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

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" I am a player." " A player," quoth Roberto,
" I took you rather for a gentleman of great
liuing ; for if by outward habit men should
be censured, I tell you, you would be taken for
a substantiall man. So am I where I dwell
(quoth the player) reputed able at my proper
cost to build a Windmill, what though the
worlde once went hard with mee, when I was
faine to carrie my playing Fardle a footebacke ;
Tempora mutantur ; I know you know the mean-
ing of it better than I, but I thus conster it, it
is otherwise now ; for my very share in playing
apparrell will not be solde for two hundred
pounds." Roberto asks : ' How meane you to
use mee ? Why, sir, in making playes, said the
other, for which you shall be well paied if you
will take the paines.' Roberto went with the
player, and became ' famozed for an Arch-
plaimaking poet, his prose like the sea somtime



sweled, anon like the same sea fell to a low ebbe,
yet seldom he wanted, his labors were so well
esteemed.' The story of the bad company into
which Roberto fell, and the ill treatment of his
wife, is unhappily true of Greene, for a pathetic
letter was found among his papers after his death
addressed to his wife from ' thy repentent
husband for his disloyaltie Robert Greene.'

It is at this point in the narrative that Greene
intervenes in his proper person. ' Heere
(Gentlemen) breake I off Roberto's speech ;
whose life in most part agreeing with mine,
found one selfe punished as I haue doone. Here-
after suppose me the said Roberto, and I will
goe on with that hee promised : Greene will
send you new his groatsworth of wit, that never
showed a mites-worth in his life ; and though
no man now be by, to doe me good, yet ere I
die, I will by my repentance indeuour to doe all
men good.'

Greene in some fine verses bids farewell
to the

Deceiuing world, that with alluring toyes,
Hast made my life the subject of thy scorne.

Having delivered himself of some moral maxims,
he directs a few lines to his ' fellowe schollers
about this cittie ' addressed ' to those gentle-

9 8


men, his Quondam acquaintance, that spend
their wits in making Plaies, R. G. wisheth a
better exercise, and wisdome to preuent his

To the playwrights generally, Greene offers
the advice that they should be employed in
more profitable courses than in writing plays for
the benefit of the actors, of whom he writes with
contempt as ' those Puppits that speake from
our mouths, those Anticks garnisht in our
colours, . . . for it is pitie men of such rare wits,
should be subject to the pleasures of such rude
groomes.' This is the point of view of the
students of Greene's old college, St. John's.
According to Studioso, the wealth by which the
players are enabled to purchase lands and
attain to dignity are ' mouthing words that
better wits have framed.' Trust not these men,
is his advice, for the playwright to whom they
are beholden for the words by the speaking of
which they attain to wealth and fame will be
allowed by them to perish for want of comfort.
' Is it not strange that I to whom they al haue
been beholding ; is it not like that you to whom
they all haue been beholding, shall (were ye in
that case that I am now) be both at once of them
forsaken ? '

To each of three players, his quondam



acquaintance, Greene addresses a special warn-
ing. One, the ' famous gracer of Tragedians,'
who has said in his heart there is no God, should
now ' give glorie vnto his greatness.' That
Marlowe is here intended has never been doubted.
Another, ' Young Juuenall, that byting satyrist,
that lastlie with mce together writ a Comedie,'
is advised not to get many enemies by bitter
words. As to a third who is ' no lesse deseruing
than the other two, in some things rarer, in
nothing inferiour ; driuen (as my selfe) to
extreme shifts ; a little have I to say to thee.'
That little seems to be not to depend ' on so
meane a stay ' as playwriting. The ' byting
satyrist ' has been identified as Nash, and the
third playwright as Peele.

Greene then goes on to write : ' Yes, trust
them not ; for there is an vpstart Crow, beauti-
fied with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart
wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well
able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best
of you ; and being an absolute lohannes fac
totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-
scene in a Countrie.'

