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Thus, is it not extremely probable, that there were two or more persons named John Shakspeare, living at Stratford, or in its immediate vicinity? On this questionable point, however, we must forbear to dilate at present, though it is certainly entitled to particular investigation, in a more extended memoir than can be admitted into this work.
William SHAKSPEARE, the pride of England and of nature, first drew breath in the town of Stratfordupon-Avon, in the county of Warwick, on the 23rd day of April, 1564. His juvenile habils and early associations are unknown; but it appears evident from bis writings, that he did not receive a very liberal, or as it is commonly called, “ learned education.” Rowe states, that he was “ for some time at a free-school, where it is probable he acquired what Latiu he was master of; but that 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. On this statement Malone remarks, in a note, “I believe that on leaving school, Shakspeare was placed in the office of some country attorney, or the seneschal of some manor court. The principal reason which this laboricus commentator urges for his opinion, is the appearance of legal“ technical skill” which is manifested in our poet's plays. But whatever doubts there may be as to his employment on leaving school, it is certain that he early entered into the matrimonial condition, for an entry in the Stratford register mentions, that “Susanna, daughter of William Shakspeare, was baptised May 26, 1583,” when he was only nineteen years of age. His wife was Anne Hathaway, who is said to have been the daughter of a substantial yeoman, then residing at the village of Sholtery,” which is distant about a mile from the town of Siralford. This lady, as may be inferred from the inscription (quoted in the sequel) on her tombstone in the church, was eight years older than her husband, to whom she brought three children, Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet: the two last were twins, and were baptized February 2, 1581-5.
Concerning the domestic economy of Shakspeare after his marriage, and the means by which he maintained his family, neither tradition nor record furnish the most distant hint. Nor is the date of his leaving Stratford better ascertained; but it is conjectured, with much plausibility, that it did not take place till after the birth of his twin children. As to the cause of his flight to the metropolis, the common story is, that being detected in robbing the deer park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, that gentleman, who was one of the county magistrates, prosecuted him with so much rigour, that he found it necessary to escape out of the boundaries of his influence and jurisdiction. Sir Thomas's spirit of justice, or, as some call it, revenge, is said, on this occasion, to have been stimulated by a ballad written by Shakspeare, of which the following stanza was communicated to Steevens by Mr. Oldys, Norroy King at Arms :
“A parliemente member, a justice of peace,
He thinks himself greate,
Sing lowsie Lucie, whatever befall it.” These lines, if really from the pen of Shakspeare, are not calculated to impress his admirers with a favourable idea of his early powers of composition; nor, if the circumstances which are said to have occasioned them be true, can any one regard them otherwise than as the effusion of a sarcastic heart, and of a mind insensible to moral propriety: As our bard, however, both in his writings and in his subsequent life, exemplifies a very opposite character, we are inclined to regard the whole story as fictitious, and to ascribe his removal to London either to natural inclination or to family disagreement,- perhaps estrangement from his wife. This notion derives some probability from the neglect of her manifested in bis will, and the fact of his not cohabiting with her, or at least having any children by her, after 1584. It is curious also, that an entry
Yet an asse in his state
occurs in the Stratford register, recording the burial of a child named “Thoinas Greene, alias Shakspeare," in 1589-90. The inference of which this circuinstance is susceptible must be obvious.
The inducement of Shakspeare to resort to the theatre, and his first employment after his arrival in London, are matters no less clouded with obscurity, than the previous incidents of bis life. Pope, on the authority of Rowe, who has however omilted the anecdote in his published memoir, says that he became acquainted with the players in consequence of waiting at the theatre door to take charge of the horses of those geutlemen who had no servants: but this story is discredited by Steevens and by Malone; the latter of whom suggests an opinion, that Shakspeare was introduced to theatrical connexion by his townsman and relation, Thomas Green, who was one of the best actors of his day. The office which he first held in the theatre, according to a stage tradition, was that of “call-boy, or prompler's attendant,” but this statement is almost as questionable as the legendary tale of Pope. Atall events, his continuance in that capacity was of very short duration. Talents like his could not remain long unnoticed or unemployed; but we are inclined to think thal he was earlier distinguished as a player than as a dramatic writer. He must have made himself conversant with the machinery of the stage, its language, &c. before he composed even the simplest and least difficult of
We now come to that era in the life of Shakspeare, when he began to write his, immortal dramas, and to develope those powers which have rendered him the delight and wonder of successive ages. At the time of his becoming in some degree a public character, we naturally expected to find many anecdotes recorded of his literary history: but by a strange fatality, the same destitution of authentic incidents marks every stage of his life. Even the date at which his first play appeared is unknown; and the greatest uncertainty prevails with respect to the chronological order in which the whole series was exhibited, or published.
