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' All that we know of Shakespeare is that he
was born at Stratford-on-Avon, married, and
had children there ; went to London, where he
commenced actor, and wrote plays and poems ;
returned to Stratford, made his will, and died.'
These words, written by Steevens, served for
more than a century as a fair summary of the
events in the life of Shakespeare, so far as they
were then known. But the pious labours of
succeeding generations have added so much to
our stock of knowledge that a presentment of the
life of Shakespeare is now possible, not, indeed,
complete in all respects, but far in advance
of earlier efforts. ' An investigation extending
over two centuries has brought together a mass
of detail which far exceeds that accessible in the
case of any other contemporary professional
writer.' It is not probable that any important
addition will be made in the future to our know-


ledge of the facts of the life of Shakespeare, or
that they will be piet-ciued with better effect
than by Sir Sidue) Lee in the great work from
which these words are taken.*

Shakespeare's life was the uneventful life of a
successful player and dramatist. His greatness,
unlike that of a commander or statesman, did
not depend on the happening of great events.
But great events are not those from which we
derive the clearest insight into character. The
object which the Father of Biography set before
him in writing the life of a great man was to
1 decipher the man and his nature,' and he thus
explains his omission to record some facts of
historical interest : ' For the noblest deeds do
not alwaies shew mens vertues and vices, but
oftentimes a light occasion, a word, or some sport,
makes mens naturall dispositions and maners
appeare more plaine than the famous battels
won, wherein are slaine ten thousand men ; or
the great armies, or cities won by siege or
assault.' f The student of Plutarch's Life of
Alexander the Great would not have been
enabled by it to give an account of the battles
of the Granicus and of Issus, or to show how these

* A Life of William Shakespeare, by Sir Sidney Lee. New
edition, 1915.

f Plutarch's Lives, Sir Thomas North's version {Life of


fields were won. But he could give an answer to
this question : What manner of man was he who
did these great things ?

It was by following in the footsteps of the
master that Boswell won the first place among
his disciples. No occasion was too light, no
word too trivial, no sport too insignificant
to be recorded by him, and so it came to
pass that Johnson, in the words of Macaulay,
' is better known to us than any other man in

In Shakespeare's time biographies were not
written, and the instinct to which we owe the
modern interview was as yet undeveloped. We
have no contemporary account of Shakespeare
such as Boswell wrote of Johnson, and Lockhart
of Scott. But there were among his fellows and
contemporaries men greater than Boswell or
Lockhart, who, with others of lesser account,
wrote and spoke of Shakespeare many things
which aid us in attaining to some understanding
of the nature and character of a man who was
well known to them.

The industry of the last half century has
ransacked the plays, poems, and pamphlets of
his age in search of references to Shakespeare,
or to his work. The result is embodied in a
goodly volume published by the New Shakespere

B 2


Society in 1874.* From Spenser's Colin Clouts
Come Home Again in 1591 to Ben Jonson's
Discoveries in 1641, the references collected in
this volume in number exceed one hundred and
twenty. They are, for the most part, notices
of the writings of Shakespeare, of no special
value. But some are of a more personal interest,
and among those from whose writings they are
collected are Shakespeare's fellow dramatists —
Nash, Dekker, Peele, Greene, Drayton, Chettle
and Fletcher.

Shakespeare became a member of a company
of players at the most interesting period of the
history of the stage. The occupation of player
was just assuming the character of a profession.
To the profession of actor Shakespeare was
loyally constant throughout his life, and his
chosen friends and associates are found among
his fellow players. It is due to the overpowering
interest which attaches itself to everything con-
nected with Shakespeare, rather than to mere
love of antiquarian or historical research, that
we are now in possession of a mass of informa-
tion, not only as to the condition of the stage

• Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse ; being materials for a history
of opinion on Shakespeare and his works. A.D. 1 59 1 — 1693, by
C. M. Ingleby, LL.D. Second edition by Lucy Toulmin Smith,
1879. ' AH is not " Prayse " that is celebrated in the ensuing
pages : but the prevailing character of the parts may fairly be allowed
to the whole.' (Forespeech to the first edition.)


