James Halliwell: A Life of William Shakespeare (1848), pages 138-164.

[ The story so far:     "It is most consonant with the customs of the time to suppose that Shakespeare was ... a servitor ; and, if that were the case, we should naturally expect to find him raised afterwards to the rank of a sharer in the theatre, not a proprietor, but one who shared in the division of the daily profits of the representations. Mr. Collier's important discovery proves that Shakespeare had attained that rank in the Blackfriar's Theatre in November, 1589." ]

      Innumerable theories have been propounded as to the precise period when Shakespeare commenced writing for the stage ;  but no certain information having been procured, and the question being capable of several probable solutions, it shall here be passed over, and left to the reader's own judgment, to be formed from what has just been, and will hereafter be stated. But one of the most valuable facts connected with the history of Shakespeare's plays, although recorded on the testimony of Dryden, has not received that prominent notice which it deserves. Dryden, in his corrected prologue to the first play produced by Charles Davenant, 1677, taking the occasion of asserting that no grand effort in this kind was ever the earliest attempt of a dramatist, refers to the productions of Jonson, Fletcher, and Shakespeare, in these terms :—

Your Ben and Fletcher, in their first young flight,
Did no Volpone, nor no Arbaces write,
But hopped about and short excursions made
From bough to bough, as if they were afraid,
And each was guilty of some Slighted Maid.
Shakespeare's own muse her Pericles first bore;
The Prince of Tyre was elder than the Moor.

and he proceeds to say, "’tis miracle to see a first good play," for "no man can be Falstaff fat at first."  The p.139 / meaning of this is perfectly clear. Pericles, the first, and one of the least finished of Shakespeare's plays, preceded by many years Othello, one of his masterpieces. We can scarcely expect to find better authority than this. It is a subject on which Dryden was likely to have been well informed, and he certainly could have had neither motive nor intention to deceive.
      The earliest allusion to Shakespeare in the printed literature of this country is said to be found in Spenser's ‘ Teares of the Muses,’ which appeared in the year 1591 ; and the description is so beautifully expressed, corresponding also so exactly with our present opinion of the great dramatist, that no great taste is necessary to create a desire that Spenser really designed Shakespeare.  But the object of these pages is the discovery of truth rather than the development of pretty theories ; and although I am prepared to admit the belief that Shakespeare is intended is not to be relinquished on light authority, still will such an opinion have very serious evidence against its reception as a truth. The ‘ Teares of the Muses’ is the second poem in a small collection, entitled ‘ Complaints, containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie,’ in the preface to which the publisher says, "Since my late setting foorth of the Faerie Queene, finding that it hath found a favourable passage amongst you, I have sithence endevoured, by all good meanes, for the better encrease and accomplishment of your delights, to get into my handes such smale poemes of the same authors as I heard were disperst abroad in sundrie hands, and not easie to bee come by by himselfe, some of them having bene diverslie imbeziled and purloyned from him since his departure over sea ; of the which I have by good meanes gathered togeather these fewe parcels present, which I have caused to bee imprinted altogeather."  It is evident from this that the poem was not a new one at the time of its p.140 / publication ; and although the passage in question might with some license be asserted to apply to Shakespeare in 1591, yet few would be bold enough to say that it could have been intended for him if composed any great while before that date.*

  The work was actually published in 1590, for it was entered on the Stationers' Company registers towards the close of that year.

Even in the former case, it is rather prophetic than true of things as they existed, and it is difficult to believe so just an appreciation could have been attained so early in his career. Its exact application is rather a proof against such an opinion, and it must be remembered Spenser has elsewhere recorded extravagant estimates of poets now forgotten. The subject of Spenser's poem, a strong satire "keen and critical," is the decay of literature, the Muses being introduced lamenting on its fallen state,—

The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of learning, late deceas'd in beggary ;

and Thalia is most dolorous on the decline of the drama. The whole of her address must be given, for an extract will scarcely suffice for the illustration of our argument :

Where be the sweete delights of learnings treasure,
That wont with comick sock to beautefie
The painted theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes and eares with melodie ;
In which I late was wont to raine as Queene,
And maske in mirth with Graces well beseene ?

O all is gone, and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see ;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce,
Marring my joyous gentle dalliaunce.

p.141 /
And him beside sits ugly Barbarisme,
And brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late
Out of dredd darknes of the deep abysme,
Where being bredd, he light and heaven does hate :
They in the mindes of men now tyrannize,
And the faire scene with rudenes foule disguize.

All places they with follie have possest,
And with vaine toyes the vulgare entertaine ;
But me have banished, with all the rest
That whilome wont to wait upon my traine,
Fine Counterfesaunce and unhurtfull Sport,
Delight and Laughter deckt in seemly sort.

All these, and all that els the comick stage
With seasoned wit and goodly pleasance graced,
By which mans life in his likest image
Was limned forth, are wholly now defaced ;
And those sweete wits, which wont the like to frame,
Are now despizd, and made a laughing game.

And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock herselfe, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late :
With whom all joy and jolly meriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.

In stead therof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribaudrie,
Without regard or due decorum kept ;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learneds taske upon him take.

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete Nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

So am I made the servant of the manie,
And laughing stocke of all that list to scorne,
Not honored nor cared for of anie,
But loath'd of losels as a thing forlorne ;
Therefore I mourne and sorrow with the rest,
Untill my cause of sorrow be redrest.

p.142 /

      Mr. Todd, whose opinion and argument I am following, believes this poem to have been written in 1580, and he conjectures Sir Philip Sidney to be the person here alluded to. The notice of Sidney in the ‘ Ruines of Time,’ in which he is also termed gentle spirit, strongly supports this opinion ;  and Sidney is known to have been the author of masques. He is several times termed Willy in an elegy quoted by Malone, so that the appellation need be no proof against Mr. Todd's theory :—

We dream'd our Willy aye should live,
So sweet a sound his pipe did give.

