the capital, as to invite three distinct sets of players there to exhibit in the brief
period which is denned in the entries of 1579 and 1580.*
The hall of the Guild, which afterwards became the Town Hall, was the occasional
theatre of Stratford. It is now a long room, and somewhat low, the building being
divided into two floors, the upper of which is used as the Grammar School. The
elevation for the Court at one end of the hall would form the stage ; and on one
side is an ancient separate chamber to which the performers would retire. With a
due provision of benches, about three hundred persons could be accommodated in
this room ; and no doubt Mr. Bailiff would be liberal in the issue of his invitations,
so that Stratford might not grudge its expenditure.
If there was amongst that audience at Stratford, in 1580, witnessing the per-
formance of such a comedy as " Common Conditions," t one in whom the poetical
feeling was rapidly developing, and whose taste had been formed upon better models
than anything which the existing drama could offer to him (such a one perhaps was
there in the person of William Shakspere) he would perceive how imperfectly this
comedy attained the end of giving delight to a body of persons assembled together
with an aptitude for delight. And yet they would have been pleased and satisfied.
There is in this comedy bustle and change of scene ; something to move the feelings
in the separation of lovers and their re-union ; laughter excited by grotesqueness
which stands in the place of wit and humour ; music and song ; and, more than all,
lofty words and rhymed cadences which sound like poetry. But to that one critical
listener the total absence of the real dramatic spirit would be most perplexing. At
the moment when he himself would be fancying what the characters upon the scene
were about to do, how their discourse, like that of real life, would have reference
to the immediate business of the action in which they were engaged, and explain
their own feelings, passions, peculiarities, the writer would present, through the
mouth of some one of these characters, a description of what some one else was
doing or had done ; and thus, though the poem was a dialogue, it was not a drama ;
it did not realize the principle of personation which such a mind was singularly
formed to understand and cultivate. The structure of the versification, too, would
appear to him altogether unfit to represent the thoughts and emotions of human
beings engaged in working out a natural train of adventures. Some elevation of style
would be required to distinguish the language from that of ordinary life, without
being altogether opposed to that language ; something that would convey the idea
of poetical art, whilst it was sufficiently real not to make the art too visible. " The
Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex ;" printed in 1571, "as the same was showed on the
stage before the Queen's Majesty, about nine year past, by the gentlemen of the
Inner Temple," would give him the most complete specimen of that species of verse
which appeared fitted for the purposes of the higher drama. The speeches were
indeed long, after the model of the stately harangues which he had read in his " Livy "
and "Sallust;" but they were forcible and impressive; especially those lines on
* See " Studies of Shakspere," Book I., Chapters n, in, IV, and v.
t "Studies," p. 11.
80 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
the causes and miseries of civil war of which our history had furnished such fearful
" And thou, Britain ! whilom in renown,
Whilom in wealth and fame, shalt thus be torn,
Dismember' d thus, and thus be rent in twain,
Thus wasted and defac'd, spoil'd and destroy'd :
These be the fruits your civil wars will bring.
Hereto it comes, when kings will not consent
To grave advice, but follow wilful will.
This is the end, when in fond princes' hearts
Flattery prevails, and sage rede hath no place.
These are the plagues, when murder is the mean
To make new heirs unto the royal crown.
Thus wreak the gods, when that the mother's wnitli
Nought but the blood of her own child may 'suage.
These mischiefs spring when rebels will arise,
To work revenge, and judge their prince's fact.
This, this ensues, when noble men do fail
In loyal truth, and subjects will be kings.
And this doth grow, when, lo ! unto the prince,
Whom death or sudden hap of life bereaves,
No certain heir remains ; such certain heir
As not all only is the rightful heir,
But to the realm is so made known to be,
And truth thereby vested in subjects' hearts."
Yet the entire play of " Ferrex and Porrex " was monotonous and uninteresting ; it
seemed as if the dramatic form oppressed the undoubted genius of one of the
authors of that play. How inferior were the finest lines which Sackville wrote in
this play, correct and perspicuous as they were, compared with some of the noble
bursts in the Induction to "A Mirror for Magistrates !" Surely the author of the
sublime impersonation of War could have written a tragedy that would have filled
the heart with terror, if not with pity !