That this outburst of spleen refers to Shake-
speare cannot be doubted, the line ' O tiger's
heart wrapt in a woman's hide ' is found in
the third part of Henry VI. (I. iv. 137), and



also in the older version The True Trazedie 9
and the play on Shakespeare's name is unmis-

When we remember that these words were
written by Greene on his deathbed, forsaken of
all but a kindly and devoted hostess who after
his death crowned his head with a garland of
bays, we can understand the bitterness of heart
with which he thought of the prosperity of the
players for whom he had written, whose fortunes
he had made, and who had forgotten him in his
necessity ; and his jealousy of one who, a mere
literary fac totum, had suddenly sprung into fame
as the most popular playwright of the day. It
was hard for Greene to think that the drama
which daily filled the playhouse with tens of
thousands, and made the fortunes of the mana-
gers, was his Henry VI. ; and he may be forgiven
if the heroic strain to which it owed its vitality
and success presented itself to his mind as mere
' shake-scene ' bombast.

The Groatezuorth of Wit was among the
papers left by Robert Greene in the hands of
sundry booksellers. The manuscript was copied
by Henry Chettle, who some years afterwards
became a dramatist. He was at that time what
would now be called a publisher. c Greene's
hand was none of the best ; licensed it must be,



ere it could be printed, which could ncuer be if
it might not be read.'

Chcttl'j-in the preface to Kind Harts Dream,
a kind of social satire published by him shortly
after the death of Greene, explains the part that
he had taken in regard to the Groatsworth of Wit.
He exonerates Nash from having any share in the
production. For himself, he says : ' I put some-
thing out, but in the whole booke not a worde in.'

Some such explanation was called for. The
' Groatsworth of wit, in which a letter written
to diuers play-makers is offensiuely by one or
two of them taken ; and because on the dead
they cannot be auenged, they wilfully forge in
their conceites a liuing Author ; and after
tossing it to and fro, no remedy, but it must
light on me.' As Chettle had during all the
time of his ' conuersing in printing hindred the
bitter inueying against schollers,' he is naturally
hurt by the supposition that he was party to so
scandalous a production.

' With neither of them that take offence was
I acquainted and with one of them I care not if I
neuer be.'

Those who took offence were Marlowe and
Shakespeare — one had been accused of a
capital offence, and the other had been lam-
pooned — for to no others was offence offered.



It is easy to understand why Chettle should
have dissociated himself from Marlowe, for he
was regarded as an atheist, and shortly before his
death in the following year a warrant was issued
from the Star Chamber for his arrest to answer
the charge of atheism. In a subsequent part of
the preface he recurs to the ' first whose learning
I reverence,' and states that in the perusing of
Greene's book, he ' stroke out what then in
conscience I thought he in some displeasure
writ ; or had it beene true, yet to publish it, was

Of Shakespeare he writes : ' The other,
whome at that time I did not so much spare, as
since I wish I had, for that as I haue moderated
the heate of liuing writers, and might haue used
my owne discretion (especially in such a case)
the Author being dead, that I did not, I am as
sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault,
because my selfe haue seene his demeanor no
less ciuill than he excelent in the qualitie he
professes ; Besides diuers of jvorship have re-
ported his uprightness of dealing, which argues
his honesty, and his facetious grace in writting,
that approoves his Art.'

The earliest in date of the references to
Shakespeare that have been discovered is by
Spenser. The next is by Greene, followed by the



explanation and apology of Chcttlc. Spencer
and Chcttle both speak of Shakespeare from
personal knowledge and each of them affords to
us a glimpse of the personality of the man whom
they knew. It is but a glimpse, but the aspect
of his nature revealed in poetic phrase by
Spenser, and in plain prose by Chettle, is one and
the same. To Spenser it appeared that ' no
gentler shepherd could no where be found.'
When Chettle came to know Shakespeare he
found his demeanour so civil, that he was as
sorry for having published Greene's attack, as
if the original fault had been his own. More-
over, Shakespeare had become known to
gentlemen of position by the uprightness of
his dealing as a man of honour, and they
were ready to testify to the character that he
bore ; that is to say, he was possessed of the
essential qualities which were implied in the
word ' gentle ' in the sense in which it was used
by Spenser.