It must, on the other hand, be admitted, that Rowe tells us Dryden always considered Spenser's Willy was intended for Shakespeare ; but, as the passage was omitted in the second edition of his Life, it may be supposed he discovered his former statement was not correct. If, however, Spenser alludes to Shakespeare in his ‘ Colin Clout's come Home again,’ written after April, 1594, the description he gives of his muse in that work certainly does not correspond with that in the ‘ Teares of the Muses.’  Here, again, is some uncertainty, for the lines seem to apply with equal propriety to Warner,—

And there, though last, not least, is Aetion,
   A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found ;
Whose muse, full of high thoughts invention,
   Doth, like himselfe, heroically sound.

      The first incontestable notice of Shakespeare by a contemporary writer occurs in a work published at the close of the year 1592, entered on the registers of the Stationers Company on September 20th, "uppon the perill of Henry Chettle, Greens Groatsworth of Wyt, bought with a million of Repentance."  Mr. Collier thinks Chettle may himself p.143 / have written this tract, availing himself of Greene's popularity for the sake of gain. Chettle appears as Greene's literary executor. In the ‘ Groatsworth of Wit’ is contained a very curious address " To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making playes, R. G. wisheth a better exercise and wisedome to prevent his extremities," in which,*  addressing three dramatists, he urges them to break off their connexion with players in the following terms,—

      If wofull experience may moove you (Gentlemen) to beware, or unheard of wretchednes intreat you to take heed, I doubt not but you will look backe with sorrow on your time past, and endevour with repentance to spend that which is to come. Wonder not, (for with thee will I firste beginne) thou famous gracer of tragedians, that Green, who hath said with thee like the foole in his heart, There is no God, should now give glorie unto His greatnesse : for penetrating is His power, His hand lyes heavy upon me, He hath spoken unto me with a voyce of thunder, and I have left, He is a God that can punish enemies. Why should thy excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded, that thou shouldest give no glory to the Giver ?  Is it pestilent Machivilian policie that thou hast studied ?  O punish follie !  What are his rules but meere confused mockeries, able to extirpate in small time the generation of mankinde. For if sic volo, sic jubeo, holde in those that are able to commaund, and if it be lawfull fas et nefas, to doo any thing that is beneficiall, onley tyrants should possesse the earth, and they striving to exceed in tiranny, should ech to other be a slaughter-man ; till the mightyest outliving all, one stroke were left for death, that in one age mans life should end. The brother of this dyabolicall atheisme is dead, and in his life had never the felicitie he aymed at, but as he beganne in craft, lived in feare, and ended in dispaire. Quam inscrutabilia sunt Dei judicia !  This murderer of many brethren had his conscience seared like Cayne :  this betrayer of him that gave his life for him, inherited the portion of Judas :  this apostata perished as ill as Julian : and wilt thou, my friend, be his disciple ?  Looke unto mee, by him perswaded to that libertie, and thou shalt finde it an infernall bondage. I know the least of my demerits merit this miserable death, but wilfull striving against knowne truth exceedeth all the terrors of my soule.   Deferre not (with mee) till this last point of extremitie ;  for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.

  I quote from an undated edition, not being acquainted with one so early as 1592.  It appears, however, from ‘ Kind-Harts Dreame,’  that the address here given was substantially, if not literally, the same as in the first edition. It would be very desirable to ascertain whether any alterations were made in it after its first publication.

p.144 /

      With thee I joyne young Juvenall, that byting satyrist that lastly with mee together writ a comedie. Sweet boy, might I advise thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words : inveigh against vaine men, for thou canst doo it, no man better, no man so well : thou hast a libertie to reproove all, and name none : for one being spoken to, all are offended ; none beeing blamed, no man is injuried.
      Stop shallow water still running, it will rage ; tread on a worme and it will turne : then blame not schollers who are vexed with sharpe and bitter lines, if they reproove thy too much liberty of reproofe.
      And thou, no less deserving then the other two, in some things rarer, in nothing inferiour, driven, as myselfe, to extreame shifts, a little have I to say to thee ; and were it not an idolatrous oath, I would sweare by sweet S. George, thou art unworthy better hap, sith thou dependest on so meane a stay. Base minded men, all three of you, if by my misery yee bee not warned : for unto none of you (like me) sought those burs to cleave : those puppits (I mean) that speake from our mouths, those Anticks garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whome they all have bin beholding ; is it not like that you, to whom they all have bin beholding, shall (were yee in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken?  Yes, trust them not ; for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygres heart, wrapt in a players hyde, supposes hee is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you ; and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is, in his owne conceyt, the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.  Oh that I might intreat your rare wittes to bee imployed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaynte them with your admyred inventions. I knowe the best husband of you all will never proove an usurer, and the kindest of them all will never proove a kinde nurse ; yet whilst you may, seeke you better maisters ; for it is pitty men of such rare wits should bee subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes.
      In this I might insert two more, that both have writte against these buckram gentlemen ; but let their owne work serve to witnesse against theyr owne wickednesse, if they persever to maintaine any more such peasants. For other new commers, I leave them to the mercie of these painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will drive the best minded to despise them ; for the rest, it skils not though they make a jeast at them.
      But now returne I again to you three, knowing my miserie is to you no newes ; and let me heartilie intreate you to be warned by my harmes. Delight not, as I have done, in irreligious oaths, for from the blasphemers house a curse shall not depart :  Despise drunkennes, which wasteth the wit, and making men all equall unto beasts : Flie lust, as the deathsman of the soule, and defile not the temple of the Holy Ghost. Abhorre those epicures, whose loose life hath made religion loathsome to your eares, and when they sooth you with tearms of mastership, remember Robert Greene, whome they have often so flattered, perishes now for want of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many light tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintaine ;  these with wind-puft wrath may be extinguished, which drunkennesse put
p.145 / out, which negligence let fall ; for mans time of itselfe is not so short, but it is more shortened by sinne. The fire of my light is now at the last snuffe, and the want of wherewith to sustaine it, there is no substance for life to feed on. Trust not then (I beseech yee) left to such weake stayes :  for they are as changeable in minde, as in many attires. Well, my hand is tyred, and I am forst to leave where I would beginne ; for a whole booke cannot contain their wrongs, which I am forst to knit up in some few lines of words. Desirous that you should live, though himselfe be dying.

