Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

Shakespeare's First Years in London. 79 The first years of Shakespeare's life in London are shrouded in obscurity. Doubtless he had a hard struggle, and much bitter experience of the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy takes Actors are a jealous race, and the playwrights in favour at the time would look with no kindly eye upon the young Warwickshire man, who, though deficient in scholastic learning, knew better than any of them how to delineate human life, and how to touch the springs of emotion. The earliest undoubted literary allusion to Shakespeare occurs in poor Robert Greene's “Groatsworth of Wit,” published in 1592.

There we read of “An upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his 'tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide,'' supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” This shows that by 1592 Shakespeare's fame had at least advanced far enough to make him an object of jealousy. Greene's pamphlet was published after his death by his executor, Henry Chettle, also a playwright. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare took offence at the allusions to them contained in it; and in his “Kind Hart's Dream," published about three months after Greene's pamphlet, Chettle made his apologies to Shakespeare. “With neither of them that take offence,” he says, “was I acquainted, and with one of them (Marlowe), I care not if I never be; the other (Shakespeare), whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that as I have moderated the heat of living writers, and might have used my own discretion, especially in such a case, the author being dead, that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanour 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, that approves his

? A line from an old play, “The True Tragedy of Richarvi, Duke of York;" also found in the “Third Part of Henry VI.," a recast of the " True Tragedy."

art.” Valuable testimony this, proving that Shakespeare was beginning to be appreciated both as a man and as an author.

In 1593 Shakespeare published the first work to which he put his name, “Venus and Adonis," a poem full of youthful passion, rich in colour, and showing an exuberant imagination and delight in country sights and sounds. It was dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, a gallant and accomplished nobleman, well known as a patron of men of letters, To him was also dedicated the "Rape of Lucrece," published in the following year. By 1594 he is also supposed to have written several of his plays. “Titus Andronicus,” “ Henry VI.,” Parts I., II., and III., the “Two Gentlemen of Verona," the “ Comedy of Errors,” “Love's Labour's Lost,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Midsummer Night's Dream," " Richard II.," and “Richard III.," are conjectured to belong to about this period. Their dates cannot be assigned with any approach to certainty. Probably Shakespeare began his work by retouching old plays, as he is supposed to have done in the case of “Titus Andro. nicus” and the first part of " Henry VI.” Certainly neither of these dramas are distinguished by such excellence as to make us desirous to prove them the work of Shakespeare alone.

From 1595 to 1601, during what is called the second period of his dramatic activity, the following plays are supposed by Mr. Furnivall to have been produced by Shakespeare :-“King John,” the "Merchant of Venice," the “ Taming of the Shrew" (an old play only retouched by Shakespeare), “ Henry IV.," Parts I. and II., the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Henry V.," “Much Ado About Nothing,"

,” “As You Like It," "Twelfth Night,” “ All's Well that Ends Well.” During this period Shakespeare attained entire mastery over his art : in none of these plays do we find the slips and flaws incident to the work of a “prentice hand.”

To Shakespeare's third period, extending from 1601 to 1608, belong all his great tragedies. In it are believed to have been written "Julius Cæsar," “Hamlet," “ Measure for Measure," “Othello,” “Macbeth,” “King Lear," " Troilus and Cressida," “Antony and Cleopatra," “Coriolanus,” and “Timon of

Shakespeare's Sonnets.

81 Athens." This seems to have been a gloomy period in Shakespeare's life; disgust with his profession and other troubles led him to look on the dark side of things; "the burden and the mystery" of this unintelligible world weighed heavily on him ; and, perplexed by the enigmas of fate, he found relief for his overburdened soul, as so many great artists have done, by shadowing forth in the creatures of his imagination his own doubts and difficulties.

After the tempest came calm and sunshine. In the plays belonging to what is called Shakespeare's fourth period we find a sweet grave tenderness: the blessings of forgiveness and domestic love are set forth : himself escaped from turmoil and sorrow, the dramatist looks with lenient eye upon the frailty of mankind, regarding with fond sympathy their errors and shortcomings, their struggles and trials. To this period, extending from 1609 to about 1613, belong “Pericles” (only in part Shakespeare's), the “Tempest,” “Cymbeline,” the

, " “Winter's Tale," and “Henry VIII.," part of which is thought to have been written by Fletcher.

