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Shakspere; the man himself is hidden behind the creations of his genius; he drops his self-hood for the time, and becomes the various characters of the play. By his surpassing poetic sympathy with every phase of human nature he veils his own personality most effectually. He reveals humanity with such disinterestedness, that he fails to reveal himself. If there had been anything narrow, partial, small in his genius, he must have shown it in some inevitable one-sidedness. He accepts the universe, he mirrors every aspect of human nature in his art ; and so in studying his poems we are unable to decide his personal character and mode of life. Of course we know the best of him by our acquaintance with his genius; but our very reverence for his genius makes us anxious to know some of the details of his history. Let us, then, gather up the few facts we do know of the life of Shakspere.
These few facts give us more information about his surroundings than about Shakspere himself. But even this is valuable. The kind of soil in which a tree is planted and the climate in which it grows have great influence upon its development. The greatest man is the child of his age, is influenced by his education, and largely formed by his environment. Born in a different age or under other circumstances he might still have been great, but most likely in a different direction. And, remembering this, we must not too much undervalue these few details of Shakspere's history.
BIRTH AND BOYHOOD.
The first thing we love to say about Shakspere is that he was an Englishman. It was our England that gave him birth; it was in our fair Warwickshire he first learnt to love nature ; it was in our great metropolis he wrote his dramas; it was in a peaceful English town he spent the last five years of his life; it is one of our beautiful churches that holds his sacred dust; and, above all, it is our noble English tongue in which the creations of his genius are clothed. And he himself gloried to be an Englishman ; his universal sympathy was quite compatible with the truest patriotism. In a number of his plays English history is set to music; they have been appropriately called our English Epic ; and the Duke of Marlborough said he knew nothing of his national history but what he learnt from the pages of Shakspere. In King Richard II. we have that famous patriotic utterance of John of Gaunt:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
His native county of Warwickshire has been called the heart of England,' and amidst its peaceful scenery he gained his intimate knowledge of country life and his tender love of wild flowers. Throughout his plays he extols the healing, calming, restoring influences of nature. In As You Like It he transports the men and women, one by one, away from the turmoils and jealousies and meannesses of the court into the spacious forest, under the greenwood tree; and in the presence of nature's peace and beauty old animosities are healed, friendships restored and wounded hearts made whole. He has often been called the poet of humanity, and just as truly is he the poet of nature. Our best known English flowers are enshrined in his verse with some endearing epithet. He sings of spring-time as the
When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
Do paint the meadows with delight. In Cymbeline Arviragus, weeping over the bier of Fidele, makes the promise :
With fairest flowers,
Out-sweeten'd not thy breath.
of curds and cream,' the gentle Perdita, laments that she cannot give her guests the flowers of the spring :
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
She has only the 'flowers of middle summer':
Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The lanes, the farms, the streams, the woodlands, the country gossip, the simple rustic life, the daily round of rural labour,-these are frequently illustrated with loving minuteness in his poems; and these descriptions he drew from the experience of his native Warwickshire. In the struggle of his London life he never forgot his dear native place. Once a year, we are told, he used to come home and visit his family and breathe fresh air; and when he had made a little fortune, it was at Stratford he purchased an estate, and lived a few peaceful years before his death.
Stratford-on-Avon, at the time of Shakspere's birth, was little more than a country village, built chiefly of wood, and containing only two large buildings, the church and the Guildhall. Strolling players would sometimes give performances in the Guildhall ; and here, doubtless, Shakspere first became acquainted with the drama. The house in Henley Street, where the poet was born, is still preserved, and here pilgrims from every part of the world come to enter the very room where the baby Shakspere first saw the light, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. He was born in the month of April, 1564; and it is interesting to notice how often he speaks of the charm of that early month of spring-tide.
In the 98th Sonnet we read :
From you I have been absent in the spring,
And in Romeo and Juliet Capulet speaks of the season
When well-apparell’d April on the heel
We cannot be sure of the day he was born, but there is a legend that he died on the anniversary of his birth, and we know, from the inscription on his tombstone, that the date of his death was April 23rd, 1616.
The name of Shakspere was common in Warwickshire three or four hundred years ago. About three miles from Stratford was a village called Snitterfield, where there lived a well-to-do farmer, named Richard Shakspere (grandfather of the poet), the tenant of a landowner named Robert Arden. The Ardens were a wealthy county family of knightly descent. Richard Shakspere had a son named John; Robert Arden had a daughter named Mary. A year after her father's death, Mary, an heiress with landed property, was married to John, and by this union the father of the poet started life a prosperous and wealthy man. John Shakspere seems to have tried his hand at a great
We know he was a glover, but he is given other titles which hint the numerous businesses he attended to. In one deed he is styled 'yeoman ;' in a certain list he is included among the gentlemen and freeholders ;' according to one authority he was a butcher; another calls him 'a considerable dealer in wool. He held some