      This important allusion to our great dramatist cannot be too minutely investigated. It proves how active he had been as early as 1592, and it also implies that he had attained a certain degree of reputation. One who had created no sensation would scarcely have received so bitter an attack from a rival dramatist ; and the parody on a passage in the Third Part of Henry VI. exhibits Shakespeare as the author or adapter of that play previously to September 1592.*

  Having entered into this subject very minutely in my Introduction to the ‘ First Sketches of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.’ 8vo. 1843, I am unwilling to repeat the argument in this place.

We are fortunately furnished with a sequel to this history. It appears that Marlow and Shakespeare were offended with the severe notices of them in this tract, and Chettle, who published ‘ Kind-Harts Dreame’ a few months afterwards, in the course of a very curious preface pays a warm and interesting tribute to the poet, for he himself had "seen his demeanor no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes ; besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, which approves his art." Where, after this, is to be found the truth of the assertion that we know nothing of Shakespeare ?  We have him here before us as one of gentle manners, an excellent actor, an honest man, and an able dramatist. Chettle's testimony in this respect is in the highest degree pleasing, and his apology deserves to be carefully perused,—

p.146 /

      About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry bookesellers hands ; among other his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter written to divers play-makers is offensively by one or two of them taken, and because on the dead they cannot be avenged, they wilfully forge in their conceites a living author :  and after tossing it two and fro, no remedy but it must light on me. How I have, all the time of my conversing in printing, hindred the bitter inveying against schollers, it hath been very well knowne, and how in that I dealt I can sufficiently proove. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be :  The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heate of living writers, and might have usde my owne discretion, especially in such a case, the author beeing dead, that I did not I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because myselfe have seene his demeanor no lesse civill than he exelent in the qualitie he professes :  Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writting, which aprooves his art. For the first, whose learning I reverence, and, at the perusing of Greenes booke, stroke out what then in conscience I thought he in some displeasure writ : or, had it beene true, yet to publish it was intollerable : him I would wish to use me no worse than I deserve. I had onely in the copy this share ; it was il written, as sometime Greenes hand was none of the best, licensd it must be ere it could bee printed, which could never be if it might not be read. To be briefe, I writ it over, and, as neare as I could, followed the copy, onely in that letter I put something out, but in the whole booke not a worde in, for I protest it was all Greenes, not mine nor Maister Nashes, as some unjustly have affirmed.*

  This extract is taken from the copy of ‘ Kind-Hart's Dreame’ in the Bodleian Library, which formerly belonged to Burton, and differs in some trifling respects from other copies of the same tract.

      There was a stage tradition, current in the theatres after the Restoration, that Taylor and Lowen, two of the original actors in Shakespeare's plays, had been specially instructed by the great dramatist himself. Although this tradition was not published till more than eighty years after the death of Shakespeare, it is given on very fair authority, that of Downes, who was prompter at one of the theatres about the year 1662, and for some time afterwards. Mr. Collier seems to doubt the correctness of the characters attributed to these players by Downes, but even if there be some error p.147 / in detail, he could hardly have misrepresented the fact in two instances. Downes, in his ‘Roscius Anglicanus,’ 1708, is speaking of Sir W. Davenant's theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields between 1662 and 1665,—

      The tragedy of Hamlet, Hamlet being perform'd by Mr. Betterton, Sir William, having seen Mr. Taylor of the Black-fryars company act it, who, being instructed by the author, Mr. Shakespear, taught Mr. Betterton in every particle of it ; which, by his exact performance of it, gain'd him esteem and reputation superlative to all other plays. Horatio by Mr. Harris, the King by Mr. Lilliston, the Ghost by Mr. Richards (after by Mr. Medburn), Polonius by Mr. Lovel, Rosencrans by Mr. Dixon, Guilderstern by Mr. Price, first grave-maker by Mr. Underhill, the second by Mr. Dacres, the Queen by Mrs. Davenport, Ophelia by Mrs. Sanderson. No succeeding tragedy for several years got more reputation or money to the company than this.
      King Henry the 8th.  This play, by order of Sir William Davenant, was all new cloath'd in proper habits :  the King's was new, all the lords, the cardinals, the bishops, the doctors, proctors, lawyers, tip-staves ; new scenes. The part of the King was so right and justly done by Mr. Betterton, he being instructed in it by Sir William, who had it from old Mr. Lowen, that had his instructions from Mr. Shakespear himself, that I dare and will aver none can or will come near him in this age in the performance of that part. Mr. Harris's performance of Cardinal Wolsey was little inferior to that, he doing it with such just state, port and mien, that I dare affirm none hitherto has equall'd him. Every part, by the great care of Sir William, being exactly perform'd, it being all new cloath'd and new scenes. It continu'd acting 15 days together, with general applause.

