« PreviousContinue »
an actor Shakspeare combined that of a successful and prolific dramatist; and the two together soon raised him from the condition of a needy adventurer in 1585 to that of a well-to-do possessor of lands and houses. In 1597 he purchased The Great House at Stratford-upon-Avon, described as 'one messuage, two barns, two gardens, and two orchards, with appurtenances.' The same year his father, formerly in declining circumstances, applied for a grant of arms, and passed from the condition of a yeoman to that of a gentleman; and the same year he filed a bill in Chancery against the son of the mortgagee who unjustly detained Ashbies, the hereditary property of the poet's mother." Next year the poet is assessed for a tenement in the parish of St. Helen's Bishopsgate, valued at 5l., and is asked by his friend Richard Quiney for the loan of 30l.
From this year until 1602, when the fertility of his invention poured forth some of the grandest of his productions, and popular judgment placed him far above all his contemporaries, his progress to wealth and fame was equally rapid. In 1602 he purchased 107 acres of arable land in Stratford for the sum of 320l., somewhat more than 1,000l.
trusted if paid beforehand, seldom he wanted, his labours were so well esteemed.' See the quotation in Dyce's preface to Works of Greene, p. 20, ed. 1861.
8 No account is to be made of the document which professes to describe Shakspeare as holding a share in the theatre as early as 1596. With that falls to the ground the whole modern hypothesis that as sharer or manager his time was employed in patching up the productions of other dramatists, older or contemporary, and fitting them for the stage. What with sonnets, poems, plays of his own once a year, and acting in his own plays and those of his contemporaries, what room, occasion, need, or opportunity could Shakspeare have had for such an employment?
• In the grant he is called 'John Shakspeare, now of Stratford-uponAvon, in the co. of Warwick, gent., whose parent, great grandfather and late antecessor, for his faithful and approved service to the late most prudent prince Henry VII., of famous memory, was advanced and rewarded with lands and tenements given to him in those parts of Warwickshire, where they have continued by some descents in good reputation.'
in modern computation; five months after, in the same year, one Walter Getley surrendered a house to the poet in Dead Lane, Stratford; at Michaelmas term, William Shakspeare, gentleman, as he is now generally styled, bought from Hercules Underhill, for 60l., a property consisting of a messuage with two orchards, two gardens, two barns, and their appurtenances. In May 1603, when James I. came to the crown, a privy seal was granted by the king to his servants 'Laurence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Philippes, John Hemmings, Henry Condell,' and the rest of their associates, 'to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage plays, and such other, like as they have already studied, or hereafter shall use or study,' in their usual house, the Globe, or elsewhere within the king's dominions. And James, who was by no means the fool that posterity represents him to have been, showed his discrimination by frequently commanding Shakspeare's plays to be acted at court.10 In 1605 the poet added to his property at Stratford by purchasing the unexpired lease of the tithes of Stratford and the adjoining hamlets for the sum of 400l. sterling; in modern computation, 1,4007.
It is not known at what period he retired from the stage and settled finally in Stratford. By the spring of 1613 he had lost his father, his mother, and his only son. Two daughters remained: Susanna, married, in 1607, to Dr. Hall,
10 In the account of the Revels at Court, notices are found of the following: Othello, Merry Wives of Windsor, Measure for Measure, Comedy of Errors, in 1604; Love's Labour Lost, Henry V., Merchant of Venice, twice in 1605; at Whitehall, King Lear, which had already in 1608 passed through three editions; in 1611, The Tempest and The Winter's Night's Tale. In 1613, on the marriage of James's daughter Elizabeth with the prince-palatine, the representation of Shakspeare's plays furnished a great part of the entertainment. Among them are The Tempest, The Twins' Tragedy (supposed to be the Comedy of Errors), Much Ado about Nothing, The Winter's Tale, Sir John Falstaff, Othello, and Julius Cæsar.
a physician at Stratford; and Judith, married to a vintner named Quiney, of the same place, in 1616. During the last three years of his life notices of his purchases and employments become more rare. In 1613 the Globe Theatre was burnt, and it is gratuitously assumed that many of the poet's manuscripts perished in the flames. Had it been so, we should hardly have failed of finding some notice of such a disastrous loss in the preface and dedication to the first collected edition of his works. Nor, considering the poet's immature death, his various employments, and the number of his plays which have come down to us, is it probable that any considerable portion of his writings has perished.