When Shakespeare commenced dramatist the
university pens held the field. ' Midway between
Lyly and his successful practice of the drama,
which for the most cultivated men and women
of his day, maintained and developed standards
supplied to him, at least in part, by his univer-
sity, and Thomas Lodge, who put the drama



aside as beneath a cultivated man of manifold
activities, stand Nashe, Peele and Greene. Nashe
feeling the attraction of a popular and finan-
cially alluring form, shows no special fitness for
it, and gives it relatively little attention. Peele,
properly endowed for his best expression in
another field, spends his strength in the drama,
because, at the time, it is the easiest source of
revenue, and turns from the drama of the culti-
vated to the drama of the less cultivated or the
uncultivated. Greene from the first, is the
facile, adaptive purveyor of wares to which he
is helped by his university experience, but to
which he gives a highly popular presentation.
Through Nashe and Lodge the drama gains
nothing. Passing through the hands of Lyly,
Greene, and even Peele, it comes to Shakespeare
something quite different from what it was
before they wrote.

' University-bred, one and all, these five men
were proud of their breeding. However severe
from time to time might be their censures of
their intellectual mother, they were always ready
to take arms against the unwarranted assump-
tion, as it seemed to them, of certain dramatists
who lacked their university training, and
to confuse them by the sallies of their wit.
One and all, they demonstrated their right



to the title bestowed on them — " University
wits." ' *

The debt which literature owes to these men
is best realised by comparing the drama in the
form in which they presented it with the work
of their predecessors, lifeless dramas in the
manner of Seneca, bloody tragedies, and rude
comedies like Ralph Roister Doistcr. They had
prepared the way for the advent of Shakespeare.
Greene and the three specially addressed by
him, Marlowe, Nash and Peele, were in the fore-
most rank of the university pens. The greatness
of Marlowe and his influence on the life work of
Shakespeare place him in a class by himself, and
his relations with Shakespeare form the subject
of a separate chapter. Passing him by for the
present, it may be noted that no trace can be
found of cordial relations between Shakespeare
and the university pens, such as existed through-
out his life with his fellow players.

The lives and characters of such representative
players as Burbage, Hcming and Condcll stand
out in strong contrast to those of Greene, Peele
and Nash. George Peele, like Robert Greene,
was a typical representative of the class. He
was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, and

• Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. V., Ch. VI.
(Professor G. P. Baker).



graduated M. A. in 1579. While at the university-
he was noted as a poet, and the performance of
his translation of a play of Euripides was cele-
brated in two Latin poems, in one of which the
social gaieties as well as the academical success
of his Oxford career are mentioned. Like Greene
he was a successful playwright, and he also
resembled him in the course of dissipation in
which his great powers were wasted. We have
seen how Greene, in the Groats worth of Wit,
appealed to him, as one who had been, like the
writer, driven to ' extreme shifts,' to mend his
way. He died at about the age of thirty-
nine, and after his death a tract appeared,
entitled Merry conceited jests of George Peele,
some time a Student in Oxford, a collection of
facetice, which had no doubt a foundation
in fact.*

Thomas Nash matriculated as a sizar at St.
John's College, Cambridge, of which he writes
as the ' sweetest nurse of knowledge in all that
University.' He graduated B.A., and wrote :
' It is well known I might have been a fellow
if I had would.' He also died at an early age —
thirty-four. * Till his death he suffered the
keenest pangs of poverty, and was (he confesses)
often so reduced as to pen unedifying " toyes for

* Diet. Nat. Biography.


gentlemen," by which he probably meant licen-
tious songs.' *

There was little in common between these
erratic men of genius and the thrifty players who
were the lifelong fellows and friends of Shake-
speare. Besides their reckless Bohemianism,
there was another characteristic of these uni-
versity pens which did not commend itself to
Shakespeare. It has been said that England in
the time of Elizabeth was a nest of singing birds.
Unhappily the inmates of this nest, so far from
agreeing, wasted their time and talents in libel-
lous recrimination and ungentle pamphleteering.
' The bitter inueying against schollers ' was not
to the taste of the publisher Chettlc ; and Shake-
speare's concurrence in his opinion may well
have been part of the civil demeanour by which
he was impressed. Certain it is that Shakespeare
stood outside the wordy warfare in which Lodge
and Nash, and at a later time Jonson, Dekker
and Marston, delighted.