We have left unnoticed the work which, from a biographical point of view, is by far the most interesting that Shakespeare ever wrote—the Sonnets. They were not published till 1609, but were probably written between 1595 and 1605. Round perhaps no book do so many literary problems centre. Almost every one who has written about Shakespeare has had some new theory regarding them. The first difficulty meets us before we begin their perusal. By Thomas Thorpe, the publisher, they were thus dedicated : “To the onlie begetter of these insuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H., all happiness, and that Eternitie promised by our ever-living poet, wisheth the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth, T. T. (Thomas Thorpe].” Now who was this Mr. W. H.? Many have been the conjectures as to this, and very likely none of them are correct, but the most probable one is that “Mr. W. H.” signifies William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Many little facts, not very striking individually, but tolerably convincing collectively, point to this conclusion. When we look at the Sonnets themselves, we find that they fall into two

divisions; the first, from 1 to 126, addressed to a man ; the other, 127-154, to a woman, and indicating apparently that Shakespeare had unwisely loved and had been betrayed in his love by the friend to whom the first series of sonnets is addressed. Other divisions of the Sonnets have been suggested, but they do not seern to have any great claims to consideration. Mr. Fleay, strangely enough, supposes that the latter division of the Sonnets was addressed by Shakespeare to his wife. Professor Minto is inclined to think that they are a tour de force, written to show Shakespeare's contempt for the exaggerated tone adopted by the sonnet-writers of the period—an interpretation which many who admire Shakespeare would gladly accept, but which almost certainly is not correct. Of another difficulty in the Sonnets Professor Minto was the first to suggest what is now generally accepted as the true solution. In Sonnets 76-86 we find the poet complaining that his friend favours a rival writer. In Sonnet 86 he speaks of

-“the proud full sail of his great verse,

Bound for the prize of all too precious you ;" of “his spirit, by spirits taught to write above a mortal pitch," of his "compeers by night” that gave him aid, and of “that affable familiar ghost which nightly gulls him with intelligence." The rival thus spoken of was formerly supposed to be Marlowe, but there are good reasons for believing that he cannot have been meant. All who have read any of George Chapman's translation of the “Iliad” will admit that “the proud full sail of his great verse" applies admirably to its sonorous Alexandrines; and there are other indications, such as that Chapman “advanced fervent claims to supernatural inspiration" (" by spirits taught to write"), which lead to the conclusion that he was the rival poet indicated.

We know little of the tenor of Shakespeare's life while he went on producing his wonderful series of dramas. He be. came a partner in the profits of the Globe Theatre in 1599, and, before and after that event, worldly prosperity shone on him, as, in spite of all that is said about the caprice of fate, it generally 83

Death of Shakespeare. does upon those who work diligently and are ready to take at the flood the tide that leads on to fortune. In 1596 John Shakespeare, doubtless at his son's instigation, applied at the Heralds' College for a grant of arms. In 1597 Shakespeare bought for £60 a fine house, New Place, in Stratford. In 1602 he purchased for £320 a hundred and seven acres in the parish of Old Stratíord. In the same year he bought a second and smaller property. In 1605 he bought a thirty-one years' remainder of a lease of tithes in Stratford, Old Straiford, Bishopton, and Wilcombe for £440. Many other particulars indicative of his increasing wealth have been exhumed from old documents. Unlike most poets, Shakespeare seems to have attended to the maxim about taking care of the pence. Nodoubt his father's difficuities made him more careful about financial matters than he might otherwise have been. It is evident that he had a sharp eye for business. In 1604 he brought an action at Stratford for £1, 155. 1od., and in 1609 he strenuously pursued for a debt of £6 and 24s. costs a certain John Addenbrooke. These are curious facts, well worth pondering by those who think that men of genius are generally fools as regards money matters.

About 1612 Shakespeare returned to his native town, “a prosperous gentleman.” Rowe's account of the last years of his life may be accepted as substantially correct. “ The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasions, and in that to his wish; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood." His hopes of founding a family, if he ever entertained such, had failen to the ground by the death of his only son, Hamnet, in 1596.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Two days later his remains were deposited in the chancel of Stratford Church, where his grave is marked by a flat stone, bearing the famous inscription

« ForrigeFortsæt »