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But the laugh of the parody was a harmless one. The Nine Worthies were utterly dead and gone in the popular estimation. Certainly in the crowd before St. John's School at Coventry there would be more than one who would laugh at the speeches-merry souls, ready to "play on the tabor to the Worthies, and let them dance the hay."*
* Love's Labour 's Lost, Act v. the speeches of Hector, Alexander, Coventry Pageant is remarkable.
It is scarcely necessary to refer the reader to the same play for
NOTE ON THE COVENTRY PAGEANTS.
THE "Chester Mysteries," which appear greatly to have resembled those of Coventry, were finally suppressed in 1574. Archdeacon Rogers, who in his MSS. rejoices that "such a cloud of ignorance" would be no more seen, appears to have been an eye-witness of their performance, of which he has left the following description :-(See Markland's 'Introduction to a Specimen of the Chester Mysteries.')
"Now of the playes of Chester, called the Whitson playes, when the weare played, and what occupations bringe forthe at theire charges the playes or pagiantes.
"Heare note that these playes of Chester, called the Whitson playes, weare the worke of one Rondell, a Moncke of the Abbaye of Sainte Warburghe in Chester, who redused the whole historye of the bible into englishe storyes in metter in the englishe tounge; and this Monke, in a good desire to doe good, published the same. Then the firste maior of Chester, namely, St John Arnewaye, Knighte, he caused the same to be played: the maner of which playes was thus :-they weare divided into 24 pagiantes according to the copanyes of the Cittie; and every companye broughte forthe theire pagiant, wch was the cariage or place wch the played in; and before these playes weare played, there was a man wch did ride, as I take it, upon St Georges daye throughe the Cittie, and there published the tyme and the matter of the playes in breeife: the weare played upon Mondaye, Tuesday, and Wensedaye in Whitson weeke. And thei first beganne at the Abbaye gates; and when the firste pagiante was played at the Abbaye gates, then it was wheled from thense to the Pentice, at the hyghe Crosse, before the maior, and before that was donne the seconde came; and the firste went into the Watergate Streete, and from thense unto Bridge Streete, and so one after an other 'till all the pagiantes weare played appoynted for the firste daye, and so likewise for the seconde and the thirde daye. These pagiantes or carige was a hyghe place made like a howse with 2 rowmes, beinge open on the tope; the lower rowme theie apparrelled and dressed themselves, and the higher rowme theie played, and thei stoode upon vi wheeles; and when the had donne with one cariage in one place theie wheled the same from one streete to another, first from the Abbaye gate to the pentise, then to the Watergate streete, then to the bridge streete through the lanes, and so to the este gate streete: and thus tha came from one streete to another, kepinge a directe order in everye streete, for before thei firste carige was gone from one place the seconde came, and so before the seconde was gone the thirde came, and so till the laste was donne all in order withoute anye stayeinge in anye place, for worde beinge broughte howe every place was neere doone, the came and made no place to tarye tell the laste was played.”
We have thus endeavoured to fill up, with some imperfect forms and feeble colours, the very meagre outline which exists of the schoolboy life of William Shakspere. He is now, we will assume, of the age of fourteen-the year 1578; a year which has been held to furnish decisive evidence as to the worldly condition of his father and his family. The first who attempted to write 'Some Account of the Life of William Shakspeare,' Rowe, says, "His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ten children in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give him no better education than his own employment. He had bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where, it is probable, he acquired what Latin he was master of: but the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in that language." This statement, be it remembered, was written one hundred and thirty years after the event which it professes to record-the early removal of William Shakspere from the free-school to which he had been sent by his father. We have no hesitation in saying that the statement is manifestly based upon two assumptions, both of which are incorrect:-The first, that his father had a large family of ten children, and was so narrowed in his circumstances that he could not spare even the time of his eldest son, he being taught for nothing; and, secondly, that the son, by his early removal from the school where he acquired "what Latin he was master of," was pre
vented attaining a "proficiency in that language," his works manifesting "an ignorance of the ancients." It may be convenient that we should in this place endeavour to dispose of both these assertions.
