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solitary occupier; that he had his family around him in London as well as in the country; that his London life was not that of the ordinary and the tavern. We anticipate the order of events, to protest at once against the belief that the emigration of Shakspere was a solitary one, after he had decided upon it as a final step; or that his life in London was a solitary life, for a quarter of a century of an existence which appears, as far as we may judge from the healthy tone of all his writings, to have been necessarily tranquil, contented, and cheerful, because connected with the discharge of his first social duties.
William Shakspere, "being inclined naturally to poetry and acting," naturally became a poet and an actor. He would become a poet, without any impelling circumstances not necessarily arising out of his own condition. began early to make essays at dramatic poetry, which at that time was very low." Aubrey's account of his early poetical efforts is an intelligible and consistent account. Shakspere was familiar with the existing state of dramatic poetry, through his acquaintance with the stage in the visits of various companies of actors to Stratford. We have shown what that condition was in 1580. It was not much improved in 1585. In the previous year there had been three sets of players at Stratford, remunerated for their performances out of the public purse of the borough. These were the players of "my Lord of Oxford," the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Essex. In 1585 we have no record of players in the borough. In 1586 there is only one performance paid for by the Corporation. But in 1587 the Queen's players, for the first time, make their appearance in that town; and their performances are rewarded at a much higher rate than those of any previous company. Two years after this, that is in 1589, we have undeniable evidence that Shakspere had not only a casual engagement, was not only a salaried servant, as many players were, but was a shareholder in this very Queen's company, with other shareholders below him in the list. The fair inference is, that he did not at once jump into his position; and even that two years before, when the Queen's players visited Stratford for the first time, there was some especial cause for their visit; and that the cause is easily found in the circumstance that one of their company was a native of Stratford, with influential friends and connexions there, and that he was not ashamed to exhibit his vocation amongst panions of his youth. Rowe says that, after having settled in the world in a family manner, and continued in this kind of settlement for some time, the extravagance of which he was guilty in robbing Sir Thomas Lucy's park obliged him to leave his business and family. He could not have so left, even according to the circumstances which were known to Rowe, till after the birth of his son and daughter in 1585. But the story goes on:-"It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the playhouse. He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, soon distinguished him, if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer." Sixty years after the time of Rowe the story assumed a more circumstantial shape, as far as regards the mean rank which Shakspere filled in
his early connexion with the theatre. Dr. Johnson adds one passage to the 'Life,' which he says "Mr. Pope related, as communicated to him by Mr. Rowe." It is so remarkable an anecdote that it is somewhat surprising that Rowe did not himself add it to his own meagre account:—
"In the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play; and when Shakspeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the playhouse, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man as he alighted called for Will Shakspeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will Shakspeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakspeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakspeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, I am Shakspeare's boy, Sir.' In time, Shakspeare found higher employment; but as long as the practice of riding to the playhouse continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakspeare's boys."
