« ForrigeFortsæt »
schoolboy at Stratford; perambulating his parish with his honest father; made joyful, perhaps, with a kind word or two from the great esquire; and smiling to himself at the recollection of "some loving and facetious observations" of the good vicar. All the rest of that group, where are their honours now? It is something to know that when William Shakspere was twelve years old, Henry Heycroft was vicar of Stratford, and William Clopton the great man of the parish. If they bestowed kindness upon that boy, as upon other boys; if they cherished the poor; if they reconciled differences; if they walked humbly in their generation,-they have their reward, though the world has forgotten them.
Shottery, the prettiest of hamlets, is scarcely a mile from Stratford. Here, in all probability, dwelt one who in a few years was to have an important influence upon the destiny of the boy-poet. A Court Roll of the 34th Henry VIII. (1543) shows us that John Hathaway then resided at Shottery; and the substantial house which the Hathaways possessed, now divided into several cottages, remained with their descendants till the very recent period of 1838. There were Hathaways, also, living in the town of Stratford, contemporaries of John Shakspere. We cannot say, absolutely, that Anne Hathaway, the future wife of William Shakspere, was of Shottery; but the prettiest of maidens (for the veracious antiquarian Oldys says there is a tradition that she was eminently beautiful) would have fitly dwelt in the pleasantest of hamlets. Tieck has written an agreeable novelet, 'The Festival at Kenilworth,' on the subject of Shakspere-introductory to another on the same subject, Poet-Life.' He makes, somewhat unnecessarily we think, John Shakspere morose and harsh to his boy; and he brings in Anne Hathaway to obtain his consent that William shall go to Kenilworth: "Anne took the graceful youth in her arms, and said, laughingly, Father Shakspere, you know William is my sweetheart, and belongs as much to me as to you; we have promised one another long ago, and if I go to Kenilworth he must go with me.' William withdrew himself, halfashamed, from the arms of the mischievous girl, and said, with great feeling,
Cease, Anne; you know I cannot bear this: I am too young for you.'' There is verisimilitude in this scene, if not truth; and it is easy to comprehend how the playful friendship of a handsome maiden for an interesting boy, some seven years younger, might grow into a dangerous affection. Assuredly, with neighbourly intercourse between their families, William Shakspere would be at Shottery,
"To do observance to a morn of May;"
and indeed, to be just to the youths and maidens of Stratford and Shottery, it was "impossible"
"To make them sleep On May-day morning."+
Pass the back of the cottage in which the Hathaways dwelt (of which we shall hereafter have to speak), and enter that beautiful meadow which rises into a
* Midsummer-Night's Dream.
+ Henry VIII.
gentle eminence commanding the hamlet at several points. Throw down the hedges, and is there not here the fittest of localities for the May-games? An impatient group is gathered under the shade of the old elms, for the morning sun casts his slanting beams dazzlingly across that green. There is the distant sound of tabor and bagpipe :
Hark, hark! I hear the dancing,
The bagpipe and the morris bells,
From out of the leafy Arden are they bringing in the May-pole. The oxen move slowly with the ponderous wain: they are garlanded, but not for the sacrifice. Around the spoil of the forest are the pipers and the dancers— maidens in blue kirtles, and foresters in green tunics. een tunics. Amidst the shouts of young and old, childhood leaping and clapping its hands, is the May-pole raised. But there are great personages forthcoming-not so great, however, as in more ancient times. There are Robin Hood and Little John, in their grassgreen tunics; but their bows and their sheaves of arrows are more for show than use. Maid Marian is there; but she is a mockery—a smooth-faced youth in a watchet-coloured tunic, with flowers and coronets, and a mincing gait, but not the shepherdess who
"With garlands gay Was made the lady of the May." †
There is farce amidst the pastoral. The age of unrealities has already in part arrived. Even amongst country-folks there is burlesque. There is personation, with a laugh at the things that are represented. The Hobby-horse and the Dragon, however, produce their shouts of merriment. But the hearty Morrisdancers soon spread a spirit of genial mirth amidst all the spectators. The clownish Maid Marian will now
'Caper upright like a wild Morisco;"
Friar Tuck sneaks away from his ancient companions to join hands with some undisguised maiden; the Hobby-horse gets rid of his pasteboard and his footcloth; and the Dragon quietly deposits his neck and tail for another season. Something like the genial chorus of Summer's Last Will and Testament' is rung out:
"Trip and go, heave and ho,
The early-rising moon still sees the villagers on that green of Shottery. The Piper leans against the May-pole; the featliest of dancers still swim to his
"So have I seen
Tom Piper stand upon our village green,
Back'd with the May-pole, whilst a jocund crew
The same beautiful writer-one of the last of our golden age of poetry-has
described the parting gifts bestowed upon the "
'merry youngsters" by
"The lady of the May Set in an arbour, (on a holy-day,)
Built by the May-pole, where the jocund swains
It is easy to believe that Anne Hathaway might have been the Lady of the May of Shottery; and that the enthusiastic boy upon whom she bestowed "a garland interwove with roses" might have cherished that gift with a gratitude that was not for his peace.