The family of John Shakspere did not consist, as we have already shown, of ten children. In the year 1578, when the school education of William may be reasonably supposed to have terminated, and before which period his "assistance at home" would rather have been embarrassing than useful to his father, the family consisted of five children: William, aged fourteen ; Gilbert, twelve; Joan, nine; Anne, seven;* and Richard four. Anne died early in the following year; and, in 1580, Edmund, the youngest child, was born; so that the family never exceeded five living at the same time. But still the circumstances of John Shakspere, even with five children, might have been straitened. The assertion of Rowe excited the persevering diligence of Malone; and he has collected together a series of documents from which he infers, or leaves the reader to infer, that John Shakspere and his family gradually sunk from their station of respectability at Stratford into the depths of poverty and ruin. The sixth section of Malone's posthumous 'Life' is devoted to a consideration of this subject. It thus commences: "The manufacture of gloves, which was, at this period, a very flourishing one, both at Stratford and Worcester (in which latter city it is still carried on with great success), however generally beneficial, should seem, from whatever cause, to have afforded our poet's father but a scanty maintenance." The assumption that John Shakspere depended for his "maintenance" upon "the manufacture of gloves" rests entirely and absolutely upon one solitary entry in the books of the bailiff's court at Stratford. We have seen the original entry, and we think it right to present a fac-simile of it.‡ We are not learned enough in palæography to pronounce
whether the abridged word which commences the third * In the enumeration of John Shakspere's family, page 26, Anne is stated to have been born in 1578, whereas she was born in 1571. We had not then seen the original registers; and we took the date from the list in Malone's edition by Boswell, professed to be "transcribed from the register-books." That list is singularly inaccurate. See Note at the end of this Chapter.
See Chapter II., p. 21.
This entry is,
"Thoms Siche de Arscotte in com. Wigorn. querit".
From further entries it appears that Thomas Siche did not pursue his action; and in the following
line describes the occupation of John Shakspere; but this we know, that it does not consist of the letters Glover, as Malone prints it, he at the same time abridging the other words which are abbreviations in the record. No other entry in the same book, and there are many, recites the occupation of John Shakspere; but the subjects in dispute which are sometimes mentioned in these entries look very unlike the litigations of a glover, whether he be plaintiff or defendant. For example, on the 19th of November, 1556, the year after the action against Malone's glover, John Shakspere is complainant against Henry Field in a plea for unjustly detaining eighteen quarters of grain.* This is scarcely the plea of a glover. But, glover or not, he was a landed proprietor and an occupier of land; and he did not, therefore, in the year 1578, depend upon the manufacture of gloves for "a scanty maintenance."+ However, be his occupation what it may, Malone affirms that "when our author was about fourteen years old" the "distressed situation" of his father was evident: it rests upon surer grounds than conjecture." The Corporation books have shown that on particular occasions, such as the visitation of the plague in 1564, John Shakspere contributed like others to the relief of the poor; but now, in January, 1577-8, he is taxed for the necessities of the borough only to pay half what other aldermen pay; and in November of the same year, whilst other aldermen are assessed fourpence weekly towards the relief of the poor, John Shakspere "shall not be taxed to pay anything." In 1579 the sum levied upon him for providing soldiers at the charge of the borough is returned, amongst similar sums of other persons, as "unpaid and unaccounted for." Finally, this unquestionable evidence of the books of the borough shows that this merciful forbearance of his brother townsmen was unavailing; for, in an action brought against him in the bailiff's court in the year 1586, he during these seven years having gone on from bad to worse, the return by the serjeants at mace upon a warrant of distress is, that John Shakspere has nothing upon which distress can be levied. There are other corroborative proofs of John Shakspere's poverty at this period brought forward by Malone. In this precise year, 1578, he mortgages his wife's inheritance of Asbies to Edmund Lambert for forty pounds; and, in the same year, the will of Mr. Roger Sadler of Stratford, to which is subjoined a list of debts due to him, shows that John Shakspere was indebted to him five pounds, for which sum Edmund Lambert was a security," By which," says Malone, "it appears that John Shakspeare was then considered insolvent, if not as one depending rather on the credit of others than his own." It is of little consequence to the present age to know whether an alderman of Stratford, nearly three hundred years past, became unequal to maintain his social position; but to enable us to form a right estimate of the
year, John Shakyspere, without any designation of his trade, has judgment against Thomas Siche for the costs.
*The original entry of the Latin name of the grain is a very obscure contraction; but the words which precede are distinctly XVIII quarterii."
+ In 1564, when John Shakspere was chamberlain, there is an entry in his own accounts of payment to him of three shillings for a piece of timber.
We print correct copies of these entries at the end of the Chapter. Malone's copies exhibit his usual inaccuracies.