed too highly in the monthly rate towards the maintenance of the poor; but being very properly compelled by the magistrates of Stratford to pay the whole of what was levied on him, on the principle that his house was occupied by his servants in his absence, he peevishly declared that that house should never be assessed again; and soon afterwards pulled it down, sold the materials, and left the town, He had some time before cut down Shakspeare's mulberry tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the classic ground on which it stood. That Shakspeare p'anted this tree appears to be sufficiently authenticated. Where New Place stood is now a garden. Before concluding this history, it may be necessary to mention, that the poet's house was once honored by the temporary residence of Henrietta Maria, queen to Charles I. Theobald has given an inaccurate account of this, as if she had been obliged to take refuge in Stratford from the rebels; but that was not the case. She marched from Newark, June 16, 1643, and entered Stratford triumphantly about the 22d of the same month, at the head of three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, with one hundred and fifty wagons, and a train of artillery. Here she was met by Prince Rupert, accompanied by a large body of troops. She resided about three weeks at our poet's house, which was then possessed by his granddaughter, Mrs. Nashe, and her husband.
Shakspeare died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, when he had just completed his fifty-second year, and was buried on the north side of the
3 The only notice we have of his person is from Aubrey, who says, “ he was a handsome, well-shaped man;" and adds, "verie good company, and of a very ready, and pleasant and smooth wit."
chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall, on which he is represented under an arch, in a sitting posture, a cushion spread before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left rested on a scroll of paper. The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion :
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Muronen,
Terra tegit, populus meret, Olympus habet, "To this Latin inscription on Shakspeare,” says Mr. Steevens,“ may be added the lines which are found underneath it on his monument:
Stay, passenger, why dost thou go so fast?
Obiit, Ano. Dni. 1616.
æt. 53, die 23 Apri. " It appears from the verses of Leonard Digges, that our author's monu. ment was erected before the year 1623. It has been engraved by Vertue, and in mezzotinto by Miller."
On his grave-stone, underneath, are these lines, in an uncouth mixture of small and capital letters:
Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forheare
moves my Bones,
It is uncertain whether this request and imprecation were written by Shakspeare, or by one of his friends. They probably allude to the custom of removing skeletons after a certain time, and depositing them in charnel. houses; and similar execrations are found in many ancient Latin epitaphs.
We have no account of the malady which, at no very advanced age, closed the life and labours of this unrivalled and incomparable genius.
His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father's favourite, was married to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1635, aged sixty. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged sixty-six. They left only one child, Elizabeth, born 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Bar. nard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire; but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died February, 1661-62, in her seventy-seventh year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried. Sir Hugh Clopton, who was born two years after the death of Lady Barnard, which happened in 1669-70, related to Mr. Macklin, in 1742, an old tradition, that she had carried away with her from Stratford, many of her grandfather's papers. On the death of Sir Jolin Barnard, Mļ. Malone thinks these must have fallen into the hands of Mr. Edward Bagley,
Lady Barnard's executor; and if any descendant of that gentleman be not living, in his custody they probably remain.
In the year 1741, a monument was erected to our poet in Westminster Abbey, by the direction of the Earl of Burlington, Dr. Mead, Mr. Pope, and Mr. Martyn. It was the work of Scheemaker, (who received £300 for it) after a design of Kent, and was opened in January of that year. The performers of each of the London theatres gave a benefit to defray the expenses, and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster took nothing for the ground. The money received by the performance at Drury Lane theatre amounted to above £200, but the receipts at Covent Garden did not exceed £100.
From these imperfect notices, which are all we have been able to collect from the labours of his biographers and commentators, our readers will perceive that less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been considered as an object of laudable curiosity. Nothing could be more highly gratifying than an account of the early studies of this wonderful man, the progress of his pen, his moral and social qualities, his friendships, his failings, and whatever else constitutes personal history. But on all these topics his contemporaries and his immediate successors have been equally silent, and if aught can be hereafter discovered, it must be by exploring sources which have hitherto escaped the anxious researches of those who have devoted their whole lives, and their most vigorous talents, to revive his memory and illustrate his writings. In the sketch we have given, if the dates of his birth and death be excepted, what is there on which the reader can depend, or for which, if he contend eagerly, he may not be involved in controversy, and perplexed with contradictory opinions and authorities ?
Much of our ignorance of every thing which it would be desirable to know respecting Shakspeare's works, must be imputed to the author himself. If we look merely at the state in which he left his productions, we should be apt to conclude, either that he was insensible of their value, or that, while he was the greatest, he was at the same time the humblest writer the world ever produced—“that he thought his works unworthy of posterity—that he levied no ideal tribute upon future times, nor had any farther prospect, than that of present popularity and present profit.” And such an opinion, although it apparently partakes of the ease and looseness of conjecture, may not be far from probability. But before we allow it any higher merit, or attempt to decide upon the affection or neglect with which he reviewed his labours, it may be necessary to consider their precise nature, and certain circumstances in his situation which affected them; and, above all, we must take into our account the character and predominant occupations of the times in which he lived, and of those which followed his decease.
With respect to himself, it does not appear that he printed any one of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his lifetirac. The reason assigned for this is, that he wrote them for a particular theatre, sold them to
4 Dr. Johnson's Preface.