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Notwithstanding this promising beginning,
nothing came of the project. The terms offered
by the thrifty players were too low, for in the
next scene Phil, and Stud, appear as fiddlers,
with their consort.

Stud. Better it is mongst fidlers to be chiefe
Then at plaiers trencher beg reliefe,
But ist not strange this mimick apes should prize
Unhappy schollers at a hireling rate.
Vile word, that lifts them vp to hye degree,
And treades vs dovvne in groueling misery.
England affordes these glorious vagabonds,
That carried earst their fardels on their backes
Coursers to rid on through the gazing streetes,
Sooping it in their glaring Satten sutes,
And Pages to attend their maisterships ;
With mouthing words that better wits have made
They purchase lands, and now Esquieres are made.

About three years before the representation of
The Returne from Pernassus Shakespeare had by
the purchase of New Place, in the words of Sir
Sidney Lee, inaugurated the building up at
Stratford of a large landed estate. The owner
of the largest house in Stratford, who had
applied for a grant of arms to his father, may
well have appeared to the envious student as
having attained to the estate of esquire, and that
Shakespeare (when his means allowed of it, but
no sooner) was seen riding through the streets



on a courser, on which passers by stopped to
gaze, cannot be doubted. It is the ' roan
Barbary ' which carried Henry Bolingbroke,
when he road into London

Mounted upon a hot and fiery steed
Which his aspiring rider seem'd to know.*

It is the red roan courser ' of the colour of the
nutmeg and of the heat of ginger,' in whose
praise the Dauphin wrote a sonnet which began
thus : { Wonder of Nature.' f

At some time of his life the fiery courage and
elastic tread of the Eastern horse came as a
revelation to one accustomed to the somewhat
wooden paces of the thickset, straight-pasterned
home-bred English horse of the early days when
Venus and Adonis was written. And thence-
forth Shakespeare would say in the words of
Hotspur, this ' roan shall be my throne.'

Can we wonder that a prosperous player —
a glorious vagabond — seated on this throne,
honoured and wealthy, should have excited the
envy of Studioso, at his wits' end to turn to
profitable use the learning of St. John's College ?
Or that he should have consoled himself with
the reflection that after all the players did no

* Richard 77., V. ii. 8.
f Henry V., III. vii. 20.



more than speak ' words that better wits had
made ' ?

A curious tractate of about the year 1605, of
which there was an unique copy in the Althorpe
library, was reprinted by the New Shakespere
Society.* A player is advised to betake himself
to London. ' There thou shalt learne to be
frugall (for players were never so thriftie as they
are now about London) & to feed upon all men,
to let none feede upon thee ; to make thy hand
a stranger to thy pocket, thy hart slow to per-
forme thy tongues promise : and when thou
feelest thy purse well lined, buy thee some place
of Lordship in the Country, that growing weary
of playing, thy mony may there bring thee to
dignitie and reputation. . . . Sir, I thanke thee
(quoth the player) for this good counsell, I
promise you I will make use of it, for, I have
heard indeede of some that have gone to London
very meanly, and have come in time to be
exceeding wealthy.'

From The Returne from Pernassus we can
understand the envy that was excited in the
university wits by the wealth and prosperity of
the successful players, but fully to realise the
feelings of the university pen, put down, in the
words of Kempc, by one of these players,

• Rat sets Ghost.


commencing dramatist, we must look else-

It may be that Shakespeare at the height of
his prosperity was regarded as the type of the
thrifty and successful player, and there are
allusions in the speech of Studioso and in
Ratseis Ghost which may well be applied to him.
But the players about London were noted as
generally thrifty, and some of Shakespeare's
fellows, as we have seen, acquired substantial

