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Shakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature online

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as a novelist, and if a serious illness, contracted
when he was of about the age at which Shakes-
peare died, had proved fatal, the world would have
been bequeathed a true mystery for solution.

We can replace Shakespeare's Aldine Ovid in



his study of books with the satisfactory reflection
that Shakespeare's interest in his poems was
rewarded by success. Six editions of Venus and
Adonis and of Lucrece were published in his
lifetime, and the eagerness with which they were
devoured appears from the fact that but few
copies have survived the wear and tear of
generations of admiring readers. ' The strangest
fact to be noticed in regard to the bibliography
of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis is that,
though there were at least six editions issued in
the poet's lifetime, and seven in the two genera-
tions following his death, in the case of only two
— the second and the sixth — of these thirteen
editions do so many as three copies survive.
In regard to the twelve other editions, the
surviving copies of each are fewer.' *

In the year 1844 John Payne Collier pub-
lished under the name of Shakespeare'' s Library
a collection of the plays, romances, novels and
histories employed by Shakespeare in the com-
position of his works. In the preface he writes :
' We have ventured to call the work Shake-
speare's Library, since our great dramatist in all
probability must have possessed the books to
which he was indebted, and some of which he

* Sir Sidney Lee. Note to Venus and Adonis, Oxford facsimile



applied so directly and minutely to his own
purposes.' *

Shakespeare may have had these books in his
possession for a time as part of his professional
outfit. But that they were admitted to intel-
lectual fellowship is doubtful. He probably
looked on them as a lawyer regards his law books :
biblia abiblia, necessary but unwelcome occu-
pants of his bookshelves. And it is to be noted
that the two books of his library that have sur-
vived were admitted to the ' study ' purely on
account of their literary quality.

Notice has been already taken of the copy of
Florio's Montaigne bearing the signature of
Shakespeare, which is preserved in the library of
the British Museum. That Shakespeare added
to his library a book of essays published in 1603
suggests that he was a student and purchaser of
what might be called current literature. Mon-
taigne did not serve him, like his Holinshed or
Plutarch, as a storehouse of useful plots for
histories or tragedies. Much has been written
on the subject of Shakespeare and Montaigne,
and it has been suggested that Montaigne exer-
cised an influence on the mind of Shakespeare in
later life comparable to that of Ovid when he was

• A new and improved edition of this collection was brought out
in 1875 by William Hazlitt the younger.



in the Venus and Adonis stage of existence.
These speculations are interesting, as suggesting
a special literary fellowship, with the two volumes
included in his study of books which have sur-
vived the ruin of time. But they are foreign to
pages which are conversant, not with literary
criticism, but with matters of fact.

With two, indeed, of the books which supplied
him with plots for his dramas, he had a relation-
ship so close as to justify their inclusion in his
study of books. His Holinshed must have been
near at hand from about the year 1591, for from
it he derived the plots of the series of historical
plays, in which he followed the Chronicle in
greater or less degree of exactness. Of
Henry VIII. Sir Sidney Lee writes : ' The
Shakespearean dramas followed Holinshed with
exceptional closeness. . . . One of the finest
speeches in the Shakespearean play, Queen
Katharine's opening appeal on her trial, is in
great part the chronicler's prose rendered into
blank verse, without change of a word.' *

The second edition of Holinshed's Chronicles,
published in 1586, lay open before Shakespeare
when, in about the year 1593, he took from it the
plot of Richard III., and copied a misprint, or
slip of the pen, which does not occur in the

* Life of Shakespeare, p. 443.


earlier edition of 1577. It was in Holinshed that
he found the plot of Macbeth, and there also he
found the story of Lear. And the well worn
folio followed him in his retirement to New Place,
for it was in this, his great storehouse of English
history, that he found some account of a British
king, Kimbeline or Cimbeline, and interweaving
with this fragment a story from Boccacio's
Decameron, gave us Cymbeline.

The two volumes of Holinshed contain, in
addition to his Chronicles, descriptions of England
and Ireland ; the latter, the work of Richard
Stanyhurst, an accomplished scholar educated at
the famous school of Kilkenny — in after years the
school of Berkeley, Swift and Congreve — whom
Gabriel Harvey ranked as a poet with Spenser.
His reputation would have been higher if he had
not been misled by Harvey into the folly of
translating the Aeneid of Virgil into English
hexameter, a fate from which Spenser was
happily rescued. It is impossible to read this
interesting Description without having the know-
ledge borne in on one that Shakespeare had been
over the same ground ; no doubt in search of the
plot that he failed to find.

