Ado about Nothing," and " Twelfth Night." These productions afford the most
abundant evidence that the greatest of intellects was in the most healthful possession
of its powers* 1 These were not hasty adaptations for the popular appetite, as we
may well believe some of the earlier plays were in their first shape ; but highly-
wrought performances, to which all the method of his cultivated art had been
* " Winter's Tale," Act IL, Scene i.
CHAP. VI.] THE GLOBE. 229
strenuously applied. It was at this period that the dramatic poet appears not to
have been satisfied with the applause of the Globe or the Blackfriars, or even with
the gracious encouragements of a refined Court. During three years he gave to the
world careful editions of some of these plays, as if to vindicate the drama from the
pedantic notion that the Muses of tragedy and comedy did not meet their sisters
upon equal ground. "Richard II." and " Richard III." were published in 1597 ;
"Love's Labour's Lost," and "Henry IV.," Part I., in 1598 ; "Romeo and Juliet,"
corrected and augmented, in 1599; "Henry IV.," Part II., the "Merchant of
Venice," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "Much Ado about Nothing," in 1600.
The system of publication then ceased. It no doubt interfered with the interests of
his fellows ; and Shakspere was not likely to assert an exclusive interest, or to gratify
an exclusive pride, at the expense of his associates. But his reputation was higher
than that of any other man, when only four of his plays were accessible to the
readers of poetry. In 1598 it was proclaimed, not timidly or questionably, that "as
Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for tragedy and comedy among the
Latins, so Shakespeare, among the English, is the most excellent in both kinds for
the stage : " and " As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to li ve in Pythagoras, so
the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare."*
It was certainly not at this period of Shakspere's life that he wrote with reference to
himself, unlocking his heart to some nameless friend :
" When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone be weep my outcast .state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless crios,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least ;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
!l;i]ly I think on thee, and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate ;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings."
Sonnets of Shakspere were in existence in 1598, when Meres tells us of "his
sugared sonnets among his private friends." We have entered so fully into the
question, w r hether these poems are to be considered autobiographical, that it would
be useless for us here to repeat an argument not hastily entered upon, or carelessly
set forth. We believe that the order in which they were printed is an arbitrary
one ; that some form a continuous poem or poems, that others are isolated in their
subjects and the persons to whom they are addressed ; that some may express the
poet's personal feelings, that others are wholly fictitious, dealing with imaginary
loves and jealousies, and not attempting to separate the personal identity of the
artist from the sentiments which he expressed, and the situations which he delineated.
" We believe that, taken as works of art, having a certain degree of continuity, the
Sonnets of Spenser, of Daniel, of Drayton, of Shakspere, although in many instances
they might shadow forth real feelings and be outpourings of the inmost heart, were
presented to the world as exercises of fancy, and were received by the world as such."t
Even of those portions of these remarkable lyrics which appear to have an obvious
reference to the poet's feelings and circumstances, we cannot avoid rejecting the
principle of continuity ; for they clearly belong to different periods of life, if they
* Francis Meres. f " Studies." p. 484.
230 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
are the reflection of his real sentiments. We have the playfulness of an early love,
and the agonizing throes of an unlawful passion. They speak of a period when
the writer had won no honour or substantial rewards " in disgrace with fortune
and men's eyes," the period of his youth, if the allusion was at all real ; and yet the
" With time's injurious hand crush'd and o'erworn."
One little dedicatory poem says,
" Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit."
Another (and it is distinctly associated with what we hold to be a continued little
poem, wholly fictitious, in which the poet dramatizes as it were the poetical character)
" Not marble, not the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme."
Without attempting therefore to disprove that these Sonnets were addressed to the
Earl of Southampton, or to the Earl of Pembroke, we must leave the reader who
fancies he can find in them a shadowy outline of Shakspere's life to form his own
conclusion from their careful perusal. We have endeavoured, in our analysis of
these poems, to place before him all the facts which have relation to the subject.
But to preserve in this place the unity of our narrative with reference to the period
before us, we reprint a passage from the " Studies " to which we refer : " The 71st
to the 74th Sonnets seem bursting from a heart oppressed with a sense of its own
unworthiness, and surrendered to some overwhelming misery. There is a line in the
74th which points at suicide. We cling to the belief that the sentiments here
expressed are essentially dramatic. In the 32nd Sonnet, where we recognise the
man Shakspere speaking in his own modest and cheerful spirit, death is to come
across his f well-contented day.' The opinion which we have endeavoured to sustain
of the probable admixture of the artificial and the real in the Sonnets, arising from
their supposed original fragmentary state, necessarily leads to the belief that some
are accurate illustrations of the poet's situation and feelings. It is collected from
these Sonnets, for example, that his profession as a player was disagreeable to him ;
and this complaint is found amongst those portions which we have separated from
the series of verses which appear to us to be written in an artificial character-. It
might be addressed to any one of his family, or to some honoured friend, such as
Lord Southampton :
' 0, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means, which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.'