      According to Aubrey, Shakespeare " did act exceedingly well," and the balance of evidence is in favour of his possessing considerable ability as a performer, although Wright, in 1699, had "heard our author was a better poet than actor."  Capell relates an anecdote, which, if true, would confirm the supposition that Shakespeare acted in his native town. According to him,*

  Notes and Various Readings to Shakespeare, 1779, i. 60.

"a traditional story was current some years ago about Stratford, that a very old man of that place, of weak intellects, but yet related to Shakespeare, being ask'd by some of his neighbours what he remember'd about him, answer'd that he saw him once brought on the p.148 / stage upon another man's back ;  which answer was apply'd by the hearers to his having seen him perform in this scene the part of Adam."  As far as this testimony goes, it is just as probable Shakespeare personated Orlando, for such an error might easily be made. The tale is related more circumstantially by Oldys, but with additions that can scarcely be true ;  for Charles Hart, the eminent actor, was not a descendant from the poet's family.*

  Old men's characters were frequently performed by boys. Ben Jonson has verses on an actor of such parts who died at the age of thirteen.
But howesoer men may a while dissemble
Their spightfull stomacks, they herein resemble
But painted players, trembling on the stage,
With beard and perywigge made fit for age,
Who have not scarcely liv'd out twenty yeare.
The Newe Metamorphosis, 1600, MS.

      One of Shakespeare's younger brothers, who lived to a good old age, even some years, as I compute, after the restoration of King Charles II., would in his younger days come to London to visit his brother Will, as he called him, and be a spectator of him as an actor in some of his own plays. This custom, as his brother's fame enlarged, and his dramatick entertainments grew the greatest support of our principal if not of all our theatres, he continued, it seems, so long after his brother's death as even to the latter end of his own life. The curiosity at this time of the most noted actors to learn something from him of his brother, &c. they justly held him in the highest veneration ; and it may be well believed, as there was besides a kinsman and descendant of the family, who was then a celebrated actor amongst them. This opportunity made them greedily inquisitive into every little circumstance, more especially in his dramatick character, which his brother could relate of him ;  but he, it seems, was so stricken in years, and possibly his memory so weakened with infirmities, which might make him the easier pass for a man of weak intellects, that he could give them but little light into their enquiries ; and all that could be recollected from him of his brother Will in that station was the faint, general, and almost lost ideas he had of having once seen him act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein, being to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so weak and drooping, and unable to walk, that he was forced to be supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated among some company who were eating, and one of them sung a song.

      There is a very curious passage in Davies' ‘Humours Heav'n on Earth,’ 1609, p. 208, which, from a marginal p.149 / note, seems to allude to Shakespeare and Burbage, and may have been written several years before the publication of that work. To be coupled with Burbage, and be said not to have been guerdoned by Fortune to his deserts, certainly implies a high compliment to Shakespeare as an actor :

Some followed her [Fortune] by acting*  all mens parts,
     These on a stage she rais'd (in scorne) to fall,
And made them mirrors by their acting arts,
     Wherin men saw their†  faults, though ne'r so small ;
Yet some she guerdond not to their desarts ; ‡
     But othersome were but ill-action all,
Who, while they acted ill, ill staid behinde,
By custome of their maners, in their minde.

  Stage plaiers.
    †   Shewing the vices of the time.
    ‡   W. S., R. B.

      Davies could have told much that is interesting relating to Shakespeare, and even the few notices he has recorded of him are valuable. The following, which occurs in his ‘ Scourge of Folly,’ p. 76, alludes apparently to some anecdote now lost, but we may conclude from it that Shakespeare had acted the part of a king in certain plays, and the concluding lines seem intended as a compliment to his character,—

To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare.

Some say, good Will, which I in sport do sing,
     Had'st thou not plaid some kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst bin a companion for a king,
     And beene a king among the meaner sort.
Some others raile, but raile as they thinke fit,
Thou hast no rayling, but a raigning wit :
And honesty thou sow'st, which they do reape,
So to increase their stocke, which they do keepe.

      The allusion is obscure, but it may be conjectured to mean that had not Shakespeare performed in some charac- p.150 / ters displeasing to James I. he would have been specially patronised by that monarch ;  and it tells us that the poet had his detractors, "some others raile."  We know that early in the reign of James he was a member of the company enrolled under the title of the King's Servants, and in an advertisement prefixed to Lintot's edition of Shakespeare's poems, 1710, we are informed that "King James the First was pleas'd with his own hand to write an amicable letter to Mr. Shakespeare, which letter, tho now lost, remain'd long in the hands of Sir William D'Avenant, as a credible person now living can testify."  Oldys, in a MS. note to his copy of Fuller's Worthies,*  says the Duke of Buckingham told Lintot he had seen it in the possession of Sir William D'Avenant. The year 1710 was anterior to the date of intentional Shakespearian fabrications, and I am somewhat at a loss to appreciate the grounds on which this statement has been disbelieved, receiving, as it does, the weight of the circumstantial evidence of Oldys. We must ever regret the loss of this "amicable letter," a greater honour to James than any action of his that has yet been revealed. If, then, we are to believe the words of Davies literally, the offence was probably committed some time after his accession to the throne, and it is known that severe animadversions on his government were covertly alluded to in some of the dramas of the time.†  Admit