As this subject was justly considered by Malone to bo both curious and interesting, he has appropriated to its examination a long and laborious essay. Chalmers, in his “Supplemental Apology," however, endeavours to controvert Malone's dates, and assigns them to other eras ; as specified in the second column below. Malone says, the “ First Part of King Henry VI.” published in 1589, aud commonly attributed to Shakspeare, was not written by hirn, though it might receive some corrections from his pen at a subsequent period, in order to fit it for representation. The as Second Part of King Henry VI.” this writer contends, ought therefore to be considered as Shakspeare's first dramatic piece; and he thinks that it might be composed about the year 1591, but certainly not earlier than 1590. The other plays of our great dramatist, are placed in the following order of time by him and Chalmers :
Third Part of King Henry VI. 1591 1595 A Midsummer Night's Dream 1592 1598 Comedy of Errors
1593 1591 Taming of the Shrew
1594 1598 Love's Labour's Lost
1594 1592 Two Gentlemen of Verona
1595 1595 Romeo and Juliet
1595 1592 Hamlet ...
1596 1597 King John.
1596 1598 King Richard II.
1597 1596 King Richard III..
1597 1595 First Part of Henry IV.
1597 1596 Second Part of Henry IV..
1598 1597 Merchant of Venice
1598 1597 All's Well that Ends Well
1598 1599 King Henry V..
1599 1597 Much Ado About Nothing
1600 1599 As You Like It .
1600 1599 Merry Wives of Windsor
1601 1596 King Henry VIII.
1601 1613 Troilus and Cressida .
1602 1600 Measure for Measure
1603 1604 The Winter's Tale
1604 1601 King Lear ..
1605 1606 Macbeth
1606 1606 Julius Cæsar
1607 1607 Antony and Cleopatra
1608 1608 Timon of Athens
1609 1601 Coriolanus.
1610 1609 Othello
1611 1614 The Tempest
1612 1613 Twelfth Night
1614 1608 Shakspeare, besides bis plays, wrote several poetical pieces, viz. “Venus and Adonis,” printed in 1593; ** The Rape of Lucrece," printed in 1594; “The Passionate Pilgrim,” printed in 1599; "A Lover's Complaints,” not dated; and a collection of sonnets, printed in 1609. The first and second of these productions our author dedicated to the Earl of Southamplon, who is stated, on the authority of Sir William D'Avenant, to have given him a thousand pounds. If this anecdote be really true, it evinces a spirit of liberality and welldirected munificence, which entitles his lordship to the highest rank among the patrons of genius. li shows also that Shakspeare's merits were appreciated by some eminent characters, even in his life-time; a truth which is confirmed by the rapid sale of his poems, and by the attentions which he received from Queen Elizabeth, and her successor King James. The former, says Rowe, had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour.” According to the same writer, it was at her desire he composed the Merry Wives of Windsor. King James also was present at the representations of many of his pieces, and is stated by Lintot to have written lo hin "an amicable letter” with his own hand, and as Dr. Farmer conjectures, in return for the compliment paid him in Macbeth. This letter, though now lost, is said to have remained long in the possession of Sir William D'Avenant.
Shakspeare, as already hinted, was an actor as well as a writer of plays, and seems to have taken a share in the representation of many of his own productions. As late as the year 1603, only thirteen years before his death,