The precise date at which Shakespeare was
admitted to the fellowship of players is unknown.
It is generally believed that he left Stratford for
London in the year 1586, and, according to
Rowe, ' he was received into the company
then in being, at first in a very mean rank.'
According to Davenant, his earliest connection
with the theatre was of a still humbler kind.
It was that of holding the horses of visitors to
the theatres. The story is thus told by Dr.
Johnson. When Shakespeare fled to London
' his first expedient was to wait at the door of
the playhouse, and hold the horses of those that
had no servants, that they might be ready again
after the performance. In this office he became
so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that
in a short time every man as he alighted called



for Will. Shakespeare, and scarcely any other
waiter was trusted with a horse while Will.
Shakespeare could be had. This was the first
dawn of better fortune. Shakespeare finding
more horses put into his hand than he could
hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection,
who, when Will. Shakespeare was summoned,
were immediately to present themselves, " I am
Shakespeare's boy, Sir." In time Shakespeare
found higher employment, but as long as the
practice of riding to the playhouse continued,
the waiters that held the horses retained the
appellation of Shakespeare's boys.' Malone,
though he discredits the story, writes : ' The
genealogy of this story it must be acknowledged
is very correctly deduced.' It first appeared in
print in The Lives of the English Poets, published
in 1753 by Cibber, according to whom Sir
William Davenant told it to Betterton, who told
it to Rowe. Although Rowe told the story to
Pope, he did not include it in his Life. The
reason why it was discredited by Rowe was
probably that which was thus stated, a few
years later, by Steevens : ' the most popular
of the Theatres were on the Bankside ; and we
are told by the satirical writers of the time that
the usual mode of conveyance to these places
was by water ; but not a single writer so much



hints at the custom of riding to them, or at the
practice of having horses held during the time of
the exhibition.' To Rowe, as to Steevens, the
idea of riding to theatres on the Bankside
naturally seemed absurd. That Rowe discarded
a story which seemed to him to be so improbable
shows the carefulness with which he sifted the
information which was supplied to him. But by
a plain tale the criticism of Steevens and the
scepticism of Rowe and Malone are put down.

When Shakespeare came to London there
were only two theatres, the ' Theatre ' and the
1 Curtain,' to one of which he must have been
attached. These theatres were in the fields
within half a mile of the city wall, and we now
know that it was the custom to approach them
on horseback. Sir John Davies, in an epigram
written before 1599, wrote

Faustus, nor lord, nor knight, nor wise, nor old
To every place about the town doth ride ;
He rides into the fields, plays to behold ;
He rides to take boat at the waterside.

Later on, the Globe, and the Rose, the
popular theatres, were on Bankside, and
approached by water, and for more than one
hundred years before Rowe wrote no one had
spoken of riding to the play. Recent research
shows that there is no reason why Davenant's


a 2


story should be discredited. It must have had
its origin in the days of riding to the theatre.
It is accepted by Mr. Elton, and Sir Sidney Lee
sees no improbability of the main drift of the
strange tale.

The tradition that Shakespeare in extremity
of need turned to horses as a means of earning
his bread, and in some employment connected
with their care made a name which others
thought worth pirating, gains some confirmation
from the constant and needless occurrence in his
plays of the language of the groom, the farrier
and the horse master ; and still more from his
use of familiar corruptions and cant phrases
current in the stable and in the blacksmith's

The story is interesting, not only as an incident
in the life of Shakespeare, but because it brings
into strong relief one side of his character. In
it we find the beginning of the qualities by the
use of which, in the words of Professor Dowden,
he came at the age of thirty-three ' posessor

• Over one hundred and fifty phrases and terms of art connected
with horses and horsemanship have been collected from the works
of Shakespeare. Among them arc the following corruptions current
in the stable : " The fives " for " vives " ; " springhalt " for
" stringhalt " ; " mosing " for " mourning " of the chine. " Farcy "
is, according to Gervase Markham (Maister-peece) " of our ignorant
smiths called the fashions." The word " fashions " used by Shake-
speare must have been picked up by him in some ignorant black-
smith's forge in Stratford.

8 4


of New Place at Stratford, and from year to
year added to his worldly dignity and wealth.
Such material advancement, argues a power of
understanding, and adapting oneself to the facts
of the material world.'

All places that the eye of heaven visits

Are to the wise man ports and happy havens.

In this spirit Shakespeare, fallen on evil days,
turned to practical use his love of horses, and the
practical knowledge of their care which he had
somehow acquired. Realising with Cassius that
' men at some time are masters of their fate,'
and that the fault is not ' in our stars but in our-
selves that we are underlings,' he applied him-
self to the work that came to hand with an
understanding of the facts of the material world,
and a determination to be master of his fate,
which ensured success.

