was fitted for the representation of an earthquake or a storm ; and the pageant in
most cases was concluded in the noise and flame of fireworks. It is the pageant
of the company of Shearmen and Tailors which is now to be performed, the sub-
ject the Birth of Christ and Offering of the Magi, with the flight into Egypt and
Murder of the Innocents. The eager multitudes are permitted to crowd within a
reasonable distance of the car. There is a moveable scaffold erected for the more
distinguished spectators. The men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. Amidst
the sound of harp and trumpet the curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears,
prophesying the blessing which is to come upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary
the embassage upon which he is sent from Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary
and Joseph, and the scene changes to the field where shepherds are abiding in the
darkness of the night a night so dark that they know not where their sheep
may be ; they are cold and in great heaviness. Then the star shines, and they hear
the song of " Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of concealed music hushes
even the whispers of the Coventry audience ; and three songs are sung, such as may
abide in the remembrance of the people, and be repeated by them at their Christmas
festivals. " The first the shepherds sing : "
" As I rode out this endersf night,
Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight,
And all about their fold a star shone bright ;
They sang terli terlow :
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow."
* Sharp's " Dissertation," page 160. f Enders night last night.
60 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK I.
There is then a song "the women sing f
" Lully, lulla, you little tiny child ;
By, by, lully, lullay, you little tiny child :
By, by, lully, lullay.
sisters two, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling, for whom we do sing
By, by, lully, lullay ?
Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say,
For thy parting neither say nor sing
By, by, lully, lullay."
The shepherds again take up the song :
" Down from heaven, from heaven so high,
Of angels there came a great company,
With mirth, and joy, and great solemnity :
They sang terly, terlow :
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow."
The simple melody of these songs has come down to us ; they are part songs, each
having the treble, the tenor, and the bass.* The star conducts the shepherds to
the " crib of poor repast," where the child lies ; and, with a simplicity which is
highly characteristic, one presents the child his pipe, the second his hat, and the
third his mittens. Prophets now come, who declare in lengthened rhyme the wonder
and the blessing :
" Neither in halls nor yet in bowers
Born would he not be,
Neither in castles nor yet in towers
That seemly were to see."
The messenger of Herod succeeds ; and very curious it is, and characteristic of a
period when the king's laws were delivered in the language of the Conqueror, that
he speaks in French. This circumstance would carry back the date of the play to
the reign of Edward III., though the language is occasionally modernized. We have
then the three kings with their gifts. They are brought before Herod, who treats
them courteously, but is inexorable in his cruel decree. Herod rages in the streets ;
but the flight into Egypt takes place, and then the massacre. The address of the
women to the pitiless soldiers, imploring, defying, is not the least curious part of
the performance ; for example
" Sir knightes, of your courtesy,
This day shame not your chivalry,
But on my child have pity,"
* This very curious Pageant, essentially different from the same portion of Scripture-history in
the " Ludus Coventrice," is printed entire in Mr Sharp's " Dissertation," as well as the score of
CHAP. VIII.] PAGEANTS. 61
is the mild address of one mother. Another raves
*' He that slays my child in sight,
If that my strokes on him may light,
Be he squire or knight,
I hold him but lost."
The fury of a third is more excessive :
" Sit he never so high in saddle,
But I shall make his brains addle,
And here with my pot ladle
With him will I fight."