But if from his professional occupation his nature was felt by him to be subdued to
what it worked in, if thence his name received a brand, if vulgar scandal some-
times assailed him, he had high thoughts to console him, such as were never before
imparted to mortal. This was probably written in some period of dejection, when
his heart was ill at ease, and he looked upon the world with a slight tinge of indif-
ference, if not of dislike. Every man of high genius has felt something of this. It
was reserved for the highest to throw it off, ' like dew-drops from the lion's mane.'
But the profound self-abasement and despondency of the 74th Sonnet, exquisite as
the diction is, appear to us unreal, as a representation of the mental state of William
Shakspere ; written, as it most probably was, at a period of his life when he revels
and luxuriates (in the comedies which belong to the close of the sixteenth century)
in the spirit of enjoyment, gushing from a heart full of love for his species, at peace
with itself and with all the world."
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
THE spring of 1599 saw Shakspere's friends and patrons, Essex and Southampton,
in honour and triumph. "The 27th of March, 1599, about two o'clock in the after-
noon, Robert Earl of Essex, Vicegerent of Ireland, &c., took horse in Seeding Lane,
and from thence, being accompanied with divers noblemen and many others, himself
very plainly attired, rode through Grace Street, Cornhill, Cheapside, and other high
streets, in all which places, and in the fields, the people pressed exceedingly to
behold him, especially in the highways for more than four miles space, crying,
and saying, God bless your Lordship, God preserve your honour, &c., and some
followed him until the evening, only to behold him. When he and his company
came forth of London, the sky was very calm and clear, but before he could get
past Iseldon [Islington] there arose a great black cloud in the north-east, and
suddenly came lightning and thunder, with a great shower of hail and rain,
CHAP. VII.] EVIL DAYS. 233
the which some held as an ominous prodigy." * It was perhaps with some
reference to such forebodings that in the chorus to the fifth Act of " Henry V."
which of course must have been performed between the departure of Essex in
March, and his return in September Shakspere thus anticipates the triumph
of Essex :
" But now behold,
In the quick forge and working house of thought,
How London doth pour out her citizens !
The mayor and all his brethren, in best sort,
Like to the senators of the antique Rome,
With the plebeians swarming at their heels,
Go forth, and fetch their conquering Caesar in :
As, by a lower but by loving likelihood,
Were now the general of our gracious empress
(As, in good time, he may) from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit
To welcome him ! ''
But the " ominous prodigy " was sadly realized. About the close of the year
1599, the Blackfriars Theatre was remarkable for the constant presence of two
men of high rank, who were there seeking amusement and instruction as some
solace for the bitter mortifications of disappointed ambition. " My Lord South-
am pton and Lord Rutland came not to the Court ; the one doth but very seldom ;
they pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day." t Essex
had arrived from Ireland on the 28th of September, 1599 not
" Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,"
not surrounded with swarms of citizens who
" Go forth, and fetch their conquering Caesar in,"
but a fugitive from his army ; one who in his desire for peace had treated with
rebels, and had brought down upon him the censures of the Court ; one who knew
that his sovereign was surrounded with his personal enemies, and who in his reck-
less anger once thought to turn his army homeward to compel justice at their hands ;
one who at last rushed alone into the Queen's presence, " full of dirt and mire," and
found that he was in the toils of his foes. From that Michaelmas till the 26th of
August, 1600, Essex was in the custody of the Lord Keeper ; in free custody as it
was termed, but to all intents a prisoner. It was at this period that Southampton
and Rutland passed " away the time in London merely in going to plays every day."
Southampton in 1598 had married Elizabeth Vernon, a cousin of Lord Essex. The
marriage was without the consent of the Queen ; and therefore Southampton was
under the ban of the Court, having been peremptorily dismissed by Elizabeth from
the office to which Essex had appointed him in the expedition to Ireland. Rutland
was also connected with Essex by family ties, having married the daughter of Lady
Essex, by her first husband, the accomplished Sir Philip Sydney. The season when
these noblemen sought recreation at the Theatre was one therefore of calamity to
themselves, and to the friend who was at the head of their party in the state. At
Shakspere's theatre there were at this period abundant materials for the highest
intellectual gratification. Of Shakspere's own works we know that at the opening
of the seventeenth century there were twenty plays in existence. Thirteen (consi-
dering " Henry IV." as two parts) are recorded by Meres in 1598 ; " Much Ado About
* Stow's " Annals." f Letter of Rowland Whyte to Sir Robert Sydney, in the Sydney Papers.