Steevens has attempted to impugn the credibility of this anecdote by saying, -“That it was once the general custom to ride on horseback to the play I am yet to learn. The most popular of the theatres were on the Bankside; and we are told by the satirical pamphleteers of that time that the usual mode of conveyance to these places of amusement was by water, but not a single writer so much as hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the practice of having horses held during the hours of exhibition." Steevens is here in error; he has a vague notion-which is still persevered in with singular obstinacy, even by those who have now the means of knowing that Shakspere had acquired property in the chief theatre in 1589-that the great dramatic poet had felt no inspiration till he was about eight-and-twenty, and that, therefore, his connexion with the theatre began in the palmy days of the Globe on the Bankside -a theatre not built till 1593. To the earlier theatres, if they were frequented by the gallants of the Court, they would have gone on horses. They did so go, as we learn from Dekker, long after the Bankside theatres were established. The story first appeared in a book entitled 'The Lives of the Poets,' considered to be the work of Theophilus Cibber, but said to be written by a Scotchman of the name of Shiels, who was an amanuensis of Dr. Johnson. Shiels had certainly some hand in the book; and there we find that Davenant told the anecdote to Betterton, who communicated it to Rowe, who told it to Pope, who told it to Dr. Newton. Improbable as the story is as it now stands, there may be a scintillation of truth in it, as in most traditions. It is by no means impossible that the Blackfriars Theatre might have had Shakspere's boys to hold horses, but not Shakspere himself. As a proprietor of the theatre, Shakspere might sagaciously perceive that its interest would be promoted by the readiest
accommodation being offered to its visitors; and further, with that worldly adroitness which, in him, was not incompatible with the exercise of the highest genius, he might have derived an individual profit by employing servants to perform this office. In an age when horse-stealing was one of the commonest occurrences, it would be a guarantee for the safe charge of the horses that they were committed to the care of the agents of one then well known in the world, —an actor, a writer, a proprietor of the theatre. Such an association with the author of Hamlet must sound most anti-poetical; but the fact is scarcely less prosaic that the same wondrous man, about the period when he wrote Macbeth, had an action for debt in the Bailiff's Court at Stratford, to recover thirty-five shillings and tenpence for corn by him sold and delivered.
Familiar, then, with theatrical exhibitions, such as they were, from his earliest youth, and with a genius so essentially dramatic that all other writers that the world has seen have never approached him in his power of going out of himself, it is inconsistent with probability that he should not have attempted some dramatic composition at an early age. The theory that he was first employed in repairing the plays of others we hold to be altogether untenable; supported only by a very narrow view of the great essentials to a dramatic work, and by verbal criticism, which, when carefully examined, utterly fails even in its own petty assumptions.* There can be no doubt that the three Parts of Henry VI. belong to the early stage. We believe them to be wholly and absolutely the early work of Shakspere. But we do not necessarily hold that they were his earliest work; for the proof is so absolute of the continual improvements and elaborations which he made in his best productions, that it would be difficult to say that some of the plays which have the most finished air, but of which there were no early editions, may not be founded upon very youthful compositions. Others may have wholly perished; thrown aside after a season; never printed; and neglected by their author, to whom new inventions would be easier than remodellings of pieces probably composed upon a false theory of art. For it is too much to imagine that his first productions would be wholly untainted by the taste of the period. Some might have been weak delineations of life and character, overloaded with mythological conceits and pastoral affectations, like the plays of Lyly, which were the Court fashion before 1590. Others might have been prompted by the false ambition to produce effect, which is the characteristic of Locrine, and partially so of Titus Andronicus. But of one thing we may be sure that there would be no want of power even in his first productions; that real poetry would have gushed out of the bombast, and true wit sparkled amidst the conceits. His first plays would, we think, fall in with the prevailing desire of the people to learn the history of their country through the stage. If so, they would certainly not exhibit the feebleness of some of those performances which were popular about the period of which we are now speaking, and which continued to be popular even after he had most successfully undertaken
"To raise our ancient sovereigns from their hearse."
See our Essay on the Three Parts of Henry VI., and Richard III.