We have little doubt that he who described the horrors of a siege,
" Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confus'd
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen."*
had heard the bowlings of the women in the Coventry pageant. And so "fynes
lude de taylars aiid scharmen"
And now the men of Coventry lead the way of the strangers to another spot,
with the cry of " The Hock-play, the Hock-play ! " There was yawning and ill-
repressed laughing during the pageant, but the whole population now seems
animated with a spirit of joyfulness. As one of the worthy aldermen gallantly
presses his horse through the crowd, there is a cry, too, of " A Nycklyn, a Nyck-
lyn ! " for did not the excellent mayor, Thomas Nycklyn, three years ago, cause
" Hock Tuesday, whereby is mentioned an overthrow of the Danes by the inhabi-
tants of this city, to be again set up and showed forth, to his great commendation
and the city's great commodity ?"t In the wide area of the Cross-cheaping is the
crowd now assembled. The strangers gaze upon " that stately Cross, being one of
the chief things wherein this city most glories, which for workmanship and beauty
is inferior to none in England." $ It was not then venerable for antiquity, for it
had been completed little more than thirty years ; but it was a wondrous work of a
gorgeous architecture, story rising above story, with canopies and statues, to a magni-
ficent height, glittering with vanes upon its pinnacles, and now decorated with
numerous streamers. Around the square are houses of most picturesque form ;
the balconies of their principal floors filled with gazers, and the windows imme-
diately beneath the high-pitched roofs showing as many heads as could be thrust
through the open casements. The area is cleared, for the play requires no scaffold.
The English and the Danes marshal on opposite sides. There are fierce words and
imprecations, shouts of defiance, whisperings of counsel. What is imperfectly heard
or ill understood by the strangers is explained by those who are familiar with the
show. There is no ridicule now ; no laughing at Captain Cox, in his velvet cap,
and flourishing his tonsword ; all is gravity and exultation. Then come the women
of Coventry, ardent in the cause of liberty, courageous, much enduring ; and some
one tells, in the pauses of the play, how there once rode into that square, in a death-
like solitude and silence, a lady all naked, who, " bearing an extraordinary affection
for this place, often and earnestly besought her husband that he would free it from
* " Henry V.," Act in., Scene in.
j Extract from manuscript Annals of Coventry in Sharp's "Dissertation," p. 129.
The Cross has perished, not through age, but by the hands of Common-councilmen and Com-
missioners of Pavement. The Turks broke up the Elgin marbles to make mortar for their Athenian
hovels, and we call them barbarians.
62 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK I.
that grievous servitude whereunto it was subject;"* and he telling her the hard
conditions upon which her prayer should be granted,
"She rode forth, clothed on with chastity." (TENNYSON.)
Noble-hearted women such as the Lady Godiva were those of Coventry who assisted
their husbands to drive out the Danes ; and there they lead their captives in
triumph ; and the Hock-play terminates with song and chorus.
But the solemnities of the day are not yet concluded. In the space around Swine
Cross, and near St. John's School, is another scaffold erected ; not a lofty scaffold
like that of the drapers and shearmen, but gay with painted cloths and ribbons.
The pageant of " The Nine Worthies" is to be performed by the dramatic body of
the Grammar School ; the ancient pageant, such as was presented to Henry VI. and
his Queen in 1455, and of which the Leet-book contains the faithful copy.t
Assuredly there was one who witnessed that performance carefully employed in
noting down the lofty speeches which the three Hebrews, Joshua, David, and Judas
Maccabseus ; the three Infidels, Hector, Alexander, and Julius Csesar ; and the three
Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boulogne, uttered on that occasion.
In the Coventry pageant Hector thus speaks :
" Most pleasant princes, recorded that may be,
I, Hector of Troy, that am chief conqueror,
Lowly will obey you, and kneel on my knee."
And Alexander thus :
" I, Alexander, that for chivalry bcareth the ball,
Most courageous in conquest through the world am I named,
Welcome you, princes."
And Julius Csesar thus :
' I, Julius Csesar, sovereign of knighthood
And emperor of mortal man, most high and mighty,
Welcome you, princes most benign and good."
Surely it was little less than plagiary, if it was not meant for downright parody,
when, in a pageant of " The Nine Worthies" presented a few years after, Hector
comes in to say
" The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty,
Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion :
A man so breath'd, that certain he would fight, yea,
From morn till night, out of his pavilion.
I am that flower."
And Alexander :
" When in the world I liv'd, I was the world's commander ;
By east, west, north, and south, I spread my conquering might :
My 'scutcheon plain declares that I am Alisander."
And Pompey, usurping the just honours of his triumphant rival :
" I Pompey am, Pompey surnamed the great,
That oft in field, with targe and shield, did make my foe to sweat."
* Dugdale., f Sharp, page 145.