" Lastly stood War in glittering arms yclad,
With visage grim, stern looks, and blackly hued :
In his right hand, a naked sword he had
That to the hilts was all with blood imbrued ;
And in his left (that kings and kingdoms rued)
Famine and Fire he held, and therewithal
He razed towns, and threw down towers and all."
Still, he might wonder that the example which Sackville had given of dramatic
blank verse had not been followed by the writers of plays for the common theatres.
A change, however, was taking place ; for the First Part of "Promos and Cassandra"
was wholly in rhyme ; while in the Second Part Master George Whetstone had freely
introduced blank verse. In the little book which Stephen Gosson had just written
against plays, his second book in answer to Thomas Lodge, was an evidence that
the multitude most delighted in rhyme : " The poets send their verses to the stage,
upon such feet as continually are rolled up in rhyme at the fingers' ends, which is
plausible to the barbarous and carrieth a sting into the ears of the common people."*
And yet, from another passage of the same writer, the embryo poet might collect
that even the refined and learned were delighted with the poetical structure of the
common dramas : " So subtle is the devil, that under the colour of recreation in
London, and of exercise of learning in the universities, by seeing of plays, he
maketh us to join with the Gentiles in their corruption. Because the sweet num-
bers of poetry, flowing in verse, do wonderfully tickle the hearers' ears, the devil
* " Plays Confuted, in Five Actions."
CHAP. II.] THE PLAYERS AT STRATFORD. 81
hath tied this to most of our plays, that whatsoever he would have stick fast to our
souls might slip down in sugar by this inticement, for that which delighteth never
troubleth our swallow. Thus, when any matter of love is interlarded, though the
thing itself be able to allure us, yet it is so set out with sweetness of words, fitness
of epithets, with metaphors, allegories, hyperboles, amphibologies, similitude ; with
phrases so picked, so pure, so proper ; with action so smooth, so lively, so wanton j
that the poison, creeping on secretly without grief, chokes us at last, and hurleth us
down in a dead sleep." It is difficult to arrive at an exact knowledge of the truth
from the description of one who wrote under such strong excitement as Master
It was about the period which we are now touching upon that Sidney wrote his
" Defence of Poesy." The drama was then as he has described it, " much used in
England, and none can be more pitifully abused ; which, like an unmannerly
daughter showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy's honour to be called
in question." The early framers of the drama seem scarcely to have considered
that she was the daughter of Poesy. A desire for dramatic exhibitions not a new
desire, but taking a new direction had forcibly seized upon the English people.
The demand was to be supplied as it best might be, by the players who were to
profit by it. They were, as they always will be, the best judges of what would merely
please an audience ; and it was to be expected that, having within themselves the
power of constructing the rude plot of any popular story, so as to. present rapid
movement, and what in the language of the stage is called business, the beauty or
even propriety of the dialogue would be a secondary consideration, and indeed would
be pretty much left to the extemporal invention of the actor. That the wit of the
clown was almost entirely of this nature we have the most distinct evidence. Sidney,
with all his fine taste, was a stickler for " place and time, the two necessary com-
panions of all corporal actions. For," he says, " where the stage should always
represent one place, and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by
Aristotle's precept and common reason, but one day, there is both many days and
many places inartificially imagined." As the players were the rude builders of our
early drama, and as that drama was founded upon the ruder Mysteries and Moral
Plays, in which all propriety was disregarded, so that the senses could be gratified,
they naturally rejected the unities of time and place, the observance of which would
have deprived their plays of their chief attraction rapid change and abundant
incident. And fortunate was it that they did so ; for they thus went on strength-
ening and widening the foundations of our national drama, the truth and freedom
of which could not exist under a law which, literally construed, is not the law of
nature ; but which, in its treatment by a great artist like Shakspere, would evolve a
higher law than " Aristotle's precept and common reason." Had Sidney lived five
or six years longer, had he seen or read " Romeo and Juliet," or " A Midsummer-
Night's Dream," he would probably have ceased to regard the drama as the un-