  This is surely not a conjectural addition by Oldys, as suspected by Mr. Collier, p. 213. Oldys was contemporary with the publication of the anecdote, and would not state a fact in direct terms such as these, had he not believed it. The note of Oldys has not hitherto been cited properly.
    †   "What inconsiderate distraccion hathe attached the players of our daies, for comedians I cannot call them tyll they leave makeinge hotchepotches of their playes, and begynne to observe decorum dewring the representacion of godds, goddesses, and mightie potentates, promiscuously and confusedly in there interludes, betakeinge themselves to the sock solie, leaveinge the stately buskyn, because they will gett but little, as I suppose, by makeinge men to weepe. What madnesse is it, I saye, that possesseth them under faigned persons to be censureing of their soveraigne :  surely thoughe there poets for these many yeares p.151 / have, for the most part, lefte foles and devills owt of their playes, yet nowe on the suddayne they make them all playe the fooles most notoriouslye and impudently in medlinge with him (in waye of taxacion) by whome they live and have in manner there very beinge."—MS. Sloane 3543, f. 20.  This curious extract is taken from a treatise on hunting, dedicated to the Earl of Northampton.

this, and Shakespeare is proved an actor till within a few years of his death ; yet I must allow the assumption is founded but on imperfect evidence. A tradition of a much later date than the one just cited tells us that Queen Elizabeth was in the theatre one evening when Shakespeare was personating the part of a king, and, in crossing the stage, moved politely to the poet without the honour being duly recognised. Her majesty, it is said, with a view to ascertain whether the omission was intentional, or whether he had resolved not to lose for an instant the personification of the character he supported, again passed the stage near him, and dropped her glove, which was immediately taken up by Shakespeare, who added these lines to a speech just then concluded, "and so aptly were they delivered, that they seemed to belong to it,"—

And though now bent on this high embassy,
Yet stoop we to take up our cousin's glove.

He then retired from the stage, and presented the glove to the queen, who was said to have been greatly pleased with his conduct, and to have complimented him upon it. I cannot say who invented this story, but there is no good authority for it, however possible it may be that it is founded on an earlier and less circumstantial tradition.
      Shakespeare was certainly fortunate enough to attract the notice and commendation of royalty early in his career. Ben Jonson bears testimony to the pleasure Elizabeth and her successor derived from his surpassing talent,—

p.152 /

Sweet swan of Avon, what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James !

and the Merry Wives of Windsor, written as early as 1593, is said on very fair authority to have been written especially for the queen's gratification, and she was so impatient to see it acted, that it was completed in a fortnight. Dennis, in an epistle prefixed to the ‘ Comical Gallant,’ 1702, says of the Merry Wives of Windsor, "I knew very well that it had pleas'd one of the greatest queens that ever was in the world ; this comedy was written at her command, and by her direction, and she was so eager to see it acted, that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days, and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleas'd with the representation."  Rowe, in 1709, says that Elizabeth "was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff in the two parts of Henry IV., that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love : this is said to be the occasion of his writing the Merry Wives of Windsor ;"  and Gildon, in 1710, partially confirms both these accounts. The tradition in one respect is confirmed by the title-page of the edition of 1602, which states that the play had been performed "before her Majestie and elsewhere."  Compliment and patronage are often twins. One of the most elegant pieces of flattery ever addressed to a sovereign is found in ‘ A Midsummer Night's Dream,’ where the queen is described as the imperial votaress passing on,

“ In maiden meditation, fancy-free,”

a character of allusion we know was received with untiring delight by Elizabeth. As late as December, 1602, when she dined at Sir Robert Cecil's, in the Strand, there were p.153 / "sundry devises at hir entrance : three women, a maid, a widow, and a wife, eache contending for their owne states, but the virgin preferred."  We cannot doubt that the Midsummer Night's Dream gratified the monarch, and that the poet was in her favour is proved by the direct authority of Chettle, in his ‘ Englandes Mourning Garment,’ 1603, who complains of his neglecting to write an elegy upon the queen,—

Nor doth the silver-tonged Melicert
     Drop from his honied muse one sable teare,
To mourne her death that graced his desert,
     And to his laies opend her royall eare,
Shepheard, remember our Elizabeth,
And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin, Death.

and the remembrance of Shakespeare enjoying court favour lived for a century after his death, and was universally received as a truth. Otway, in his Prologue to ‘Caius Marius,’ 1692, thus alludes to it,—

Our Shakespear wrote too in an age as blest,
The happiest poet of his time and best ;
A gracious prince's favour chear'd his muse,
A constant favour he ne'er fear'd to lose.
Therefore he wrote with fancy unconfin'd,
And thoughts that were immortal as his mind.

      This subject might be very fully illustrated, but what is now before us will be sufficient. Charles I., also, was a diligent reader and admirer of Shakespeare, although neither he nor Prince Henry have yet been brought into direct connexion with the poet's history. This we know from Milton's well-known remark on the partiality of Charles for the works of the "sweet swan of Avon," and the king's own copy of the first folio, inscribed with his motto, and bearing marks of careful study, is still preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

p.154 /

      It has been already said that the Merry Wives of Windsor was written in 1593, and this fact is as well ascertained as any point of the kind can well be, where we have internal evidence alone for a guide.*

  See my introduction to the First Sketch of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, 8vo. 1842. Mr. Knight's account of a contemporary work describing the visit of a German duke to England in 1592, is the most curious illustration of this play yet produced.

