« AnteriorContinua »
SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.
William SHAKSPBARB was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on the 23d day of April
, 1564. His father, John Shakspeare, was a glover at Stratford, and had been alderman and high-bailiff, or mayor, of that corporation, but passed the latter part of his life in reduced circumstances. The poet's mother was the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, of Wellingcote, or Wilmecote, in Warwickshire. He had eight brothers and sisters, of whor five attained to the age of maturity, but of them little is known.
William, the eldest of this family, was placed, for education, at the free-school of Stratford, from which he appears to have been early removed to the office of some country attorney. In his eighteenth year, or perhaps a little sooner, he married Anne Hathaway ; she Was seven years and a half older than himself.
Of his course of life at this time all that is known is from tradition, and tradition gives us to rery favourable account. We are told that he was obliged to leave his family and busiDess, whatever the latter might be, and take shelter in London, in consequence of having associated with a gang of deer-stealers who robbed the park of Șir Thomas Lucy. Mr. Malone, the last who has attempted to give a life of Shakspeare from original documents, endeavours to prove all this to be false, but has not furnished us with any other reason why Shakspeare should have precipitately left Stratford, unless a conjecture that he was involved in some pecuniary dificulties." He is supposed to have arrived in London in the year 1586, when he was twenty-two years old, and appears to have been soon led, by accident or inclination, to the theatres, of which he was destined, at no long period, to be the unrivalled ornament.
He was at first an actor, but, as all his biographers suppose, not of any great eminence. It was when he began to write for the stage that he distanced his predecessors, his contemporaries
, and his successors ; but it is much to be regretted, that no document exists by which we can trace his progress as a dramatic author. That he was soon eminently distinguished may be gathered from his enjoying the gracious favour of Queen Elizabeth, and the liberal patronage of the Earl of Southampton. He was likewise afterwards a favourite with King James.
How long he was an actor has not been discovered, but the dates of his authorship may be more easily ascertained. He is said to have produced his first play, “The Comedy of Errors," in 1591, and be continued to write for the stage until the year 1614. His lesser poems were produced at various intervals ; but no prose work is known to have come from
During his career as a dramatic writer he acquired a property in the theatre, from which it is supposed he derived about 2001. a-year, and with that, and other advantages from his plays
, he retired with a fortune, which enabled him to pass the remainder of his days in ease He left London about four years before his death, and purchased a house in Stratford. It had belonged to the family of Sir Hugh Clopton, and was known by the name of the Great House, until Shakspeare, after he had repaired it to his own mind, called it New Plece
. It existed in 1742, when Garrick paid a visit to Stratford, but was pulled down by the Rer. Mr. Gastrell, who became its owner in 1752. No vestige of it now remains. During Shakspeare's abode in this house, his pleasurable wit and good nature, says clove
, engaged him the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. This may readily be believed. He was justly entitled to the respect of his countrymen. He had left his native place poor, and almost unknown ; he returned ennobled by fame, and enriched by fortune.
Shakspeare died on his birth-day, Tuesday, April 23, 1616, when he had exactly completed his fifty-second year, and was buried on the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford. Here a monument is placed on the wall, on which he is represented under an arch, in a sitting posture, and a cushion before him, with a pen in his right hand, and his left resting on a scroll of paper. The following Latin distich is engraved under the cushion :
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus mæret, Olympus habet. We have no account of the malady which elosed his life. Of his person there is only a scanty notice by Aubrey, who says, “ he was a handsome, well-shaped man." The physiognomist may consult the various portraits of him, but the authenticity of some of those is involved in doubt, and it is certain they do not agree.
His family consisted of two daughters, and a son named Hamnet, who died in 1596, in the twelfth year of his age. Susannah, the eldest daughter, and her father's favourite, was married June 5, 1607, to Dr. John Hall, a physician, who died November, 1635, aged sixty. Mrs. Hall died July 11, 1649, aged sixty-six. They left only one child, Elizabeth, born in 1607-8, and married April 22, 1626, to Thomas Nashe, Esq., who died in 1647; and afterwards to Sir John Barnard, of Abington, in Northamptonshire, but died without issue by either husband. Judith, Shakspeare's youngest daughter, was married February 10, 1615-16, to a Mr. Thomas Quiney, and died February, 1661-2, in her seventy-seventh year. By Mr. Quiney she had three sons, Shakspeare, Richard, and Thomas, who all died unmarried: and here the descendants of our poet became extinct.
It does not appear that Shakspeare published any of his plays, and only eleven of them were printed in his life-time. Soon after he died, the nation began to be involved in disputes, which ended in a civil war ; and it was nearly a century after before the merit of his works was discovered. During this long period only four editions of his works were published, all in folio, and it is supposed that the impressions were not numerous.
His last commentator justly remarks, that “ if he had been read, admired, studied, ana imitated, in the same degree as he now is, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life." But all these are for ever lost, and less is known of Shakspeare than of almost any writer who has been regarded as an object of curiosity.
For his character as a dramatic writer, it is sufficient to refer to Dr. Johnson's preface to his edition of his plays, a composition pre-eminent for taste, elegance, and philosophy. “Shakspeare," says our great moralist, “is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised hy the rest of the world ; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers, or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions ; they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets, a character is too often an individual ; in those of Shakspeare, it is commonly a species. It is from this wide extension of design that so much instruction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shakspeare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that every verse was a precept: and it may be said of Shakspeare, that from his works may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence.”—This, therefore, is the praise of Shakspeare, that his drama is the mirror of life: that he who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoins which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies, by reading human sentiments in human language ; by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.