* Browne's Britannia's Pastorals,' Book ii., Second Song.
† Book ii., Fourth Song.
Eight villages in the neighbourhood of Stratford have been characterized in well-known lines by some old resident who had the talent of rhyme. It is remarkable how familiar all the country-people are to this day with these lines, and how invariably they ascribe them to Shakspere:
"Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillborough, hungry Grafton,
It is maintained that these epithets have a real historical truth about them; and so we must place the scene of a Whitsun-Ale at Bidford. Aubrey has given a sensible account of such a festivity :-" There were no rates for the poor in my grandfather's days; but for Kingston St. Michael (no small parish) the Church-Ale of Whitsuntide did the business. In every parish is, or was, a church-house, to which belonged spits, crocks, &c., utensils for dressing provision. Here the housekeepers met and were merry, and gave their charity. The young people were there, too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c., the ancients sitting gravely by, and looking on. All things were civil, and without scandal."+ The puritan Stubbes took a more severe view of the matter than Aubrey's grandfather:-" In certain towns where drunken Bacchus bears sway, against Christmas and Easter, Whitsuntide, or some other time, the churchwardens of every parish, with the consent of the whole parish, provide half a score or twenty quarters of malt, whereof some they buy of the churchstock, and some is given them of the parishioners themselves, every one conferring somewhat, according to his ability; which malt, being made into very strong ale or beer, is set to sale, either in the church or some other place assigned to that purpose. Then, when this is set abroach, well is he that can get the soonest to it, and spend the most at it." Carew, the historian of Cornwall (1602), says, "The neighbour parishes at those times lovingly visit one another, and this way frankly spend their money together." Thus lovingly might John Shakspere and his friends on a Whit-Monday morning have ridden by the pleasant road to Bidford-now from some little eminence beholding their Avon flowing amidst a low meadow on one side and a wood-crowned steep on the other, turning a mill-wheel, rushing over a dam-now carefully wending their way through the rough road under the hill, or galloping over the free downs, glad to escape from rut and quagmire. And then the Icknield Street§ is crossed, and they look down upon the little town with its gabled roofs; and they pass the old church, whose tower gives forth a lusty peal; and the hostel at the bridge receives them; and there is the cordial welcome, the outstretched hand and the full cup.
But nearer home Whitsuntide has its sports also; and these will be more attractive for William Shakspere. Had not Stratford its "Lord of Whitsun
tide?" Might the boy not behold at this season innocence wearing a face of freedom like his own Perdita ?-
Come, take your flowers:
Would there not be in some cheerful mansion a simple attempt at dramatic representation, such as his Julia has described in her assumed character of a page?
When all our pageants of delight were play'd,
Certainly on that holiday some one would be ready to recite a moving tale from Gower or from Chaucer-a fragment of the Confessio Amantis' or of the Troilus and Creseide:'
"It hath been sung at festivals,
The elements of poetry would be around him; the dramatic spirit of the people
* Winter's Tale, Act iv., Scene 11.
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act Iv., Sc. III. Pericles, Act 1.