The door of the theatre was not a difficult one for him to enter. It is a singular fact, that several of the most eminent actors of this very period are held to have been his immediate neighbours. The petition to the Privy Council, which has proved that Shakspere was a sharer in the Blackfriars playhouse in 1589, contains the names of sixteen shareholders, he being the twelfth on the list. The head of the Company was James Burbage; the second, Richard Burbage his son. Malone suspected that both John Heminge, one of the editors of Shakspere's Collected Works, and Richard Burbage, "were Shakspere's countrymen, and that Heminge was born at Shottery." His conjecture with regard to Heminge was founded upon entries in the baptismal register of Stratford, which show that there was a John Heminge at Shottery in 1567, and a Richard Heminge in 1570. With regard to Burbage, Malone is only able to show that an Ursula Burbage was married at Stratford in 1565. But the conjecture has been fully established as to Burbage by the discovery of a letter addressed by Lord Southampton to Lord Ellesmere in 1608, introducing Burbage and Shakspere to ask protection of that nobleman, then Lord Chancellor, against some threatened molestation from the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, in which the writer says, " they are both of one county, and indeed almost of one town."* Thomas Greene, who stands fourth on the list of the Blackfriars' sharers, is held by Malone also to have been Shakspere's townsman, perhaps his relation. This conjecture rests upon somewhat doubtful authority. The following lines are stated to have been spoken by Greene in the character of a Clown:
"I prattled poesy in my nurse's arms,
And, born where late our swan of Avon sung,
Whether Greene, or Heminge, were or were not the neighbours of Shakspere, there can be no doubt that, as the author of some dramatic performance at a period when few writers of any pretension had dedicated themselves to the stage, he would find a ready access to his countryman, James Burbage, the most influential person to whom he could address himself. He would be told, probably, that the most successful dramatic authors of the period were also actors; and he would learn that the profession of an actor, however disgraced by some men of vicious manners, performing in the inn-yards and smaller theatres of London, numbered amongst its members men of correct lives and honourable
* Both the documents alluded to, which we shall have occasion more particularly to notice, are given in Mr. Collier's valuable little work, 'New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare,' 1835.
Malone has the following note upon these lines:-" Chetwood, in his British Theatre,' quotes this passage from the comedy of 'The Two Maids of Moreclack;' but no such passage is there to be found. He deserves but little credit, having certainly forged many of his dates; however, he probably met with these lines in some ancient play, though he forgot the name of the piece from which he transcribed them. Greene was a writer as well as an actor. There are some verses of his prefixed to a collection of Drayton's poems, published in the year 1613. In the register of the parish of Stratford, Thomas Greene, alias Shaxpere, is said to have been buried there, March 6, 1589. He might have been the actor's father."- Chronological Order,' p. 297, Boswell's edition.
character. Even the enemy of plays and players, Stephen Gosson, had been compelled to acknowledge this: "It is well known that some of them are sober, discreet, properly learned, honest householders, and citizens well thought on among their neighbours at home.”* It was a lucrative profession, too; especially to those who had the honour of being the Queen's Servants. Their theatre was frequented by persons of rank and fortune; the prices of admission were high; they were called upon not unfrequently to present their performances before the Queen herself, and their reward was a royal one. The object thus offered to the ambition of a young man, conscious of his own powers, would be glittering enough to induce him, not very unwillingly, to quit the tranquil security of his native home. But we see no difficulty in believing that the first step taken by him in a decision as interesting to ages unborn as important to himself, was the experimental one of rendering his personal aid towards the proper performance of his first acted play. We inverse the usual belief in this matter. We think that Shakspere became an actor because he was a dramatic writer, and not a dramatic writer because he was an actor. He very quickly made his way to wealth and reputation, not so much by a handsome person and pleasing manners, as by that genius which left all other competitors far behind him in the race of dramatic composition; and by that prudence which taught him to combine the exercise of his extraordinary powers with a constant reference to the course of life he had chosen, not lowering his art for the advancement of his fortune, but achieving his fortune in showing what mighty things might be accomplished by his art.
The two young men, Richard Burbage and William Shakspere, "both of one county, and indeed almost of one town," may be assumed, without any improbability, to have taken their way together towards London, on the occasion when one of them went forth for the first time from his native home, depressed at parting, but looking hopefully towards the issue of his adventure. There would be little said till long after the friends had crossed the great bridge at Stratford. The eyes of one would be frequently turned back to look upon the old spire. Thoughts which unquestionably have grown out of some such separation as this would involuntarily possess his soul :—
"How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek,—my weary travel's end,—
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lov'd not speed, being made from thee." †
The first stages of this journey would offer little interest to the travellers. Having passed Long Compton, and climbed the steep range of hills that divide Warwickshire from Oxfordshire, weary stretches of barren downs would present a novel contrast to the fertility of Shakspere's own county. But after a
* School of Abuse, 1579.
† Sonnet 50.