in his time, but as to the lives and characters of
the individual players with whom he was more
particularly connected. Some questions we
should gladly ask of these players, and of the
brilliant band of University wits who had pre-
pared the way for the coming of Shakespeare.
We cannot go to them, and they cannot come to
us, and many questions to be asked must remain
for ever unanswered. But from what has been
recorded of the fellow players and fellow
dramatists of Shakespeare, from their relations
with him, and from what was said and written
by them, some assistance may be gained towards
supplying an answer to the questions which we
would ask. Some things deserving of note may
also be gleaned from Shakespeare's relations with
his family, and with his neighbours at Stratford.

Spenser, Marlowe and Ben Jonson are the
greatest names in the most interesting period of
our literary history. These men were in a special
sense the fellows of Shakespeare — fellow poets
or fellow dramatists. These pages have been
written in the hope that from a study of the
lives and characters of these great men, and of
their associations with Shakespeare, some aid
may be obtained in deciphering the man and
his nature.

The word ' fellow ' in the ear of Shakespeare



had a significance which it has since then lost.
He would have understood it to mean ' one that
is associated with another in habitual or tem-
porary companionship ; a companion, associate,
comrade.' This sense of the word, usual in the
time of Shakespeare and the next succeeding
age, is noted in the New English Dictionary as
' now rare.' It is in this sense that the word
was used by Shakespeare in his will, and it is
in this sense that the word is employed in these
pages. No one of Shakespeare's contemporaries
is here accounted as his fellow, unless he is
shown to have been, in some manner, personally
associated with him. Bacon and Burleigh were
contemporaries, but no link has been discovered
associating either of them with the man Shake-
speare. According to Ben Jonson, the flights of
the swan of Avon ' did take Eliza and our
James,' and favour and patronage were extended
to Shakespeare by Southampton and by the
noblemen to whom the First Folio was dedi-
cated. But patronage is not fellowship, and to
find the fellows of Shakespeare we must mix with
the dramatists, players and poets of the age,
and with those of his family and friends among
whom his life was spent, and in finding them we
may find something of the man of whom we are
in search.



For our present purpose it may be noted with
satisfaction that when his contemporaries speak
of Shakespeare what they tell us relates to the
man rather than to his writings. In their
notices of Shakespeare we find nothing of the
profound literary criticism, the work of Shake-
spearian scholars at home and abroad, by which
his works have been illuminated. For the
attainment of a knowledge of Shakespeare,
poet and dramatist, it is not necessary to ap-
peal to his fellows and contemporaries. Nothing
more is needed than a careful and intelli-
gent study of what he has written, in view
of the literature, the history, and social con-
dition of his age. But a true instinct, born not
of mere curiosity, but of gratitude, impels us to
go further, and to attempt to discover something
of the man who bestowed upon humanity this
priceless gift. And so attempts have been made
to decipher the man Shakespeare and his nature
by a study of what he has written. These
attempts have ended in uncertainty, and there-
fore in failure. It is true that an artist must
of necessity put something of himself into the
works of his art. But when his work takes the
form of drama, the difficulty of discovering
the personality of the artist is greatest. The
medium in which he works is dialogue, and



the nearer the dialogue approaches to perfection
in expressing the character of the speaker, the
more effectually the personality of the artist is

Some things about Shakespeare may be
known with certainty from what he has written.
Bagehot, in his essay ' Shakespeare — the Man,'
quoting from Venus and Adonis the description
of the hare hunt, writes : ' It is absurd by the
way to say we know nothing about the man that
wrote that : we know that he had been after a
hare.' We may conclude from his constant
habit of attributing to the characters in his plays
thoughts of field sports and horsemanship, that
these things were dear to his heart. But men
of the most opposite natures and characters
have been fond of sport and of horses, and,
beyond the exclusion of dispositions of a certain
kind, we get no nearer to a knowledge of the man.
We may, with Professor Dowden, follow the
development of the mind and art of Shakespeare.
We may at one time rest with him in the forest
of Ardcn ; at another we may note that he had
bade farewell to mirth; and, after the tragic period,
we may realise ' the pathetic yet august serenity
of Shakespeare's final period.' It is a study of
the deepest interest, and of great assistance in
arriving at a full understanding of what was



written in each of these periods. But these
were varying moods of one and the same man,
and we feel assured that if the question, What
manner of man is this your fellow, Master
Shakespeare ? had been put to Ben Jonson
or to Heming and Condell, the answer would
have been the same throughout his varying
moods, and at each stage of his intellectual