mannerly daughter of Poesy ; he would in all likelihood have thought that some-
thing was gained even through the "defectuous circumstances" that spurn the
bounds of time and place, and compel the imagination to be still or to travel at its
bidding, to be utterly regardless of the halt or the inarch of events, so that one
dominant idea possess the soul and sway all its faculties. But this was only to be
effected when a play was to become a high work of art ; when all the conditions of
its excellence should be fully comprehended ; when it should unite the two main
conditions of the highest excellence that of subjecting the popular mind to its
power, through the skill which only the most refined understanding can altogether
appreciate. When the young man of Stratford, who, as we have conceived, knew
the drama of his time through the representations of itinerant players, heard the
82 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
rude dialogue of such an historic play as "The Famous Victories,"* not altogether
without delight, and laughed most heartily at the extemporal pleasantness of the
witty clown, a vivid though an imperfect notion of the excellence that might be
attained by working up such common materials upon a principle of art must have
been developed in his mind. If Sidney's noble defence of his beloved Poesy had
then been published, he would, we think, have found in it a reflection of his own
opinions as to the "bad education" of the drama. "All their plays be neither
right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the
matter so carrieth, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in
majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion : so as neither the admira-
tion and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy
obtained." The objection here is scarcely so much to the mingling kings and clowns,
when " the matter so carrieth," as to the thrusting in " the clown by head and
shoulders." Upon a right principle of art the familiar and the heroic might be
advantageously blended. In this play of " The Famous Victories," the Prince was
not only prosaic, but altogether brutalized, so that the transition from the ruffian
to the hero was distasteful and unnatural. But surround the same Prince with
companions whose profligacy was in some sort balanced and counteracted by their
intellectual energy, their wit, their genial mirthfulness ; make the Prince a gentleman
in the midst of his most wanton levity ; and the transition to the hero is not merely
probable, it is graceful in itself, it satisfies expectation. But the young poet is yet
without models, and he will remain so. He has to work out his own theory of art ;
but that theory must be gradually and experimentally formed. He has the love of
country living in his soul as a presiding principle. There are in his country's annals
many stories such as this of Henry V. that might be brought upon the stage to raise
"heroes from the grave of oblivion," for glorious example to "these degenerate
days." But in those annals are also to be found fit subjects for " the high and
excellent tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers
that are covered with tissue ; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to
manifest their tyrannical humours ; that, with stirring the affections of admiration
and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak
foundations gilded roofs are builded."t As the young poet left the Town Hall of
Stratford he would forget Tarleton and his tricks ; he would think that an English
historical play was yet to be written ; perhaps, as the ambitious thought crossed his
mind to undertake such a task, the noble lines of Sackville would be present to
his memory :
" And sorrowing I to see the summer flowers,
The lively green, the lusty leas forlorn,
The sturdy trees so shatter'd with the showers,
The fields so fade that flourish'd so beforn;
It taught me well all eartly things be born
To die the death, for nought long time may last ;
The summer's beauty yields to winter's blast.
Then looking upward to the heaven's learns,
With night's stars thick-powdered everywhere,
Which erst so glisten'd with the golden streams
That cheerful Phoebus spread down from his sphere,
Beholding dark oppressing day so near :
The sudden sight reduced to my mind
The sundry changes that in earth we find.
* "Studies," p. 19. f Sidney. " Defence of Poesy."
THE PLAYERS AT STRATFORD.
That musing on this worldly wealth in thought,
Which comes and goes more faster than we see
The flickering flame that with the fire is wrought,
My busy mind presented unto me
Such fall of peers as in this realm had be :
That oft I wish'd some would their woes descrive,
To warn the rest whom fortune left alive."
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
[Guy's Cliff in the 17th Century.]
LIVING IN THE PAST.