234 WILLIAM SHAK8PERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
Nothing," and " Henry V." (not in Meres' list), were printed in 1 600 ; and we have
to add the three parts of " Henry VI.," " The Taming of the Shrew," and the original
" Hamlet," which are also wanting in Meres' record, but which were unquestionably
produced before this period. We cannot with extreme precision fix the date of any
novelty from the pen of Shakspere when Southampton and Rutland were amongst
his daily auditors ; but there is every reason to believe that " As You Like It "
belongs as nearly as possible to this exact period. It is pleasant to speculate upon
the tranquillizing effect that might have been produced upon the minds of the
banished courtiers, by the exquisite philosophy of this most delicious play. It is
pleasant to imagine Southampton visiting Essex in the splendid prison of the Lord
Keeper's house, and there repeating to him from time to time those lessons of wis-
dom that were to be found in the woods of Arden. The two noblemen who had once
revelled in all the powers and privileges of Court favouritism had now felt by how
precarious a tenure is the happiness held of
" That poor man that hangs on princes' favours."
The great dramatic poet of their time had raised up scenes of surpassing love-
liness, where happiness might be sought for even amidst the severest penalties of
" Now, my co-mates, and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp ? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court V
It was for them to feel how deep a truth was there in this lesson :
" Sweet are the uses of adversity."
Happy are those that can feel such a truth ;
" That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style."
And yet the same poet had created a character that could interpret the feelings of
those who had suffered undeserved indignities, and had learnt that the greatest
crime in the world's eye was to be unfortunate. There was one in that play who
could moralize the spectacle of
" A poor sequester'd stag,.
That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt,"
and who thus pierced through the hollowness of " this our life : "
" 'Poor deer,' quoth he, f thou mak'st a testament
As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more
To that which had too much.' Then being there alone,
Left and abandon'd of his velvet friend ;
' 'Tis right,' quoth he ; ' thus misery doth part
The flux of company : ' Anon, a careless herd,
Full of the pasture, jumps along by him,
And never stays to greet him ; ' Ay,' quoth Jaques,
* Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens ;
'Tis just the fashion : Wherefore do you look
Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there 1 ' "
We could almost slide into the belief that " As You Like It " had an especial refer-
CHAP. VH.J EVIL DAYS. 235
ence to the circumstances in which Essex and Southampton were placed in the spring
of 1600. There is nothing desponding in its tone, nothing essentially misanthropical
in its philosophy. Jaques stands alone in his railing against mankind. The healing
influences of nature fall sweetly and fruitfully upon the exiled Duke and his co-mates.
But, nevertheless, the ingratitude of the world is emphatically dwelt upon, even
amidst the most soothing aspects of a pure and simple life " under the greenwood
tree." The song of Amiens has perhaps a deeper meaning even than the railing of
" Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot :
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not."
There was one who had in him much of the poetical temperament a gorgeous
imagination for the externals of poetry upon whose ear, if he ever sought common
amusement in the days of his rising power, these words must have fallen like the
warning voice that cried " woe." There was one who, when Essex in the days of
his greatness had asked a high place for him and had been refused, received from
the favourite a large private gift thus bestowed : " I know that you are the least
part of your own matter, but you fare ill because you have chosen me for your
mean and dependence. You have spent your time and thoughts in my matters. I
die, if I do not somewhat towards your fortune. You shall not deny to accept a
piece of land, which I will bestow upon you." The answer of him who accepted a
park from the hands of the generous man who had failed to procure him a place,
was prophetic. The Duke of Guise, he said, was the greatest usurer in France,
" because he had turned all his estates into obligations, having left himself nothing.
I would not have you imitate this course, for you will find many bad
debtors. 1 ' It was this man who, in the darkest hour of Essex, when he was hunted
to the death, said to the Lord Steward, " My lord, I have never yet seen in any case
such favour shown to any prisoner."
" Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude."
Who can doubt that the ingratitude had begun long before the fatal catastrophe of
the intrigues of Cecil and Ealeigh ? Francis Bacon, the ingrate, justifies himself by
the " rules of duty " which opposed him to his benefactor, at the bar in his " public
service." The same rules of duty were powerful enough to lead him to blacken his
friend's character after his death, by garbling with his own hand the depositions
against the victim of his faction, and publishing them as authentic records of the
trial.* Essex, before the last struggles, had acquired experience of " bad debtors."
The poet of "As You Like It" might have done something in teaching him to bear
this and other afflictions bravely :
" Thou seest, we are not all alone unhappy :
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in."
Essex was released from custody in the August of 1600 ; but an illegal sentence
had been passed upon him by commissioners, that he should not execute the offices
* See Jardine's " Criminal Trials, vol. i., page 387.