But Shakespeare was not only a dramatist.
He was a poet whose thoughts found expression
in the form of the sonnet. Here again the
inquirer after the man is baffled, and from a
study of the Elizabethan sonnet he may rise
with the feeling that if Shakespeare's design in
writing his sonnets had been the mystification of
posterity, and the concealment of the identity
of the writer, he could not have chosen a more
effectual method of carrying out his purpose.
If, distrusting his judgment, he were to have
recourse to critics who by the aid of poetic in-
stinct might have power to solve the mystery
by which he has been baffled, his perplexity is
not lessened when he is told by Wordsworth :
' With this key Shakespeare unlocked his
heart.' For while he is considering which among
the many and different kinds of hearts unlocked



in the sonnets ought to be attributed to Shake-
speare, he reads in Browning

With this same key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart ' once more.'
Did Shakespeare ? If so, the less Shakespeare he.

In the end he may be content to accept the sober
conclusion in which Sir Sidney Lee sums up the
result of an exhaustive examination of the
sonnets of the Elizabethan age. ' Most of
Shakespeare's " sonnets " were produced under
the incitement of that freakish rage for sonnet-
eering which, taking its rise in Italy and sweep-
ing over France on its way to England, absorbed
for some half-dozen years in this country a
greater volume of literary energy than has been
applied to sonneteering within the same space
of time here or elsewhere before or since. . . .
Genuine emotion or the writer's personal experi-
ence inspired few Elizabethan sonnets, and no
literary historian can accept the claim which
has been preferred on behalf of Shakespeare's
" sonnets " to be at all points a self-evident
exception to the general rule. A personal note
may have escaped the poet involuntarily in the
sonnets in which he gives voice to a sense of
melancholy and remorse, but Shakespeare's
dramatic instinct never slept, and there is no



proof that he is doing more there than produce
dramatically the illusion of a personal con-
fession.' *

The attempt to discover the man Shakespeare
in what he has written is never a fruitless search,
for the means by which it is prosecuted is a
careful study and thorough understanding of his
works. But if a definite result is to be attained,
there must be called in aid such information as
may be obtained from the men among whom
Shakespeare lived, moved and had his being.
What has been collected in these pages may be
no more than, here and there, ' a light occasion,
a word, or some sport,' but these things may
serve to make the man's ' naturall dispositions
and maners appeare more plaine than ' his most
famous achievements ; his Hamlet, his Lear, his
Othello, and his As You Like It.

* Life of Shakespeare, p. 229.



Shakespeare left Stratford for London in
the year 1586, as is commonly supposed. The
earliest reference to him that has been brought
to light was written in the year 1 591 . It is
from the pen of Edmund Spenser.

In the autumn of 1589 Spenser left his Irish
home for London, where he stayed for about two
years. He had come to Ireland in 1580 as
secretary to Arthur Lord Grey, of Wilton. In
1588 he obtained by purchase the post of clerk
of the Munstcr Council. He had already
acquired a grant of some forfeited lands in the
county of Cork, on which was the castle of
Kilcolman, an ancient scat of the Desmonds.
Here he settled on taking up the duties of his