The manner of his death is uncertain. His will, still preserved in the Prerogative Office, is dated March 25, 1616. The poet's handwriting, never very good, if we may judge from the few signatures that have been preserved, and fifty years more antiquated than that of Sir Thomas Lucy, is feeble, shaky, and imperfect; very little like what might have been expected from one whose practice in writing must have been considerable, and who had in his time filled many reams of manuscript. His death did not occur until the 23rd of April following. It would seem, therefore, that his death was far from sudden; and this alone would suffice to invalidate the tradition, circulated forty-five years after, that the poet died of a fever contracted at a merry meeting with Drayton and Ben Jonson. His bust in Stratford Church, his portrait by Droeshout prefixed to the first folio edition of his works, and the whole tenour of his life, contradict altogether the supposition that the poet was intemperate. If the opinion of competent judges may be taken, the bust was executed from a cast taken after death. It was certainly coloured after life, and until it was painted over by Malone-a greater crime to Shakspeare's memory than Mr. Gaskill's destruction of the famous mulberry tree
-it represented the poet exactly as he appeared to his contemporaries. The eyes were a bright hazel, the hair and beard auburn; the doublet was scarlet, covered with a loose black sleeveless gown. As in Droeshout's portrait, the forehead is remarkably high and broad; in fact, the immense volume of the forehead is its most striking feature. The predominant characteristic of the whole is that of a composed, self-possessed, resolute, and vigorous Englishman, of a higher intellectual stamp than usual, but not so far removed from the general national type as we should have been inclined to expect from his writings.
Of the several works of Shakspeare-plays and poemsthere were prior to 1616 in circulation, in all, no fewer than between sixty and sixty-five editions. Some of these reached as many as six editions within a period of not more than twenty-one years. This argues of itself an extensive popularity, especially when we reflect on the small number of the reading public of his day. If we take the lowest estimate of the editions (sixty), and suppose each issue to have consisted of the lowest possible paying number (300 say), we should have in circulation no fewer than 18,000 copies of the productions of the great dramatist in print during his lifetime." This ingenious computation applies only to the plays and poems printed before the first collected edition of Shakspeare's works in 1623. That folio contains thirty-six plays; one half of these, so far as is known, never got beyond the footlights; and, therefore, we may presume were printed by the editors of that volume from the author's manuscript. Among that number are to be found Macbeth,' 'Timon of Athens,' 'Cymbeline,' 'The Tempest,' all the Roman plays, "Twelfth Night,' and 'The Winter's Tale.' 2
Shakespere, a Critical Biography,' by Samuel Neil, p. 59.
2 The following is a list of the 4tos and their various editions, before
No collected edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works appeared until 1623, seven years after the poet's death. The volume was ushered into the world by two of his former dramatic associates, John Heminge and Henrie Condell, to whom in conjunction with Burbage, the famous actor, Shakspeare had left in his will 268. and 8d. a piece to buy them ringes.' But Burbage died on March 16, 1619;4 the folio of 1623. The letter M is prefixed to those mentioned by Meres.
M 1594. Titus Andronicus, entered at Stationers' Hall Feb. 6, 1593; first edition not known to exist; 2nd ed. 1600; 3rd ed. 1611.
1595. Henry VI., Part III., 1595.
M 1597. Romeo and Juliet, 1597, 1599, 1609 bis?
Richard 11., 1597, 1598, 1608 bis, 1615.
Richard III., 1597, 1598, 1602, 1605, 1612, 1621? 1622.
M 1598. Love's Labor's Lost, 1598.
Henry IV., Part I., 1598, 1599, 1604, 1608, 1613, 1622.
1600, Henry V., 1600, 1602, 1608.
Merchant of Venice, 1600 bis.
Midsummer Night's Dream, 1600 bis.
Much Ado about Nothing, 1600.
1602. Merry Wives of Windsor, 1602, 1619. 1603. Hamlet, 1603, 1604, 1605, 1611.
Old plays; Richard III., 1594; Taming of a Shrew, 1594, 1607. And to my fellows, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell, xxvjs. viijd. a piece, to buy them rings.'
Burbage, or Burbadge, according to Malone, was one of the principal sharers of the Globe and Blackfriars theatres. In a letter written in 1613 (Harl. MSS. 7002), the actors at the Globe are called Burbadge's Company. In Jonson's Masque of Christmas, 1616, the year that is of Shakspeare's death, Venus, in the character of a deaf tire-woman, is made to say of Cupid: 'I could have had money enough for him, an I would have been tempted and have let him out by the week to the king's players. Master Burbage has been about and about with me, and so has old Master Hemings too; they have need of him.'-Shaksp. iii. 230, ed. 1803.
Heminge and Condell are said to have been printers as well as actors, but Malone thinks that there is no authority for this statement. Probably it arose from their connection with Shakspeare's printed works. At all events, had they been printers by occupation, it is reasonable to surmise