Chettle began to write for the stage some time
before the year 1598, for in that year he is men-
tioned by Meres in Palladis lamia as one of ' the
best for Comedy among us.' He did not attain
the success which these words seem to imply.
That he was highly regarded is shown by the

• Diet. Nat. Biography (Sir Sidney Lee).


readiness of Henslow, as appears by his Diary, to
assist him in his pecuniary troubles. His
England's Mourning Garland, published in 1603,
after the death of Elizabeth, was well received.
It contains an interesting passage which sug-
gests the possibility that his acquaintance with
Shakespeare, beginning in 1592, may have
ripened into friendship. Chettle addresses him-
self ' to all true Louers of the right gratious
Queene Elizabeth in her life,' and in particular,
to the poets of the day, complaining that they
had not celebrated in verse the memory of
the great Queen. Amongst those appealed to
are Sidney, Spenser and Chapman. Chettle's
appeal to Shakespeare, ' the siluer tonged Meli-
cert,' is printed elsewhere (p. 43). It met with
no response.

Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton have been
brought into close personal relations with Shake-
speare by trustworthy testimony. At the time
when Shakespeare contracted the fever of which
he died Drayton and Jonson were with him in
Stratford. This we have on the authority of the
Rev. John Ward, who became Vicar of Stratford
in 1662. The character and history of Drayton
are well known, and when they are studied in
connection with the pitiful story of the uni-
versity pens, we can understand why Drayton,



and not they, is found among the associates and
friends of Shakespeare.

Drayton was a native of Warwickshire. In
after life he was a constant visitor at Clifford
Chambers, a manor-house in the neighbourhood
of Stratford, the residence of Sir Henry and
Lady Rainsford. ' Their lifelong patronage of
Michael Drayton, another Warwickshire poet
and Shakespeare's friend, gives them an hon-
oured place in literary history. . . .' * Lady
Rainsford before her marriage was the adored
mistress of Drayton's youthful muse, and in the
days of his maturity Drayton, who was always
an enthusiastic lover of his native country, was
the guest for many months each year of her
husband and herself at Clifford Chambers, which,
as he wrote in his Polyolbion, had been many a
time the Muses' quiet port.

1 Drayton's host found at Stratford and its
environment his closest friends, and several of
his intimacies were freely shared by Shakespeare.
Shakespeare's son-in-law, John Hall, a medical
practitioner of Stratford, reckoned Lady Rains-
ford among his early patients from the first
years of the century, and Drayton himself, while
a guest at Clifford Chambers, came under
Hall's professional care. The dramatist's son-

• Life of Shakespeare, p. 468.



in-law cured Drayton of a " tertian " by the
administration of " syrup of violets," and
described him in his casebook as an " excellent
poet." '

Drayton had written in his Legend of Mathilda,
published in 1594,

Lucrece, of whom proude Rome hath boasted long,
Lately reviv'd to live another age ;

and some years after the death of Shakespeare
he thus wrote in his Elegies :

Shakespeare, thou hadst as smooth a Comicke vaine
Fitting the socke, and in thy natural braine
As strong conception and as cleere a rage
As any one that trafiqu'd with the stage.

Drayton in his life and character presents a
marked contrast to Greene and to the ' quondam
acquaintances ' whom he addresses. Sir Sidney
Lee truly says : ' Bohemian ideals and modes
of life had no dominant attraction for Shake-
speare.' His chosen associates are the thrifty
players, and among the playwrights, Ben Jonson
and Drayton. Ben Jonson, on his own showing,
was not morally perfect, but his errors did not
lead him into Bohemia, and for many years he
held a position in the literary world of London
comparable to that held in after ages by Dryden



and by another Johnson. Of Drayton it was
written : ' His moral character was unassailable,
and he was regarded by his contemporaries as a
model of virtue.' * ' As Aulus Persius,' writes
Mercs, ' is reputed among all writers to be of
an honest life and upright conversation, so
Michael Drayton {quern toties honoris et amoris
causa nomino) among schollers, souldiers, poets,
and all sorts of people is heldc for a man of
vertuous disposition, honest conversation, and
well-governed carriage.' f Izaak Walton, in his
Compleat Angler, quotes a passage from the
Polyolbion ' of Michael Drayton, my honest old
friend.' Such was the character of Shake-
speare's friend.