THE earliest, and the most permanent, of poetical associations are those which are
impressed upon the mind by localities which have a deep historical interest. It
would be difficult to find. a district possessing more striking remains of a past time
than the neighbourhood in which William Shakspere spent his youth. The poetical
feeling which the battle-fields, and castles, and monastic ruins of mid England
would excite in him, may be reasonably considered to have derived an intensity
through the real history of these celebrated spots being vague, and for the most
part traditional. The age of local historians had not yet arrived. The monuments
of the past were indeed themselves much more fresh and perfect than in the sub-
sequent days, when every tomb inscription was copied, and every mouldering
document set forth. But in the year 1580, if William Shakspere desired to know,
for example, with some precision, the history which belonged to those noble
towers of Warwick upon which he had often gazed with a delight that
scarcely required to be based upon knowledge, he would look in vain for
CHAP. III.] LIVING IN THE PAST. 85
any guide to his inquiries. Some old people might tell him that they remem-
bered their fathers to have spoken of one John Rous, the son of Geffrey Rous of
Warwick, who, having diligently studied at Oxford, and obtained a reputation for
uncommon learning, rejected all ambitious thoughts, shut himself up with his books
in the solitude of Guy's Cliff, and was engaged to the last in writing the Chronicles
of his country, arid especially the history of his native County and its famous Earls :
and there, in the quiet of that pleasant place, performing his daily offices of devotion
as a chantry priest in the little chapel, did John Rous live a life of happy industry
till 1491. But the world in general derived little advantage from his labours.
Another came after him, commissioned by royal authority to search into all the
archives of the kingdom, and to rescue from damp and dust all ancient manuscripts,
civil and ecclesiastical. The commission of Leland was well performed ; but his
" Itinerary " was also to be of little use to his own generation. William Shakspere
knew not what Leland had written about Warwickshire ; how the enthusiastic and
half-poetical antiquary had described, in elegant Latinity, the beauties of woodland
and river ; and had even given the characteristics of such a place as Guy's Cliff in a
few happy words, that would still be an accurate description of its natural features,
even after the lapse of three centuries. Caves hewn in the living rock, a thick over-
shadowing wood, sparkling springs, flowery meadows, mossy grottos, the river rolling
over the stones with a gentle noise, solitude and the quiet most friendly to the
Muses, these are the enduring features of the place as painted by the fine old
topographer.* But his manuscripts were as sealed to the young Shakspere as those
of John Rous. Yet if the future Poet sustained some disadvantage by living before
the days of antiquarian minuteness, he could still dw r ell in the past, and people it
with the beings of his own imagination. The chroniclers who had as yet attempted
to collect and systematize the records of their country did not aim at any very great
exactness either of time or place. When they dealt with a remote antiquity they
were as fabulous as the poets themselves ; and it was easy to see that they most
assumed the appearance of exactness when they wrote of times which have left not
a single monumental record. Very diffuse were they when they had to talk of the
days of Brute. Intimately could they decipher the private history of Albanact and
Humber. The fatal passion of Locrine for Elstride was more familiar to them than
that of Henry for Rosamond Clifford, or Edward for Elizabeth Woodville. Of the
cities and the gates of King Lud they could present a most accurate description. Of
King Leir very exact was their narration : how he, the son of Baldud, " was made
ruler over the Britons the year of the world 4338 ; was noble of conditions, and
guided his land and subjects in great wealth." Minutely thus does Fabyan, a
chronicler whose volume was open to William Shakspere's boyhood, describe how
the King, " fallen into impotent age," believed in the professions of his two elder
daughters, and divided with them his kingdom, leaving his younger daughter, who
really loved him, to be married without dower to the King of France ; and then how
his unkind daughters and their husbands " bereft him the governance of the land,"
and he fled to Gallia, " for to be comforted of his daughter Cordcilla, whereof she
having knowledge, of natural kindness comforted him." This in some sort was a
story of William Shakspere's locality ; for, according to the Chronicle, Leir "made
the town of Caerleir, now called Leiceter or Leicester ; " and after he was " restored
again to his lordship he died, and was buried at his town of Caerleir." The local
association may have helped to fix the story in that mind, which in its maturity was
to perceive its wondrous poetical capabilities. The early legends of the chroniclers
* " Antra in vivo saxo, nemusculura ibidem opacum, fontes liquidae ctgemmei ; prata florida, antra
muscosa, rivi levis et per saxa discursus; necnon solitude et quies Musis amicissima," Lcland's MS.