In the autumn of 1589 Sir Walter Raleigh was
living in the same county at Youghal, where the
visitor may find his house, reverently preserved,
and the garden where the potato first grew in
Irish soil. An intimacy had sprung up between
Raleigh and Spenser. Disappointed in love, and
debarred from the society which he had enjoyed



in London, and afterwards, as we shall see in
Dublin, Spenser was living with a sister in the
lonely castle of Kilcolman.* His relations with
his neighbours, so far as we know of them, were
not satisfactory. A dispute with a powerful
neighbour, Maurice Viscount Roche of Fermoy,
had involved him in long and harassing litigation.
Raleigh brought with him a welcome gleam of
hope and encouragement. He found Spenser
at work on the Faerie Queene, of which the first
three books were completed. Raleigh admired
the work, and sympathised with the loneliness
and desolation that had fallen to the lot of the
poet. He counselled Spenser to go with him
to London, where his work might be brought
out under the patronage of Elizabeth. In the
words of the poem in which Spenser tells the
tale of his stay in London, Raleigh

Gan to cast great lyking to my lore,

And great disliking to my luckless lot

That banisht had my selfe like wight forlore

Into that waste where I was quite forgot.

The which to leave thenceforth he counseld me,

Unmeet for man in whom was aught regarded,

And wend with him his Cynthia to see ;

Whose grace was great, and bounty most rewardfull.

* Sarah Spenser married John Travers, a member of a Lancashire
family, who held some office in Munster. Many of their descendants
are living in County Cork, and in other parts of Ireland.



The visit to London was successful. The first
three books of the Faerie Queene were brought
out under the patronage of Elizabeth, and, what
is more to our present purpose, Spenser spent
two years in the company of the most famous
wits and beauties of the day, and formed at
least one friendship which endured until it was
closed by death.

Spenser returned to Kilcolman some time
before the 27th of December, 1 591 , for on that
day he addressed to Raleigh the ' simple
pastorall,' in which he tells the story of his
visit to London. In Colin Clouts Come Home
Again, the shepherds of The Shepheards Calendar
reappear. Colin (Spenser), at the request of
Hobbinol (Gabriel Harvey), describes to them
what he saw and how he fared at the Court of
Cynthia (Elizabeth). The Shepheard of the
Ocean (Raleigh) inclined the ear of Cynthia to
Colin's oaten pipe, in which she

Gan take delight
And it desired at timely houres to heare.

Colin then tells the listeners of the Shepheards
who were ' in faithful service of faire Cynthia.'
The poem is full of the pastoral conceits then in
vogue. But there are passages of true poetic
beauty, and Spenser's estimate of the poets of



his time is intended to be taken seriously. ' I
make you a present,' he writes in his dedication
to Raleigh, ' of this simple Pastorall, unworthie
of your higher conceipt for the meanesse of the
stile, but agreeing with the truth in the circum-
stance and matter.'

The circumstances of his journey to London
by sea and by land, and his reception by the
Queen, are truthfully told, and we may accept
as likewise truthful the matter of the poem ; his
estimate of the poets whom he had met.
«* Raleigh could have had no difficulty in dis-
cerning the poets disguised under the names of
Harpalus, Corydon, Alcyon, Palemon, and Amyn-
tas ; and we need not concern ourselves with
the less effectual efforts of commentators. Three
or four of the Shepherds are identified beyond
doubt. The 'Shepherd of the Ocean' is Raleigh.
Alabaster and Daniel are mentioned by name.

Of another he writes

And there, though last not least, is Aetion ;
A gentler shepherd may no where be found,
Whose Muse, full of high thoughts invention
Doth like himself heroically sound.

Shakespeare is not addressed by name, as
Alabaster and Daniel are. But the reference
to a name that did ' heroically sound ' is
unmistakable. To no other poet of the day is



this play upon his name applicable. That
Shakespeare is here described under the name of
Aetion, ' a familiar Greek proper name derived
from Aerog,' Sir Sidney Lee regards as ' hardly
doubtful,' and this conclusion is now generally
adopted. The temptation presented by the
martial sound of Shakespeare's name was found
irresistible by others than Spenser. ' The war-
like sound of his surname (whence some may
conjecture him of a military extraction), Hasti-
vibrans or Shakespeare,' suggests to Fuller a
comparison with Martial.* William Winstanlcy
writes : ' In Mr. Shakespeare, the glory of the
English stage, three eminent poets may seem in
some sort to be compounded. Martial, in the
warlike sound of his surname, Ovid, the most
natural and witty of all poets, and Plautus, a
very exact comedian, and yet never any scholar.'
And Ben Jonson, in his lines prefixed to the
First Folio, says that Shakespeare in his well-
turned and true-filed lines

seemes to shake a Lance
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance. _

It was a happy inspiration that suggested to
Spenser this play on the word ' Shakespeare,'
for it enables us, without question as to the
identification of Aetion, to consider his estimate

• Worthies of England.



of the shepherd who bore this warlike name,
than whom a gentler might nowhere be found.