236 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
of a Privy Counsellor, or of Earl Marshal, or of Master of the Ordnance. The Queen
signified to him that he was not to come to Court without leave. He was a marked
and a degraded man. The wily Cecil, who at this very period was carrying on a cor-
respondence with James of Scotland, that might have cost him his head, was laying
every snare for the ruin of Essex. He desired to do what he ultimately effected,
to goad his fiery spirit into madness. Essex was surrounded with warm but impru-
dent friends. They relied upon his unbounded popularity, not only as a shield
against arbitrary power, but as a weapon to beat down the strong arm of authority.
During the six months which elapsed between the release of Essex and the fatal
outbreak of 1601, Essex House saw many changing scenes, which marked the fitful
temper and the wavering counsels of its unhappy owner. Within a month after he
had been discharged from custody, the Queen refused to renew a valuable patent to
Essex, saying that "to manage an ungovernable beast he must be stinted in his
provender." On the other hand, rash words that had been held to fall from the lips
of Essex were reported to the Queen. He was made to say, " She was now grown
an old woman, and was as crooked within as without."* The door of reconciliation
was almost closed for ever. Essex House had been strictly private during its mas-
ter's detention at the Lord Keeper's. Its gates were now opened, not only to his
numerous friends and adherents, but to men of all persuasions, who had injuries to
redress or complaints to prefer. Essex had always professed a noble spirit of tolera-
tion, far in advance of his age ; and he now received with a willing ear the com-
plaints of all those who were persecuted by the government for religious opinions,
whether Roman Catholics or Puritans. He was in communication with James of
Scotland, urging him to some open assertion of his presumptive title to the crown
of England. It was altogether a season of restless intrigue, of bitter mortifications
and rash hopes. Between the closing of the Globe Theatre and the opening of the
Blackfriars, Shakspere was in all likelihood tranquil amidst his family at Stratford.
The winter comes, arid then even the players are mixed up with the dangerous
events of the time. Sir Gilly Merrick, one of the adherents of Essex, was accused
amongst other acts of treason, with " having procured the out-dated tragedy of the
' Deposition of Richard II.' to be publicly acted at his own charge, for the entertain-
ment of the conspirators." 1* In the "Declaration of the Treasons of the late
Earl of Essex and his Complices," which Bacon acknowledges to have been written
by him at the Queen's command, there is the following statement : " The after-
noon before the rebellion, Merrick, with a great company of others, that afterwards
were all in the action, had procured to be played before them the play of deposing
" King Richard the Second ;" when it was told him by one of the players, that the
play was old, and they should have loss in playing it, because few would come to it,
there was forty shillings extraordinary given to play, and so thereupon played it
was." In the " State Trials " this matter is somewhat differently mentioned : " The
story of ' Henry IV.' being set forth in a play, and in that play there being set
forth the killing of the King upon a stage ; the Friday before, Sir Gilly Merrick
and some others of the Earl's train having an humour to see a play, they must needs
have the play of ' Henry IV.' The players told them that was stale ; they could
get nothing by playing that ; but no play else would serve : and Sir Gilly Merrick
* There is a slight resemblance in a passage in " The Tempest : "
" And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers."
f This is the translation of the passage in Camden's " Annales," &.C., as printed in Kennett's
" History of England." The accusation against Merrick is thus stated in the original : " Quod
exoletain tragaediam de tragica abdicatione regis Ricardi Secundi in publico theatre coram conjuratis
data pecunia agi curasset."
CHAP. VII.] EVIL DAYS. 237
gives forty shillings to Philips the player to play this, besides whatsoever he could
get." Augustine Philips was one of Shakspere's company ; and yet it is perfectly
evident that it was not Shakspere's " Richard II," nor Shakspere's " Henry IV.," that
was acted on this occasion. In his " Henry IV." there is no " killing of the king
upon a stage." His "Richard II.," which was published in 1597, was certainly not
an out-dated play in 1601. A second edition of it had appeared in 1598, and it
was no doubt highly popular as an acting play. But if any object was to be gained
by the conspirators in the stage representation of the " deposing King Richard II.,"
Shakspere's play would not assist that object. The editions of 1597 and 1598 do
not contain the deposition scene. That portion of this noble history which contains
the scene of Richard's surrender of the crown was not printed till 1608 ; and the
edition in which it appears bears in the title the following intimation of its novelty :
" The Tragedie of ' King Richard the Second,' with new additions of the Parliament
ftceane, and the deposing of King Richard. As it hath been lately acted by the
Kinges servantes, at the Globe, by William Shake-speare." In Shakspere's Parlia-
ment scene our sympathies are wholly with King Richard. This, even if the scene
were acted in 1601, would not have forwarded the views of Sir Gilly Merrick, if his
purpose were really to hold up to the people an example of a monarch's dethrone-
ment. But, nevertheless, it may be doubted whether such a subject could be safely
played at all by the Lord Chamberlain's players during this stormy period of the
reign of Elizabeth. Her sensitiveness on this head was most remarkable. There is
a very curious record existing of " that which passed from the Excellent Majestic