Like Shakespeare, Drayton attached more
importance to his poems than to his plays ; but
unlike Shakespeare, he did not attain to eminence
as a dramatist, and the book by which he is best
known is his Polyolbion. It is what he calls a
chorographical description of the rivers, moun-
tains, forests, and other geographical features of
Great Britain. It was published in 1613, and is
a really great work, containing many passages of
true poetical beauty, among which may be noted
his description of the forest of Arden. This is

• Diet. Nat. Biography (A. H. Bullcn).
t Palladis 1 anna, 1598.



the man whom we find associated with Ben
Jonson in the last days of the life of Shakespeare,
but Jonson's relations with Shakespeare were so
intimate and so instructive that they must form
the subject of a separate chapter.



If Ben Jonson was not the greatest of the
fellow poets and dramatists of Shakespeare — a
place which is Marlowe's of right — he held the
foremost position in the eyes of the public of his
day. This was inevitable. He was, in the words
of Swinburne, a giant, but not of the gods, and
giants are more easily discerned by unaided
vision than gods. ' If poets may be divided
into two exhaustive but not exclusive classes —
the gods of harmony and creation, the giants of
energy and invention — the supremacy of Shake-
speare among the gods of English verse is not
more unquestionable than the supremacy of
Jonson among its giants.'

If Scotland had furnished this earlier and
greater Johnson with another Boswell, the world
would have had a richer entertainment than the
scanty crumbs picked up by Drummond of
Hawthornden, when Jonson visited him in his
home near Edinburgh, and conversed with him
for many days. Drummond preserved a record
of Jonson's conversation in a paper entitled



' Certain Informations and Maners of Ben
Johnson to W. Drummond,' printed by the
Shakespeare Society in the year 1842. The
' conversations,' with footnotes, fill forty-one
pages of the volume published by the Society.
In all these pages the name of Shakespeare
appears twice. Jonson said of him that ' in a
play, he brought in a number of men saying they
had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, wher ther is
no sea neer by some 100 miles.' Jonson's
' censure ' of Shakespeare is comprised in four
words : ' that Shakspeer wanted arte.' This
was probably conclusive with Drummond, who
is described by Sir Sidney Lee as a ' learned
poet.'* Happily we are not dependent for our
knowledge of Jonson's appreciation of the genius
of Shakespeare, and his affection for the man,
to Drummond's notes of his conversations.
Drummond felt no interest in Shakespeare, but
he has at the end of the ' conversations ' given
an estimate of the character of Jonson which is
of value in considering his relations with Shake-
speare. ' He is a great lover and praiser of him-
self ; a contemnor and scorner of others ; given
rather to losse a friend than a jest : jealous of
every word and action of those about him
(especiallie after drink, which is one of the

* Diet. Nat. Biography.


elements in which he liveth) ; a dissembler of
ill parts which raignc in him, a braggcr of some
good that he wantcth ; thinkcth nothing well
but what either he himself or some of his friends
and countrymen hath said or done ; he is pas-
sionately kynde and angry ; careless either to
gaine or keep ; vindictive, but if he be well
answered, at himself. For any religion, as being
versed in both. Interpreteth best sayings and
deeds often to the worst.'

This is a picture drawn in bold outline and
with striking contrasts of light and shade.
' Passionately kynde and angry ' — in these four
words we have a key to the understanding of
what was written by Jonson of a successful
rival whom he regarded with mingled feelings of
jealousy and affection.

Jonson was born, probably, in the year 1573.
He laid the foundation of his vast classical
learning in Westminster Grammar School. He
was ' taken from school and put to a trade,' and
the degrees which he held in Oxford and in
Cambridge were ' by their favour, not his studie.'
So he told Drummond. His experiences during
the next few years include a campaign in
Flanders ; a duel with a fellow actor, whom he
killed, escaping the gallows by claiming benefit
of clergy ; and a change of religion, an experience



which he repeated in later years. He began to
write for the stage about the year 1595. His
earliest efforts were in tragedy, and in 1598 we
find him included by Francis Meres * with Shake-
speare among the poets who are best for

His first extant comedy, Every Man in his
Humour, was successfully produced at the Globe
in 1598, Shakespeare taking a part. Accord-
ing to a tradition of respectable antiquity
recorded by Rowe, the play when presented for
acceptance to the Lord Chamberlain's servants
was at first rejected, and was afterwards accepted
on the recommendation of Shakespeare. A
tradition of the stage accepted by Rowe should

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