Some of the most interesting accounts of the
early years of Shakespeare's life have been
traced, through a respectable pedigree, to Sir
William Davenant. It is therefore important
to consider how far he ought to be regarded as a
trustworthy authority. Davenant was the son
of a well-known citizen of Oxford, Mr. John
D'Avenant (so the name was written), the
owner of a tavern afterwards known as the



1 Crown.' He was, according to Anthony a
Wood, a grave and discreet man, ' yet an
admirer and lover of plays and play writers,
especially Shakespeare, who frequented his house
in his journeys between Warwickshire and
London.' * Mrs. D'Avenant was ' a very
beautiful woman of good wit and understanding.'
Shakespeare was on terms of intimacy with the
family. William, the second son, was his god-
child. Another son, Robert, became a Fellow
of St. John's College, and a Doctor of Divinity.
Aubrey may be believed, when in his account of
Shakespeare he writes : ' I have heard parson
Robert say that Mr. Wm. Shakespeare having
given him a hundred kisses.' An ancient scandal
retailed by Aubrey is only to our present pur-
pose inasmuch as it is founded on the well-
known intimacy of Shakespeare with the
D'Avenant family. Shakespeare manifested a
special affection for his godchild which was
certainly returned. William was only ten years
of age when his godfather died, but from an
early age he was devoted to his memory, for at
the age of twelve he composed an ' Ode in
remembrance of Master Shakespeare,' which
was published in the year 1638.

Davenant's devotion to the memory of Shake-

• A then. Oxon.



speare continued throughout his life. At his
death he was the owner of a portrait which, from
its subsequent history, became known as the
Chandos portrait, and which became the
property of the actor Betterton.
.^■-Dryden, in his preface to The Tempest, altered
by him in collaboration with Davenant, writes :
' I do not set any value on anything in this
play, but out of gratitude to the memory of
Sir William Davenant, who did me the honour
to join me with him in the alteration of it. It
was originally Shakespeare's, a poet for whom he
had particularly a high veneration, and whom he
first taught me to admire.'

Mr. Elton writes : ' If we could evoke some
shadow of the living Shakespeare, it could only
be with the help of Davenant's recollections.
We shall find little help from painting or sculp-
ture ; but we can compare what was said by
those who knew the poet, or had talked with his
friends.' Aubrey and Betterton had talked
with Davenant. Rowe received the story of the
organising of the brigade of ' Shakespeare's
Boys ' from Betterton, who had it directly from
Sir William Davenant. The leading facts of the
early life of an intimate friend who had become
so famous must have been treasured in the
memories of the D'Avenant family ; and the



struggles of his younger days were recalled with
pride, in the light of the success that he had
attained. Sir William's devotion to the memory
of his godfather would have led him to collect
the facts with pious care. A story that descends
from Davenant through a respectable pedigree
ought to be received with respect, and we now
know that men did in fact ride from town to the
theatre at the time when Shakespeare took
refuge in London.

We do not know how it came to be found out
by the players that Shakespeare's wits could be
turned to better account than in holding the
horses of the playgoers, and speculation on this
subject is idle. His admission to a company of
players was the first step of the ladder which
led him to the summit of his fame as a dramatist,
and the success of his plays, when presented on
the stage, is in great measure due to the prac-
tical acquaintance with stagecraft which he had
acquired when working in the theatre. ' Poet
as he was and philosopher and psychologist,
Shakespeare was first of all a playwright, com-
posing plays to be performed by actors in a
theatre, before his audience.' * "~ m *'

Shakespeare was successful as an actor,
although he did not attain to the highest emi-

• Shakespeare as a Playwright, by Brander Matthew (Preface).