But although Shakespeare failed to find in
Holinshed a plot to his mind, for History or
Tragedy, he found many things that excited an



interest, of which traces may be found through-
out his writings. He found his stage Irishman,
Captain Macmorris, ' An Irishman, a very
valiant gentleman i' faith,' who is made to dis-
play a number of national characteristics, every
one of which was noted by Stanyhurst in his
description. The stage Irishman of Ben Jonson
and of Dekker was a comic footboy. It is owing
to his habit of ' turning over the pages ' of his
Holinshed, even in the most unpromising chap-
ters, that Shakespeare's stage Irishman is a
soldier and a gentleman. Holinshed's Chronicles
were in his hands for so many years, and were
at times copied with such exactitude, that they
have gained a title to be placed in his study of

If Holinshed must be admitted to literary
fellowship with Shakespeare, the claims of Sir
Thomas North's version of Plutarch from the
French translation by Amyot are far stronger.
The claim of North's Plutarch to admission to
Shakespeare's study of books could not be put
better than it has been by my lamented friend,
Robert Tyrrell. ' The Master Mind of all time,
the Artist of Artists, not only drew from him the
materials for his amazing pictures of the ancient
world, but sometimes transferred to his plays
whole scenes from the Lives, with scarcely a



phrase or a word altered or modified. Had
Plutarch never written his Lives, or had they not
been translated by some sympathetic mind like
Sir Thomas North's, it is very unlikely that the
world would ever have had Coriolanus, Julius
Caesar, or Antony and Cleopatra.'' The final scene
in Cleopatra's life is ' one perfect example of the
confidence with which the " myriad-minded '
Englishman was content to put himself into the
hands of the simple Boeotion, borrowing from
him every artistic touch, and adding only the
dramatic framework. Greece took captive her
proud Roman conqueror, but never had she a
greater triumph over posterity than when a Greek
wrote a scene on which not even a Shakespeare
could make an improvement.' *

In addition to his Ovid, two works in the
Latin language may be traced to this library
with a reasonable degree of probability, founded
not only on what he has written of them, but of
an ancient and trustworthy tradition. They are
deserving of attention, for they aid in the attempt
to supply an answer to a question that has been
often asked : How did Shakespeare employ
himself after he left school, and before he married

• Essays on Greek Literature, by Robert Yclverton Tyrrell
Litt.D., etc., etc., Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of Trinity
College and formerly Professor of Greek in the University of Dublin.

2 20


and settled down, according to Rowe, to assist
in his father's business ? His frequent and
accurate use of legal phraseology led Lord
Campbell to conclude that Shakespeare, like
another great creative genius, Charles Dickens,
had been employed in his early years in an
attorney's office, of which there were at that
time several in Stratford. A good deal can be
said in support of this supposition, but there
is no hint of it in any contemporary writing, and
no suggestion of any such employment can be
found in the traditions that were current in
Stratford shortly after his death. It follows that
no law-book can make good a claim to be
admitted to Shakespeare's library.

Some of the gossip retailed in the notice of
Shakespeare in Aubrey's Lives of Eminent Men
is undeserving of serious attention. But state-
ments made by him on the authority of Sir
William Davenant stand in a different position,
for reasons which have been stated in an earlier
chapter {ante, pp. 85 — 88).

' I have heard Sr. Wm. Davenant and Mr.
Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best
comcedian we have now) say that he had a most
prodigious witt, and did admire his naturall
parts beyond all other Dramaticall writing. He
was wont to say that he " never blotted out a



line in his life," sayd Ben: Johnson " I wish he
had blotted out a thousand." His Comoedics
will rcmaine witt as long as the English tongue is
understood ; for that he handles mores hominum ;
now our present writers reflect so much upon
particular persons and coxcombeities that 20
yeares hence they will not be understood.
Though, as Ben Johnson sayes of him, that he had
but little Latine and lesse Greek, he understood
Latinc pretty well ; for he had been in his
younger yeares a Schoolmaster in the Countrey.'