Now, if the tradition above mentioned as recorded by Rowe be correct, it seems probable that the play of Henry IV. was written before this period, for it has been proved that Sir John Oldcastle was originally the name of the well-known character Sir John Falstaff, and there appears every reason for believing the change of name was not made in the case of the Merry Wives of Windsor. "It may not be improper to observe," says Rowe, "that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle ; some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it, upon which he made use of Falstaff."  This statement is confirmed by a very curious dedication prefixed by Dr. James to his ‘ Legend and Defence of the Noble Knight and Martyr, Sir Jhon Oldcastel,’ an unpublished MS., written about the year 1625, in the Bodleian Library,—

To my noble friend, Sir Henrye Bourchier. †

      Sir Harrie Bourchier, you are descended of noble auncestrie, and, in the dutie of a good man, love to heare and see faire reputation preservd from slander and oblivion. Wherefore to you I dedicate this edition of Ocleve, where Sir Jhon Oldcastell apeeres to have binne a man of valour and vertue, and onely lost in his owne times because he would not bowe under the foule superstition of Papistrie, from whence, in so great light of Gosple and learning, that there is not yet a more universall departure is to me the greatest scorne of men. But of this more in another place, and in preface will you please to heare me that which followes. A young gentle ladie of your acquaintance, having read the

  This letter was first published by me in a little work "On the Character of Sir John Falstaff, as originally exhibited by Shakespeare in the two parts of King Henry IV." 12mo. 1841, and some of the observations in the text are adopted from that publication, with a few trifling variations.

p.155 /

works of Shakespeare, made me this question :  How Sir Jhon Falstaffe, or Fastolf, as it is written in the statute book of Maudlin Colledge in Oxford, where everye daye that societie were bound to make memorie of his soule, could be dead in Harrie the Fifts time and againe live in the time of Harrie the Sixt to be banisht for cowardize ?  Whereto I made answeare that this was one of those humours and mistakes for which Plato banisht all poets out of his commonwealtth ;  that Sir Jhon Falstaffe was in those times a noble valiant souldier, as apeeres by a book in the Heralds Office dedicated unto him by a herald whoe had binne with him, if I well remember, for the space of 25 yeeres in the French wars ;  that he seemes allso to have binne a man of learning, because, in a librarie of Oxford, I finde a book of dedicating churches sent from him for a present unto Bisshop Wainflete, and inscribed with his owne hand. That in Shakespeare's first shewe of Harrie the Fift, the person with which he undertook to playe a buffone was not Falstaffe, but Sir Jhon Oldcastle,*  and that offence beinge worthily taken by personages descended from his title, as peradventure by manie others allso whoe ought to have him in honourable memorie, the poet was putt to make an ignorant shifte of abusing Sir Jhon Falstophe, a man not inferior of vertue, though not so famous in pietie as the other, whoe gave witnesse unto the truth of our reformation with a constant and resolute martyrdom, unto which he was pursued by the priests, bishops, moncks, and friers of those dayes. Noble sir, this is all my preface. God keepe you, and me, and all Christian people from the bloodie designes of that cruell religion.

Yours in all observance,                          
RICH. JAMES              

  In Amends for Ladies, 4to. Lond. 1639, a play by Nathaniel Field, which, according to Mr. Collier, could not have been written before 1611, Falstaff's description of honour is mentioned by a citizen of London as if it had been delivered by Sir John Oldcastle :

———— I doe heare
Your Lordship this faire morning is to fight,
And for your honor.   Did you never see
The play where the fat knight, hight Old-castle,
Did tell you truely what this honor was ?

      With respect to this important letter, it will be observed that, by the "first shewe of Harrie the Fift," James unquestionably means Shakespeare's Henry IV. He could not have confused Shakespeare's play with "The Famous Victories," for in the latter drama the name of the character of Oldcastle had not been altered. The "young gentle p.156 / ladie" had read the works of Shakespeare, most probably the folio edition, and it is not at all likely she would have alluded to a play which had then been entirely superseded. James and his fair acquaintance also confuse the characters of Fastolf and Falstaff, another example of the unfortunate circumstance of the poet choosing a name so similar to that of the real hero. It is by no means impossible that religious prejudices may have been the real occasion of the necessity for cancelling the name of Oldcastle.
      There must of course be great uncertainty in fixing the precise date when Shakespeare made the alteration in the name of the character of his fat knight ; and my conjecture on this point depends in a great measure upon the date of the Merry Wives of Windsor. Believing the first sketch of the Merry Wives to have been written in the year 1593, the name of Oldcastle was probably changed to Falstaff before that sketch was written. Everything tends to prove this. For instance, the first metrical piece which occurs in it could not have been written with the former name :

And I to Ford will likewise tell
    How Falstaff, varlet vile,
Would have her love, his dove would prove,
    And eke his bed defile.

      It may be objected that, as the Merry Wives has little or no necessary connexion with the historical plays—as we have no certain evidence to show whether it was written before or after the two parts of Henry IV., the settlement of the question of names, if I may so express myself, in the former, is no guide whatever to the period at which the change was made in the other plays. In reply, I must confess this position is hypothetical, unless my readers agree with me in believing the Merry Wives to have been written after the Second Part of Henry IV., and before p.157 / Henry V., a subject which it would be irrelevant to discuss in this place.*

  The early allusions in other writers to the character of Falstaff being so much more numerous than those to Oldcastle, may be considered as an argument in favour of the opinion that the change of name was made soon after the appearance of the play. Amongst others, I do not think the following have been noticed by writers on this subject :—"His postlike legges were answerable to the rest of the great frame which they supported, and, to conclude, Sir Bevis, Ascapart, Gogmagog, or our English Sir John Falstaff, were but shrimps to this bezzeling bombard's longitude, latitude, altitude, and crassitude, for he passes and surpasses the whole Germane multitude."—Taylor's Workes, ed. 1630, iii. 80. "Sir John Falstaffe robb'd with a bottle of sacke ; so doth hee take mens purses with a wicked roule of tobacco at his girdle."—New and Choise Characters of Severall Authors, 1615.