nence. Five or six years after his advent to
London Chettle writes of him as ' exelent in the
qualitie he professes.'* And the prominent place
occupied by his name in the licences granted to
the companies with which he was connected is
evidence of the position which he held in the
theatre. Tradition assigns to him the parts of
the Ghost in his Hamlet, the top of his perform-
ance according to Rowe, and of Adam in As Tou
Like It. His name is not associated with any
great part. His heart was not in his profession.^
' His highest ambitions lay, it is true, elsewhere
than in acting or theatrical management, and
at an early period of his histrionic career he
undertook, with triumphant success, the labours
of a playwright. It was in dramatic poetry that
his genius found its goal. But he pursued the
profession of an actor, and fulfilled all the
obligations of a theatrical shareholder loyally
and uninterruptedly until very near the date of
his death. 'J

From Shakespeare's relations with the players
we learn that he was a man who inspired his

* Kind Harts Dream (Preface). " Quality, in Elizabethan English,
was the technical term for the actor's profession " {Life of Shake-
speare, p. 86, note 3). Hamlet used the word in this technical
meaning when he said to the players, " Come, give us a taste of
your quality."

f See Sonnets, ex. and cxi.

% Life of Shakespeare, p. 89.



fellows with feelings of affection as well as respect.
His was a sympathetic nature. The players
were proud of his success, and indignant when
they thought that his reputation was malevo-
lently attacked. They collected and published
his plays to keep alive the memory of ' so worthy
a friend.' Shakespeare was a worthy friend.
In his prosperity he was loyal to players by
whom he had been raised from the mean rank
to which he had fallen, and in his last hours,
when making his will, his thoughts turned, not
to powerful patrons or literary magnates, but
to his fellows, Heming and Condell. It is to
his rare i gentleness ' towards his fellows, and
to their appreciation of it, that we owe the gift
that they bestowed upon humanity.



Among the tens of thousands who daily heard
brave Talbot ' triumph again on the stage,'
there was one in whose ears the heroic strain
sounded as a death knell. He was the author
of the dull and lifeless historical drama which
had been redeemed from failure by an upstart
player, who dared to suppose that he could
' bombast out ' a blank verse with the best of
the university pens.

The first part of Henry VI. in its original
form has not survived, and no record of its
production has been found. Whether it was in
fact presented to the public before the revision
of the piece by Shakespeare, and the introduction
of the Talbot scenes had ensured its enthusiastical
reception by a patriotic audience, is a matter of
uncertainty. The second and third parts of
Henry VI., as they stood before the final revision
by Shakespeare, are extant.* The theory that

* In The first part of the contention betwixt the two famous bouses
of Tork and Lancaster, published in 1594, and The True Tragedy of
Richard, Duke of Torke, and the death of good King Henry the Sixt,
as it was sundrie times acted by the Earl of Pembroke, his servants,
published in the following year.

9 1


Greene and Peele, possibly with the assistance
of Marlowe, produced the original draft of the
three parts of Henry VI. may be accepted. That
they were finally revised by Shakespeare, that
they assumed the form in which they were printed
in the First Folio, is certain. The authorship, in
whole or in part, of Greene is supported by
stronger evidence than similarity of workmanship.

Robert Greene may be taken as representative
of a class with whom Shakespeare was brought
into literary fellowship when he commenced
dramatist. They were known as the uni-
versity pens.

In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth the
spread of the New Learning, and a wider outlook
on life, inspired the youth of the nation with
a desire to seek out new fields for the exercise
of the powers of which they were conscious.
' Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits,'
was a modern instance from the lips of one of
the ' two gentlemen of Verona.'

It was a time in which

Men of slender reputation
Put forth their sons to seek preferment out ;
Some to the wars, to try their fortune there ;
Some to discover islands far away ;
Some to the studious Universities.*

* Two Gentlemen of Verona, I. iii. 6.
9 2


But the university is not the end of life, and
the studious youth who had been sent thither
by his father to seek out preferment had no
sooner attained his degree than he found him
confronted with the problem of how he was to
earn his bread. The study of university life
from which we have quoted enables us to realise
the struggle for existence which awaited those
students who had made the best use of their time
at the university ; for the names under which
we know Studioso, Philomusus, and Ingenioso
indicate that they are intended to represent
this class.*

The Civil Service, the various branches of
which at home and abroad offer such a wide
field of useful and profitable employment, had
not come into existence.