" Itinerary," as quoted by Dugdale.
86 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
are not to be despised, even in an age which in many historical things justly requires
evidence ; for .they were compiled in good faith from the histories which had been
compiled before them by the monkish writers, who handed down from generation to
generation a narrative which hung together with singular consistency. They were
compiled, too, by the later chroniclers, with a zealous patriotism. Fabyan, in his
Prologue," exclaims, with a poetical spirit which is more commendable even than
the poetical form which he adopts,
" Not for any pomp, nor yet for great raced,
This work have I taken on hand to compile,
But only because that I would spread
The famous honour of this fertile isle,
That hath continued, by many a long while,
In excellent honour, with many a royal guide,
Of whom the deeds have sprong to the world wide."
Lines such as these, homely though they are, were as seeds sown upon a goodly soil,
when they were read by William Shakspere. His patriotism was almost instinct.
In the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford there are two remarkable monu-
ments of ancient civilization, the great roads of the Ichnield-way and the Foss-
way. Upon these roads, which two centuries and a half ago would present a
singular contrast in the strength of their construction to the miry lanes of a
later period, would the young Shakspere often walk ; and he would naturally regard
these ways with reverence as well as curiosity, for his chroniclers would tell him
that they were the work of the Britons before the invasion of the Romans. Fabyan
would tell him, in express words, that they were the work of the Britons ; and
Camden and Dugdale were not as yet to tell him otherwise. Robert of Gloucester
" Faire weyes many on ther ben in Englonde ;
But four mest of all ther ben I understonde,
That thurgh an old knyge were made ere this,
As men schal in this boke aftir here tell I wis.
Fram the South into the North takith Erminge-strete.
Fram the East into the West goeth Ikeneld-strete.
Fram South-est to North-west, that is sum del grete
Fram Dover into Chestre goth Watlynge-strete.
The ferth of thise is most of alle that tilleth fram Tateneys.
Fram the South-west to North-est into Englondes ende
Fosse men callith thilke wey that by mony town doth wende.
Thise foure weyes on this londe kyng Belin the wise
Made and ordeined hem with gret fraunchisc."
His notion therefore of the people of the days of Lud and Cymbeline would be that
they were a powerful and a refined people ; excelling in many of the arts of life ;
formidable in courage and military discipline ; enjoying free institutions. When the
matured dramatist had to touch upon this period, he would paint the Britons boldly
refusing the Roman yoke, but yet partakers of the Roman civilization. The English
king who .defies Augustus says
"Thy Caesar knighted me } my youth I spent
Much under him ; of him I gather'd honour ;
Which he to seek of me again, perforce,
Behoves me keep at utterance."
This is an intelligent courage, and not the courage of a king of painted savages. In
the depths of the remarkable intrenchments which surround the hill of Welcombe,
hearing only the noise of the sheep-bell in the uplands, or the evening chime from
the distant church-tower, would William Shakspere think much of the mysterious
CHAI>. III.] LIVING IN THE PAST. 87
past. No one could tell him who made these intrenchments, or for what purpose
they were made. Certainly they were produced by the hand of man ; but were
they for defence or for religious ceremonial ? Was the lofty mound, itself probably
artificial, which looked down upon them, a fort or a temple ? Man, who would know
everything and explain everything, assuredly knows little, when he cannot demand
of the past an answer to such inquiries. But does he know much more of things
which are nearer to his own days 1 Is the annalist to be trusted when he under-
takes not only to describe the actions and to repeat the words, but to explain the
thoughts and the motives which prompted the deeds that to a certain extent fixed