If the responsibility for this account is to be
apportioned between Davcnant and Shadwell,
the story about the players should be assigned
to Shadwell, and Davenant should be held
responsible for an account of an incident in the
early life of Shakespeare with which the
D'Avenant family were more likely to be ac-
quainted than an actor who flourished so lately
as the time of Aubrey, and who merely retailed
the tradition of the theatre. Shadwell's story
we know to be true, and there is no reason to
discredit what was said by Davenant, even if it
did not receive confirmation from what has been
written by Shakespeare.

It has often been noted that Shakespeare's
earliest play is full of reminiscences of school
life. ' In the mouth of his schoolmaster Holo-



femes, in Love's Labour's Lost,' Sir Sidney Lee
writes, ' and Sir Hugh Evans in the Merry Wives
of Windsor, Shakespeare places Latin phrases
drawn directly from Lily's grammar, from the
Sentential puereles and from the " good old
Mantuan." '

In Love's Labour's Lost the following speech is
put into the mouth of the pedant Holofernes :
' Fauste, precor gelida quando pecus omne sub
umbra Ruminat — and so forth. Ah, good old
Mantuan ! I may say of thee, as the traveller
doth of Venice ;

Venetia, Venetia,
Chi non ti vede non ti pretia.
Old Mantuan, Old Mantuan ! who understandeth thee
not loves thee not.' *

Baptista Spagnolus, surnamed Mantuanus from
the place of his birth, was a writer of poems in
Latin, who lived in the fourteenth century. The
words quoted by Holofernes form the first line
of the first of his Eclogues. This quotation is
referred to by Nash in his Pierce Peniless, pub-
lished in 1592, as the learning of a 'grammar
school boy.' A French writer, quoted by War-
burton, said that the pedants of his day preferred
Fauste precor gelida to arma virumque cano —

* Love's Labour's Lost, IV. ii. 95.


that is to say, the Eclogues of Mantuan to the
Aencid of Virgil.

The late Mr. Horace Furness, in his Variorum
edition of Love's Labour s Lost, thus explains the
extraordinary popularity of Mantuanus in the
sixteenth century as a school book, of which he
has collected much evidence : ' I think it is
not utterly incomprehensible. His verse is very
smooth, and being a poet, his ideas are common-
place, and expressed in lucid language quite
suited to teachers of moderate intelligence and
latinity.' One phrase, he points out, has
become one of our hackneyed quotations —
' Semel insanivimus omnes.'' *

Such a teacher was Holofernes. We may hope
that it was as a dramatist that Shakespeare
wrote in praise of Mantuan, attributing to
Holofernes the opinion which as a pedant he was
likely to entertain. At the same time it must be
admitted that there is a note of affectionate
reminiscence in Shakespeare's quotation of
Fauste precor, and a genuine ring about his
praise of ' good old Mantuan.'

Another reminiscence of school days is found
in the words addressed by Holofernes to Natha-
niel : ' Bone ? bone for bene. Priscian a little

• Sec also Sir Sidney Lee's Life of Shakespeare, p. 16,
note 3.



scratched, 't will serve.' * This was a school-
master's phrase. Priscianus, who taught gram-
mar at Constantinople about a.d. 525 was the
great grammarian of the middle ages. ' Diminuis
Prisciani caput'' was a common phrase applied to
those who spoke false Latin, and as Mr. Clark,
one of the Cambridge editors, writes, ' a little
scratched ' is a phrase familiar to the school-
master, from his daily task of correcting his
pupils' ' latines.'

How many classical authors in the original
were to be found in this study of books, and how
many in the translations in prose and in verse —
a long list of which is to be found in the Prole-
gomena to the Variorum edition of 1821 — is a
question that cannot be discussed without
treading on forbidden ground. But it is worth
noting that three writers in the Latin language,
mentioned by name in Shakespeare's writings,
are associated with his early days : Ovid
inspired the first heir of his invention, and
Mantuan with Priscian were part of the stock-in-
trade of the occupation in which he is said to
have been engaged when young. The grammar
school at Stratford was one of the first in which
Greek was taught. A fair acquaintance with the

* Theobald's emendation of the text of the Folio, which is here
hopelessly corrupt.

22S Q


ancient classics would be required in a young
man promoted from student to teacher ; a kind
of scholarship which might be described by a
great scholar, when in an envious mood, as small
Latin and less Greek.