But the laugh of the parody was a harmless one. The Nine "Worthies were utterly
dead and gone in the popular estimation at the end of the century. Certainly in
the crowd before St. John's School at Coventry there would be more than one who
would laugh at the speeches merry souls, ready to " play on the tabor to the
Worthies, and let them dance the hay." *
* " Love's Labour 's Lost," Act v. It is scarcely necessary to refer the reader to the same play for
the speeches of Hector, Alexander, and Pompey. The coincidence between these and the old
Coventry Pageant is remarkable.
[St. Mary's Hall, Coventry : Street Front.]
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
[Fireside in the House in Henley Street.]
THE happy days of boyhood are nearly over. William Shakspere no longer looks
for the close of the day when, in that humble chamber in Henley Street, his father
shall learn something of his school progress, and hear him read some English book
of history or travel, volumes which the active presses of London had sent cheaply
amongst the people. The time is arrived when he has quitted the free-school. His
choice of a worldly occupation is scarcely yet made. It is that pause which so often
takes place in the life of a youth, when the world shows afar off like a vast plain
with many paths, all bright and sunny, and losing themselves in the distance, where
it is fancied there is something brighter still. At this season we may paint the
family of John Shakspere at their evening fireside. The mother is plying her distaff,
or hearing Richard his lesson out of the ABC book. The father and the elder son
are each intent upon a book of chronicles, manly reading. Gilbert is teaching his
sister Joan Gamut " the ground of all accord." A neighbour comes in upon business
with the father, who quits the room ; and then all the group crowd round their elder
brother, who has laid aside his chronicle, to entreat him for a story ; the mother
even joins in the children's prayer to their gentle brother. Has not he himself
CHAP. IX.] THE FIRESIDE.
pictured such a home scene ? May we not read for Hermione, Mary Shakspere, and
for Mamillius, William 1
"Her. What wisdom stirs amongst you] Come, sir, now
I am for you again : Pray you, sit by us,
And tell 'a a tale.
Mam. Merry, or sad, shall 't be ?
Her. As merry as you will.
Mam. A sad tale 's best for winter :
I have one of sprites and goblins.
Her. Let's have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down : Come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites : you're powerful at it.
'Mam. There was a man,
Her. Nay, come, sit down ; then on.
Mam. Dwelt by a churchyard. I will tell it softly ;
Yon crickets shall not hear it.
Her. Come on then,
And give 't me in mine ear."*
And truly that boy must have had access to a prodigious mine of such stories,
whether " merry or sad." What a storehouse was " The Palace of Pleasure, beautified,
adorned, and well furnished with pleasaunt histories and excellent riouelles, selected
out of diners good and commendable authors ; by William Painter, Clarke of the
Ordinaunce and Armarie." In this book, according to the dedication of the trans-
lator to Ambrose Earl of Warwick, was set forth " the great valiance of noble gentle-
men, the terrible combats of courageous personages, the virtuous minds of noble
dames, the chaste hearts of constant ladies, the wonderful patience of puissant
princes, the mild sufferance of well-disposed gentlewomen, and, in divers, the quiet
bearing of adverse fortune." Pleasant little apophthegms and short fables were
there in that book. There was ^Esop's fable of the old lark and her young ones,
wherein " he prettily and aptly doth premonish that hope and confidence of things
attempted by man ought to be fixed and trusted in none other but in himself."