That Spenser, ' the greatest of Shakespeare's
poetic contemporaries, was first drawn by the
poems into the rank of Shakespeare's admirers '
Sir Sidney Lee regards as a likelihood. Shake-
speare's poems were known to his friends in
manuscript for some years before they were
given to the world in print. This is certainly
true of his sonnets. These incomparable poems
were known to Francis Meres in 1598 as circu-
lating among Shakespeare's private friends.
They were not published until 1609, when they
were printed by an adventurous publisher named
Thorpe, dedicated to their ' onlie begotter,' one
' Mr. W. H.,' to the mystification of many gene-
rations of curious and learned Shakespearians.
Venus and Adonis was published in 1593.
But as the poet, in the dedication to South-
ampton, calls it ' the first heir of my invention,'
it must have been written before the production
of Love's Labour's Lost (1591). It was therefore
in manuscript at the time of Spenser's visit to
London. So in all probability was Lucrece,
which was not published until 1594.

For more than a century after the introduction
of printing, works differing as widely as poems,
and books of sport and horsemanship, circulated

17 c


in manuscript, and it was by the acceptance of
their works in this form that authors were
encouraged to appeal to a wider circle of readers
by means of print.*

Aetion was not the only one of Cynthia's
shepherds who was made known to Colin Clouts
by poems that were still in manuscript. William
Alabaster, of whom he writes by name, was the
author of a poem entitled E litis, written in
Latin hexameters in praise of Elizabeth. Of
this work Spenser writes

Who lives that can match that heroic song
Which he hath of that mightie princesse made ?

Notwithstanding this encouragement Alabaster
never completed the poem, the first book of
which is preserved in manuscript in the library
of Emmanuel College, Cambridge."]" Daniel also
was known to Spenser by a poem then in manu-
script. Of him Spenser writes

And there is a new shepheard late up sprong,
The which doth all afore him far surpasse ;
Appearing well in that well tuned song
Which late he sung unto a scornful lasse.

This is an apt description of his Delia, which
was not published until 1592.

For Daniel, as for Aetion, Spenser desires a

* See a note to Sir Sidney Lee's Life of Shakespeare, at p. 157.
| Diet. Nat, Biography, tit. ' Alabaster.'



stronger flight, and, less happy in his augury,
predicts for his trembling muse success in
tragedy :

Yet doth his trembling Muse but lowly flie
As daring not too rashly mount on hight.

Addressing Daniel by name, he bids him to
rouse his feathers quickly :

And to what course thou please thy selfe advance,
But most, me seemes, thy accent will excell
In tragick plaints, and passionate mischance.

Spenser may have been attracted to Shake-
speare by the melody of a love poem written
in discipleship to Ovid. With his friend Gabriel
Harvey he may have found in Lucrece a ' muse
full of high thoughts invention.' Harvey wrote
of this poem as comparable to Hamlet. ' The
younger sort take much delight in Shakespeare's
Venus and Adonis, but his Lucrece and his tragedy
of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke have it in them
to please the wiser sort.' * Although Spenser
may have been attracted by the melody of Venus
and Adonis, and may have found high thoughts
invention in Lucrece, if we could catch an echo
of the heroic sound given forth by the muse of

* Written by Harvey in a copy of Speght's Chaucer, 1598.
The volume in which this note was written passed into the collection
of Bishop Burnet, whose library was burned in a fire at Northumber-

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Online LibraryDodgson Hamilton MaddenShakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature → online text (page 1 of 13)