The Book of Sport of the sixteenth century has
no place in treatises on English literature. It had
nevertheless a very real existence. Allusions
to the Book of Sport are to be found here and
there in the literature of the period, but none
more definite than Shakespeare's.

Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy marvels
at the ' world of Bookes — not alone on arts and
sciences, but on riding of horses, fencing,
swimming, gardening, planting, great tomes of
husbandry, cookery, falconry, hunting, fishing,
fowling, and with exquisite pictures of all sports
games and what not ? ' ' Nothing is now so
frequent,' he says, ' as hawking, a great art, and
manv books written of it.' Fourteen books on
horses and horsemanship were published during
the lifetime of Shakespeare, one of which went
through four editions in this period. The books
on hunting and falconry were nearly as numerous,
some of them famous in their time, but now
forgotten by all but book collectors, or an
occasional wanderer in the bypaths of Eliza-
bethan literature. These books were studied



not only by genuine sportsmen for love and
understanding of the subject, but by the would-be
gentlemen of the Tudor age, who afford a constant
topic to the dramatist and satirist ; for correct
use of the language of sport was expected of a
gentleman. Bishop Earle says of his upstart
knight ' a hawke, hee esteemes the true burden
of Nobilitie' (Micro - cosmographie). Master
Stephen, in Ben Jonson's Every Man in his
Humour, asks his uncle Knowell, ' Can you tell
me can we have e'er a book of the sciences of
hawking and hunting ? I would fain borrow it.'
To his uncle, who regards this as most ridiculous,
he says, ' Why you know if a man have not skill
in the hawking and hunting languages nowadays
I'll not give a rush for him ; they are more
studied than the Greek or the Latin ' ; and this
was natural, for they were compulsory studies
for every one who pretended to be a gentleman.
There was a term of art for every action or
incident of sport, with an endless array of
appropriate verbs, nouns and adjectives, the
misapplication of any one of which would have
been fatal to any such pretension. The earliest
attempt to teach the hunting and hawking
language by means of a printed book is to be
found in the Book of St. Albans, published in
1476. Dame Juliana Barnes or Berners was the

227 Q2


first English authoress to find her way into print.
In the part of the Book which is attributed to
her with probability, she addresses herself to
' gentill men ' as well as to c honest persones,'
and attributes to them a desire to ' know the
gentill termys in comuning of their hawkys.'
The greater your accuracy in the use of this
language ' the moore worshipp may ye have
among all menne.' The Book of St. Albans was
reprinted in whole or in part no fewer than
fourteen times before the death of Shakespeare.
An ancient English treatise on falconry bears
the significant title of The Institute of a Gentleman.
' There is a saying among hunters,' says the
author, ' that he cannot be a gentleman whyche
loveth not hawking and hunting.'

Shakespeare's vocabulary of sport is as copious
and accurate as that of the books of sport.
There have been collected from his works one
hundred and thirty-two terms and phrases of art
relating to woodcraft, and eighty-two relating to
falconry. The minute accuracy with which these
terms are employed could not have been attained
by a practical sportsman without the aid of his
Book of Sport, even if he had been engaged
in the task for many more years than Shakespeare
could have devoted to it.

We might therefore have been justified in



placing the Book of Sport in Shakespeare's
library, even if he had not let us into the secret
of his knowledge and appreciation of it.

In the passage in Troilus and Cressida, in
which Hector, unarmed, visits the tents of the
Greeks, Achilles says to him —

Now, Hector, I have fed my eyes on thee. I have
with exact view perused thee, Hector, and quoted
joint by joint.

This dialogue follows :

Hect. Is this Achilles ?

Achil. I am Achilles.

Hect. Stand fair, I pray thee ; let me look on thee.

Achil. Behold thy fill.

Hect. Nay I have done already.

Achil. Thou art too brief : I will the second time,
As I would buy thee, view thee limb by limb.

Hect. 0, like a book of sport, thou'ld read me o'er.
But there's more in me than thou understand'st.*

When Shakespeare attributes to one of the
characters in his play the expression of a thought
which is an irrelevance, unconnected with the
action of the drama, or the character of the
speaker — especially when it is an anachronism —
we may be pretty certain that he is giving
expression, in characteristic fashion, to an idea
that was present to his mind at the moment.