According to the author of The Returne from
Pernassus, the Church was suffering under the
scourge of simony, and it is apparent that he
regarded the law as suitable only to a student
of ample means, for the student who is intended
for the law is the son of a man of property, the
owner of the advowson of the living that was the
victim of the scourge of simony.

Ingenioso, if he had lived at the present day,
would have found an exercise for his powers, and

* The Returne from Pernassus, ante, p. 74.



an immediate source of income, in writing for
the press. Failing any other resource, he joins
the fellowship of the university pens.

Robert Greene, born about 1560, matriculated
at St. John's College, Cambridge, and obtained
the degree of M.A. in 1588. If, as is stated, he
was incorporated at Oxford in 1588, he was
closely connected with university life. In the
course of a short and miserable life, as dramatist,
poet and pamphleteer, he produced works suf-
ficiently voluminous to be published in fifteen
volumes in the Huth Library (188 1-6). He was
a protagonist in the war of pamphleteers, in
which Gabriel Harvey and Nash took part, a
curious feature of the Elizabethan age, which
has been already noticed. It is, however, as a
dramatist that he is brought into relationship
with Shakespeare. His position among the
university playwrights is thus estimated by Sir
A. W. Ward : ' Greene's dramatic genius has
nothing in it of the intensity of Marlowe's tragic
muse ; nor perhaps does he ever equal Peele at
his best. On the other hand, his dramatic
poetry is occasionally animated with the breezy
freshness which no artifice can simulate. He
had considerable constructive skill, but he has
created no character of commanding power —
unless Ateukin be excepted ; but his personages



are living men and women, and marked out from
one another with a vigorous, but far from rude,
hand. His comic humour is undeniable, and
he had the gift of light and graceful dialogue.
His diction is overloaded with classical orna-
ment, but his versification is easy and fluent, and
its cadence is at times singularly sweet. He
creates his best effects by the simplest means,
and he is indisputably one of the most attractive
of early English dramatic authors.'*

His dramas have now no interest for any but
professed students of English literature. But
the story of his life may be profitably studied,
for it throws some light upon his relations with
Shakespeare, and in it we find, in an exaggerated
form, the character and experiences of many
members of the fellowship of dramatists at the
time when they were joined by Shakespeare.

Greene died in the year 1582, and on his
deathbed wrote the one of the thirty-five
prose tracts ascribed to his pen which has
secured for him an unenviable immortality. It
is one of three pamphlets which were published
after the author's death. They are all more or
less autobiographical in their character, but
that which is of special interest was edited by
Henry Chettle, and published in 1582 under the

* Encyclopedia Britannica, nth ed.



title of ' Greens Groats-worth of Wit, bought
with a Million of Repentance, describing the
follic of youth, the falshoode of makeshift
flatterers, the miserie of the negligent, and mis-
chiefes of deceiuing courtizans, written before
his death, and published at his dying request.'

Greene having come to a pass at which
' sicknesse, riot, incontinence, have at once
shown their extremitie,' sends a message to his
readers ; ' the last I have writ ; and I fear me
the last I shall write.' Greene was, indeed, in
sore distress. He was dependent for his support
on a poor shoemaker and his wife. He gave a
bond for ten pounds to his host, and wrote on
the day before his death these pitiful lines to his
deserted wife : ' Doll, I charge thee by the love
of our youth and by my soules rest that thou
wilt see this man paide for if hce and his wife
had not succoured me I had died in the streetes.'*

In this tractate the story is told of a young
man named Roberto. The part which deals with
the parentage and early history of Roberto and
his wealthy brother is a moral tale which has no
relation to the life history of Greene. The
autobiographical part of the tract is easily
separable from the moral talc. Roberto, as he
lay on the ground in distress, is accosted by a

• " Life," by A. H. Bullen, in Diet. Nat. Biography.



stranger who has overheard his lamentation.
He offers to ' endeauour to doe the best, that
either may procure your profit or bring you
pleasure ; the rather for that I suppose you are
a scholar, and pittie it is men of learning should
Hue in lacke.' Employment may easily be
obtained, ' for men of my profession get by
scholars their whole living. What is your pro-
fession sayd Roberto ? Truely sir, said he,

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Online LibraryDodgson Hamilton MaddenShakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature → online text (page 5 of 13)