      The exact chronology of the productions of Shakespeare's muse will probably never be ascertained, but we can safely refer many of his sonnets and poems to a very early period of his life. Meres, writing about the year 1597, mentions "his sugred sonnets among his private friends," a passage full of meaning, and almost sufficient of itself not only to confirm Mr. Dyce's opinion, "after repeated perusals of the sonnets, that the greater number of them was composed in an assumed character, on different subjects, and at different times, for the amusement, and probably at the suggestion, of the author's intimate associates ;"  but to dissipate the theory, promulgated at the expense of so much learning, that by W. H., the person to whom the first edition of the sonnets was inscribed, was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and that this nobleman is the object to whom they were originally addressed. However curious may be the apparently connected series, the publication of these compositions, in 1640, as poems on distinct subjects, shows in what light they were considered at that time, and the late Mr. Bright possessed a MS. in which the eighth sonnet appears as a separate essay in praise of music,—†

  " Shakespear sais he was deeply delighted with the singing of Dowland the lutanist, but Spencers deep conceits he thought surpassed all others. See in his sonnets the Friendly Concord. That . . . John Dowland and Tho. Morley or W. Bird are said to have set several of those sonnets to musick as well as others."—Oldys, MS. notes to Langbaine.  In 1597, Weelkes published the music to the poem commencing, " My flocks feed not."

p.158 /

In laudem musice et opprobrium contemptorii ejusdem.

Musicke to heare, why hearest thou musicke sadly ?
Sweete wth sweetes warre not, joy delights in joy ;
Why lovest yu that wch thou receavest not gladly,
Or els receavest wth pleasure thine annoy ?

If the true concord of well tuned soundes
By unions maried, doe offend thy eare,
They doe but sweetlie chide thee, whoe confoundes
In singlenes a parte wch thou shouldst beare.

Marke howe one stringe, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each on each by mutuall orderinge,
Resemblinge childe, and syer, and happy mother,
Wch all in one this single note dothe singe :
       Whose speechless songe, beeinge many, seeming one,
       Singe this to thee, Thou single shalt prove none.

W. Shakspeare.

      There are several of the sonnets which, I think, could only have been produced at a very early age, some most probably before his marriage ; and the quibbling stanza, quoted at p. 110, may be regarded as one amongst many proofs of this which might be pointed out. Many of them were no doubt composed at Stratford.*

  The boundary elm represented on the next page is one of the few relics of Shakespeare's Stratford, and this summer is the last of its existence, for it has died of old age, and must give way for another. This tree is mentioned in a perambulation dated 1591, and being within a few hundred yards of the poet's birthplace, was doubtlessly a familiar object with him.

They were anterior to the beautiful poem ‘ Venus and Adonis,’ which was published by Shakespeare in 1593, as "the first heir of my invention," no doubt his first production of any magnitude. This was followed in 1594 by the publication of ‘ Lucrece,’ and both these poems attained great popularity, and were frequently reprinted. It is remarkable that con-

p.159 /

The boundary elm, Stratford, 1847. Original published size 5.6cm wide by 7cm high.

The boundary elm, Stratford.

temporary writers refer to them much oftener than to the plays. In the year in which ‘ Lucrece’ was published, Willobie thus alludes to it in his ‘ Avisa,’ 4to. 1594,—

Though Collatine have deerely bought
    To high renowne a lasting life,
And found that most in vaine have sought
    To have a faire and constant wife ;
Yet Tarquyne pluct his glistering grape,
And Shake-speare paints poore Lucrece rape.

and a marginal note to a work entitled ‘ Polimanteia,’ 4to. 1595, informs us that "all praise" the Lucretia of "sweet Shakespeare."  Barnefield, in his ‘ Poems in Divers Humors,’ 1598,*  rests the poet's reputation on these poems,—

  There is a very curious copy of this work, written in cypher, among the Ashmolean MSS. No. 1153. See Mr. Black's Catalogue, col. 1020.

p.160 /

And Shakespeare, thou, whose hony-flowing vaine,
Pleasing the world, thy praises doth obtaine,
Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweete and chaste)
Thy name in fame's immortall booke have plac't ;
    Live ever you, at least in fame live ever :
    Well may the bodye dye, but fame dies never.

      Mr. Collier has mentioned several other testimonies of the same kind. We may conclude with the following, which occurs as late as 1614, in Freeman's ‘ Rubbe and a Great Cast,’ a curious collection of epigrams, and does not appear to have been yet quoted :

To Master W. Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, that nimble Mercury, thy braine,
Lulls many hundred Argus-eyes asleepe ;
So fit for all thou fashionest thy vaine.
At th’ horse-foote fountaine thou hast drunk full deepe ;
Vertues or vices theame to thee all one is :
Who loves chaste life, there's Lucrece for a teacher ,
Who list read lust, there's Venus and Adonis,
True modell of a most lascivious leatcher.
Besides in plaies thy wit windes like Meander,
When needy new-composers borrow more
Thence (sic) Terence doth from Plautus or Menander :
But to praise thee aright I want thy store.
Then let thine owne works thine owne worth upraise,
And help t’adorne thee with deserved baies.