• Troilus and Cressida, IV. v. 231.


In the words of Hector we find an expression of
the contempt which a genuine English sportsman
would feel for the would-be gentleman who reads
over his book of sport to get a smattering of the
hunting and hawking language, without any real
understanding of the ' more ' that is to be
found in it.

It is to the Book of Sport, in which the Book of
Horsemanship may be included, that we owe the
following passage —

Ner. What warmth is there in your affection
towards any of these princely suitors that are already
come ?

Por. I pray thee over-name them ; and as thou
namest them, I will describe them ; and according to
my description, level at my affection.

Ner. First, there is the Neapolitan prince.

Por. Ay, that's a colt indeed, for he doth nothing
but talk of his horse ; and he makes it a great appro-
priation to his own good parts, that he can shoe him
himself. I am much afeard my lady his mother
played false with a smith.*

How did it come to the knowledge of Shake-
speare that the words of Portia were a charac-
teristic description of a Neapolitan prince ?
Quite easily, if we may place on his shelves a
treatise on riding by one Astley, Master of the
Jewel House, published in 1 584, in which he would

• Merchant of I'enice, I. ii. 36.


have read of ' wel-neere a hundred as well
Princes as Noblemen and gentlemen : among the
which Noblemen of that cetie (Naples) that were
descended of the senators ' who brought the
art of riding to its highest perfection. The
classic work of Grisone, ' a noble gentleman of
the citie of Naples,' translated under the
auspices of Burleigh, was the foundation of
Blundevill' swell-known treatise on horsemanship,
and Neapolitan riding-masters had been im-
ported into England. But that a Neapolitan
prince could be best described as a practical
horseman proud of shoeing his horse himself,
could hardly have been a matter of common

The most interesting of the additions to Sir
Sidney Lee's Life which are to be found in the
latest edition are contained in the chapter
entitled ' The Close of Life.' By the aid of the
information which he has succeeded in collecting,
we can realise the truth of the account recorded
by Rowe that the latter part of Shakespeare's
life was spent in * ease, retirement, and the
conversation of his friends.' We find in the
immediate neighbourhood some who were worthy
of his friendship. The poet and politician, Sir
Fulke Greville, chosen in 1606 to the office of
Recorder of the Borough of Stratford, lived at



Alcester, nine miles distant. Sir Henry and Lady
Rainsford, whose residence, Clifford Chambers,
was at a short distance from Stratford, were
the friends and patrons of Michael Drayton, a
Warwickshire poet who is brought into fellow-
ship with Shakespeare, for he is found, with Ben
Jonson, at New Place at the time of his last

It is pleasant to read in these pages an account
of Shakespeare's relations with the Combe
family, and the interest that he took in the
attempt, which proved unsuccessful in the end, to
enclose the common fields at Welcombe. But
among these friends and neighbours we find
none who can be admitted to the degree of

Sir Thomas Lucy had been dead for some years
when Shakespeare settled in Stratford. The
story of the trouble about deer had not been
forgotten, but it would be told to the credit of
Shakespeare. It showed him to have been a
young man of spirit and a sportsman. Coney-
catching, as a gentleman's recreation, did not
rank so high as deer-stealing, and yet Simple says
with pride of his master, Slender : ' He is as tall
a man of his hands as any is between this and
his head ; he hath fought with a warrener.'*

• Merry fVives, I. iv. 26.


No offence, but rather the reverse, was intended
to Aaron the Moor when he was asked

What, hast thou not full often struck a doe,
And borne her cleanly by the keeper's nose ? *

Deer-stealing was the recognised extravagance
of young gentlemen of spirit. Fosbroke, in his
History of Gloucestershire ', writes : ' The last
anecdote I have to record of this chase [Michael-
wood] shows that some of the principal persons
in this country (whose names I suppress when
the family is still in existence) were not ashamed
of the practice of deer-stealing.'

Shakespeare's popularity among the lesser
gentry about Stratford would be rather enhanced
by the ridicule which he cast upon the great Sir
Thomas Lucy, if, as seems probable, the proto-
type of the Master Robert Shallow of the amended
edition of the Merry Wives — a very different
person from the immortal Justice of King
Henry IV. — was a pompous and self-asserting
man, dwelling on his dignities and posing as a

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