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ENGLISH OF SHAKESPEARE,
I. SHAKESPEARE'S PERSONAL HISTORY.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born at Stratford-uponAvon, in the county of Warwick, in April 1564. His baptism is recorded in the parish register as having taken place on Wednesday the 26th, and the inscription on his tomb makes him to have been in his fifty-third year when he died on the 23rd, of April 1616; his birth-day, therefore, cannot have been later than the 23rd. It was more probably some days earlier. It is commonly assumed, nevertheless, to have been the 23rd, which, besides being also the day of his death, is the day dedicated to St George the Martyr, the patron saint of England.
His father was John Shakespeare; his mother, Mary Arderne, or Arden. The Ardens were among the oldest of the county gentry; many of the Shakespeares also, who were numerous in Warwickshire, were of good condition. The name in provincial speech was probably sounded Shackspeare or Shacksper ; but even in the poet's own day its more refined or literary pronunciation seems to have been the same that now prevails. It was certainly recognised as a combination of the two words
Shake and Spear. His own spelling of it, however, in a few instances in which that, our only known fragment of his handwriting, has come down to us, is Shakspere.
John Shakespeare appears to have followed the business of a glover, including no doubt the making of gloves as well as the selling of them. He seems to have fallen latterly into decayed circumstances; but in his better days it is evident that he ranked with the first class of the burgesses of his town. He was for many years an alderman, and twice filled the office of High Bailiff, or chief magistrate. He was also, though perhaps never very wealthy, but rather always a struggling man, possessed of some houses in Stratford, as well as of a small freehold estate acquired by his marriage; and his connexion with the Arden family would itself bring him consideration. His marriage probably took place in 1557. He lived till 1602, and his wife till 1608. Of eight children, four sons and four daughters, William was the third, but the eldest son.
Shakespeare's father, like the generality of persons of his station in life of that day, appears to have been unable to write his name; all his signature in the books of the corporation is his cross, or mark; but there can be no doubt that the son had a grammar-school education. He was in all probability sent to the free-school of his native town. After he left school it has been thought that he may have spent some time in an attorney's office. But in 1582, when he was only eighteen, he married; his wife, Anne Hathaway, of Shottery, in the neighbourhood of Stratford, was about eight years older than himself; children soon followed,---first a daughter, then twins, a son and daughter; and this involvement may be conjectured to have been what drove him to London, in the necessity of finding some way of supporting his family which required no apprenticeship. He became first an actor, then a writer for the stage. Already by the year
1589 he had worked his way up to be one of the proprietors of the Blackfriars Theatre. But he seems to have always continued to look upon Stratford as his home ; there he left his wife and children; he is said to have made a point of revisiting his native town once a year; and thither, after he had, by the unceasing activity of many years, secured a competency, he returned to spend the evening of his days in quiet. So that we may say he resorted to London, after all, only as the sailor goes to sea, always intending to come back. He appears to have finally retired to Stratford, and settled there on a property which he had purchased, about the year 1612; his wife still lived, and also his two daughters, of whom the elder, Susanna, was married to Dr John Hall, a physician, in 1607; the younger, Judith, to Mr Thomas Quiney, in February 1616. But he had lost his only son, who was named Hamnet, in 1596, when the boy was in his twelfth year. Shakespeare died at Stratford, as already mentioned, on the 23rd of April 1616; and he lies in. terred in the parish church there.
His wife survived till August 1623. Both his daughters had families ;-Susanna, a daughter, who was twice married ; Judith, three sons; but no descendant of the great poet now exists. The last was probably Elizabeth, daughter of Dr Hall, who became the wife first of Thomas Nash, Esq., secondly of Sir John Barnard, and died without issue by either husband in February 1670. Nor is it known that there are any descendants even of his father remaining, although one of his brothers and also one of his sisters are ascertained to have been married, and to have had issue.
II. SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS.
The first work of Shakespeare's which was printed with his name was his poem entitled Venus and Adonis, in stanzas consisting each of an alternately rhyming quatrain
followed by a couplet. It appeared in 1593, with a Dedication to the Earl of Southampton, in which the author styles it the first heir of his invention. This was followed in 1594 by The Rape of Lucrece, in stanzas of seven lines, one rhyming to the fourth being here inserted before the closing couplet; it is also dedicated to Lord Southampton, to whom the author expresses the most unlimited obligation:-“What I have done,” he says, “is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.” The Venus and Adonis was thrice reprinted in Shakespeare's lifetime; the Lucrece, five or six times.
His other works, besides his Plays, are The Passionate Pilgrim, a small collection of poems, first printed in 1599; and his Sonnets, .154 in number, with the poem entitled A Lover's Complaint (in the same stanza as the Lucrece), which appeared together in 1609. But the Sonnets, or some of them at least, were well known long before this. “As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras," says a writer named Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, “so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare : witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugаred Sonnets among his private friends." It was still a common practice for works to be circulated to a limited extent in manuscript while they were withheld
from the press.
The first edition of Shakespeare's collected Dramatic Works appeared in 1623, or not till seven years after his death, in a folio volume. A second edition, with numerous verbal alterations, but no additional Plays, was brought out in the same form in 1632. In 1664 appeared a third edition, also in folio, containing seven additional Plays. And a fourth and last folio reprint followed in 1685.
The Plays that are now commonly received as Shakespeare's are all those that are contained in the First Folio,
being thirty-six in number, together with Pericles, Prince of Tyre, one of the seven added in the Third Folio. Besides the other six in that edition --entitled The Tragedy of Locrine, The First Part of the Life of Sir John Oldcastle, The Chronicle History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, The London Prodigal, The Puritan, and A Yorkshire Tragedy, -there have been ascribed to Shakespeare in more recent times the old Plays of The Reign of King Edward the Third and The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham; and by certain German critics those of The Comedy of George-a-Green (generally held to be the work of Robert Greene), The Comedy of Mucedorus, The Birth of Merlin, and The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Some of these are among the humblest productions of the human intellect; that the notion of their being Shakespeare's should have been taken up by such men as Schlegel and Tieck is an illustrious instance of how far the blinding and extravagant spirit of system may go. Finally, the Play of The Two Noble Kinsmen, commonly included among those of Beaumont and Fletcher, has been attributed in part to Shakespeare; it is described on the title-page of the first edition, published in 1634, as written by Fletcher and Shakespeare, and the opinion that Shakespeare had a share in it has been revived in our own day.
Of the thirty-seven Plays generally held to be genuine, eighteen are known to have been separately printed, some of them oftener than once, in Shakespeare's lifetime: Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's Lost, Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, Richard the Second, First Part of Henry the Fourth, Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Richard the Third (all substantially as we now have them); Hamlet, in three editions, two of them greatly differing the one from the other; and, in forms more or less unlike our present copies, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry the Fifth,