      ‘ Venus and Adonis’ appeared in 1593, with a sort of apologetic dedication to Henry, Earl of Southampton,—"I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden ; only if your Honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour."  The dedication to ‘ Lucrece,’ 1594, is in a tone far more confident,—"The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, p.161 / not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance : what I have done is yours ; what I have to do is yours ; being part in all I have devoted yours."  These dedications are precious fragments, the only letters of Shakespeare that have descended to our times. It would appear from them that Lord Southampton had rewarded the author of ‘ Venus and Adonis,’ and Mr. Collier ingeniously conjectures that the munificent gift of that nobleman to Shakespeare, recorded by Rowe, was presented in return for the dedication to that poem, and was partially employed by the great dramatist as his contribution to the erection of the Globe theatre ; but it must not be forgotten that the date of publication in these matters is no positive criterion, for, although ‘ Venus and Adonis’ was not published till 1593, the MS. of it with the dedication might have been presented to Lord Southampton long before that period. Rowe speaks of the gift I have alluded to with great diffidence. "There is," he says, "one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to."  This amount must be exaggerated, for, considering the value of money in those days, such a gift is altogether incredible. Apart from this limitation, there is every reason for believing the general truth of Rowe's account.*

  This tradition is also mentioned by Oldys in a commonplace book, MS. Addit. 12523, p. 127, which is apparently an independent authority.

      The Globe theatre was erected about the year 1594, and was used for dramatic performances by the Lord Chamber- p.162 / lain's servants during the summer, their other house in the Blackfriars being their winter theatre. The Globe was not sufficiently warm or protected from the weather to be used in the winter time, and it seems that early in the year 1596 the company were desirous of repairing and enlarging the Blackfriars theatre, "to make the same more convenient for the entertainment of auditories coming thereto."   In this project they were opposed by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, who appear to have been great enemies to theatrical amusements, and the players therefore found it necessary to petition the Privy Council, which they did in the following curious document, discovered by Mr. Collier in the State Paper Office :—

To the right honourable the Lords of her Majesties most honourable Privie Councell.

    The humble petition of Thomas Pope, Richard Burbadge, John Hemings, Augustine Phillips, William Shakespeare, William Kempe, William Slye, Nicholas Tooley, and others, servaunts to the Right Honorable the Lord Chamberlaine to her Majestie.
    Sheweth most humbly, that your petitioners are owners and players of the private house, or theatre, in the precinct and libertie of the Blackfriers, which hath beene for many yeares used and occupied for the playing of tragedies, comedies, histories, enterludes, and playes. That the same, by reason of its having beene so long built, hath fallen into great decay, and that besides the reparation thereof, it has beene found necessarie to make the same more convenient for the entertainement of auditories coming thereto. That to this end your petitioners have all and eche of them put down sommes of money, according to their shares in the said theatre, and which they have justly and honestly gained by the exercise of their qualitie of stage-players ; but that certaine persons, (some of them of honour) inhabitants of the said precinct and libertie of the Blackfriers, have, as your petitioners are infourmed, besought your honourable lordshipps not to permitt the said private house any longer to remaine open, but hereafter to be shut up and closed, to the manifest and great injurie of your petitioners, who have no other meanes whereby to maintain their wives and families, but by the exercise of their qualitie as they have heretofore done. Furthermore, that in the summer season your petitioners are able to playe at their new built house on the Bankside calde the Globe, but that in the winter they are compelled to come to the Blackfriers ; and if your honorable Lordshipps give consent unto that which is prayde against your petitioners, they will not onely,
p.163 / while the winter endures, loose the meanes whereby they now support themselves and their families, but be unable to practise themselves in anie playes or enterludes, when calde upon to perform for the recreation and solace of her Matie and her honorable court, as they have beene heretofore acustomed. The humble prayer of your petitioners therefore is, that your honorable lordshipps will grant permission to finish the reparations and alterations they have begun ; and as your petitioners have hitherto been well ordred in their behaviour, and just in their dealings, that your honorable lordshipps will not inhibit them from acting at their above namde private house in the precinct and libertie of the Blackfriers, and your petitioners, as in dutie most bounden, will ever pray for the increasing honor and happinesse of your honorable lordshipps.

      This petition was only partially successful, the Lords of the Council permitting the company to repair the theatre, "butt not to make the same larger then in former tyme hath bene."*   It will be observed that in this document the actors named are termed "owners and players," and that each of them had "put down sommes of money, according to their shares in the said theatre."   Owner was a term of greater import than sharer, and we may conclude that Shakespeare in 1596 was in possession of a permanent interest in the Blackfriars theatre. For the next discovery respecting the poet we are again indebted to the untiring zeal of Mr. Collier.†

  See a letter quoted by Mr. Collier, p. 156.
    †   Mr. Collier, however, has not discovered the purport of the document. When Malone mentioned the MS. in 1796, in his Inquiry, p. 215, he probably had other papers with it detailing more particularly the object of complaint, otherwise he could not have concluded from the paper here printed that "our poet appears to have lived in Southwark, near the Bear-garden, in 1596."   The incessant noise and tumult raised by this place of amusement must have been a source of great annoyance to the immediate neighbourhood.

It appears that Alleyn's Bear-garden was a source of annoyance to some of the inhabitants of Southwark who resided in its immediate vicinity, and in July 1596 they made a formal complaint of their grievances, Shakespeare being one of the complainants. It is thus established that Shakespeare resided near the Bear-garden in Southwark at that period. The following curious p.164 / paper relating to this subject is preserved at Dulwich College :—

Inhabitantes of Sowtherk as have complaned this . . . . . of Jully, 1596.

Mr. Markis.
Mr. Tuppin.
Mr. Langorth.
Wilsone the pyper.
Mr. Barett.
Mr. Shaksper.
Mother Golden the baude.
Fillpott, and no more, and soe well ended.

Link to 'Life of Shakespeare', contents.
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