There was the story, most delightful to a child, of the bondman at Rome, who was
brought into the open place upon which a great multitude looked, to fight with a
lion of marvellous bigness ; and the fierce lion when he saw him " suddenly stood
still, and afterwards by little and little, in gentle sort, he came unto the man as
though he had known him," and licked his hands and legs ; and the bondman told
that he had healed in former time the wounded foot of the lion, and the beast be-
came his friend. In the same storehouse was a tale which Painter translated from
the French of Pierre Boisteau a true tale, as he records it, " the memory whereof
to this day is so well known at Verona, as unnethst their blubbered eyes be yet
dry that saw and beheld that lamentable sight." It was " The goodly history of the
true and constant love between Romeo and Julietta ; " and there was described how
Romeo came into the hall of the Capulets whose family were at variance with his
own, the Montesches, and, " very shamefaced, withdrew himself into a corner ; but
by reason of the light of the torches, which burned very bright, he was by and by
known and looked upon by the whole company ; " how he held the frozen hand of
Juliet, the daughter of the Capulet, and it warmed and thrilled, so that from that
moment there was love between them ; how the lady was told that Romeo was the
" son of her father's capital enemy and deadly foe ; " how, in the little street before
her father's house, Juliet saw Romeo walking, "through the brightness of the moon ;"
how they were joined in holy marriage secretly by the good Friar Lawrence ; and
then came bloodshed, and grief, and the banishment of Romeo, and the friar gave
* " Winter's Tale," Act n., Scene I. f Unneths, scarcely.
66 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK I.
the lady a drug to produce a pleasant sleep, which was like unto death ; and she,
" so humble, wise, and debonnaire," was laid " in the ordinary grave of the Capulets,"
as one dead, and Romeo, having bought poison of an apothecary, went to the tomb,
and there laid down and died ; and the sleeping wife awoke, and with the aid of
the dagger of Borneo she died beside him. From the same collection of tales would
he learn the story of " Giletta of Narbonne," who cured the King of France of a
painful malady, and the King gave her in marriage to the Count Beltramo, with
whom she had been brought up, and her husband despised and forsook her, but at
last they were united, and lived in great honour and felicity. There was another
collection, the "Gesta Romanorum," translated by R. Robinson in 1577, old
legends, come down to those latter days from monkish historians, who had embodied
in their narratives all the wild traditions of the ancient and modern world. Such
was the story of the rich heiress who chose a husband by the machinery of a gold,
a silver, and a leaden casket ; and another story of the merchant whose inexorable
creditor required the fulfilment of his bond in cutting a pound of flesh nearest the
merchant's heart, and by the skilful interpretation of the bond the cruel creditor
was defeated. There was the story, too, in these legends, of the Emperor Theodosius,
who had three daughters ; and those two daughters who said they loved him more
than themselves were unkind to him, but the youngest, who only said she loved him
as much as he was worthy, succoured him in his need, and was his true daughter.
There was in that collection also a feeble outline of the history of a king whose wife
died upon the stormy sea, and her body was thrown overboard, and the child she
then bore was lost, and found by the father after many years, and the mother was
also wonderfully kept in life. Stories such as these, preserved amidst the wreck of
time, were to that youth like the seeds that are found in the tombs of ruined cities,
lying with the bones of forgotten generations, but which the genial influences of
nature will call into life, and they shall become flowers, and trees, and food for man.
But, beyond all these, our Mamillius had many a tale " of sprites and goblins."
He told them, we may well believe at that period, with an assenting faith, if not a
prostrate reason. They were not then, in his philosophy, altogether " the very
coinage of the brain." Such appearances were above nature, but the commonest
movements of the natural world had them in subjection :
" I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine."*
Powerful they were, but yet powerless. They came for benevolent purposes : to
warn the guilty ; to discover the guilt. The belief in them was not a debasing
thing. It was associated with the enduring confidence that rested upon a world
beyond this material world. Love hoped for such visitations ; it had its dreams of
such where the loved one looked smilingly, and spoke of regions where change and
separation were not. They might be talked of, even amongst children then, without
terror. They lived in that corner of the soul which had trust in angel protections ;
which believed in celestial hierarchies ; which listened to hear the stars moving in
" Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins,"
CHAP. IX.] THE FIRESIDE. 67
but listened in vain, for,
" Whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it." *
There was another most valued book, which told how,
" In olde dayis of the king Artour,
Of which that Bretons speken gret honour,
All was this lond full filled of faerie;
The elf-queene, with her jolly compagnie,
Danced full oft in many a grene mede." f
Here was the ground-work of beautiful visions of a pleasant race of supernatural
beings ; who lived by day in the acorn-cups of Arden, and by moonlight held their
revels on the green sward of Avon-side, the ringlets of their dance being duly seen ;
" Whereof the ewe not bites; "
who tasted the honey-bag of the bee, and held council by the light of the glow-
worm ; who kept the cankers from the rosebuds, and silenced the hootings of the
owl. But from Chaucer the youth must have acquired many high things the
highest things in poetry besides his glimpses of the fairies. We believe that
Shakspere was the pupil of Chaucer ; we imagine that the fine bright folio of 1542,
whose bold black letter seems the proper dress for the rich antique thought, was his
closet companion. The boy would delight in his romance ; the poet would, in a
few years, learn from him what stores lay hidden of old traditions and fables,
legends that had travelled from one nation to another, gathering new circumstances
as they became clothed in a new language, the property of every people, related in
the peasant's cabin, studied in the scholar's cell ; and Chaucer would teach him
that these were the best materials for a poet to work upon, for their universality
proved that they were akin to man's inmost nature and feelings. The time would
arrive when, in his solitary walks, unbidden tears would come into his eyes as he
recollected some passage of matchless pathos ; or irrepressible laughter arise at those
touches of genial humour which glance like sunbeams over the page. Finally, the
matured judgment would learn from Chaucer the possibility of delineating indi-
vidual character with the minutest accuracy, without separating the individual from
the permanent and the universal ; and Chaucer would show how a high morality
might still consist with freedom of thought and even laxity of expression, and how
all that is holy and beautiful might be loved without such scorn or hatred of the
impure and the evil as would exclude them from human sympathy. An early
familiarity with such a poet as Chaucer must have been a loadstar to one like
Shakspere, who was launching into the great ocean of thought without a chart.
But as yet " the realms of gold" were dimly seen. At that hearth, in Henley
Street, if the youth began to speak of witches, there would be fear and silence. For
did not Mary Shakspere recollect that in the year she was married Bishop Jewel
had told the Queen that her subjects pined away, even unto the death, and that
their affliction was owing to the increase of witches and sorcerers ? Was it not
known how there were three sorts of witches, those that can hurt and not help,
those that can help and not hurt, and those that can both help and hurt ?$ It was
unsafe even to talk of them. But the youth would have met with the history of
the murder of Duncan, King of Scotland, in a chronicler older than Holinshed ; and
he might tell softly, so that " yon crickets shall not hear it," that as Macbeth and
* " Merchant of Venice." f Chaucer : " Wife of Bath's Tale."
J See Scot's " Discovery of Witchcraft/' 1584.
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
Banquo journeyed from Torres, sporting by the way together, when the warriors
came in the midst of a laund, three wierd sisters suddenly appeared to them, in
strange and wild apparel, resembling creatures of an elder world, and prophesied
that Macbeth should be king of Scotland ; and Macbeth from that hour desired to
be King, and so killed the good King his liege lord. And then the story-teller and
his listeners might pass On to safer matters to the calculations of learned men who
could read the fates of mankind in the aspects of the stars ; and of those more
deeply learned, clothed in garments of white linen, who had command over the
spirits of the earth 5 of the water, and of the air. Some of the children might aver
that a horse-shoe over the door, and vervain and dill, would preserve them, as they
had been told, from the devices of sorcery. But their mother would call to their
mind that there was security far more to be relied on than charms of herb or horse-
shoe that there was a Power that would preserve them from all evil, seen or
unseen, if such were His gracious will, and if they humbly sought Him, and offered
up their hearts to Him, in all love and trust. And to that Power this household
would address themselves ; and the night would be without fear, and their sleep
[Stratford Church, and Mill. From an original drawing at the beginning of the last century.]
WE have endeavoured to fill up, with some imperfect forms and feeble colours, the
very meagre outline which exists of the schoolboy life of William Shakspere. He is
now, we will assume, of the age of fourteen the year 1578 ; a year which has been
held to furnish decisive evidence as to the worldly condition of his father and his
family. The first who attempted to write " Some Account of the Life of William
Shakspeare," Howe, says, " His father, who was a considerable dealer in wool, had so