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After Droeshout.






Litt.D., LL.D., Dublin; LL.D.Edin.; D.C.L.Oxon.
Professor of English Literature in the University of Dublin.







The publishers of the "Henry Irving Shakespeare" having de-
cided to issue the General Introduction to that edition in a separate
form, I have taken the opportunity to revise what was written, to
add some paragraphs on the great tragedies, and to compile, from
sources easily accessible, a brief notice of the interpretations of
Shakespeare by great actors from Burbage to Macready.

If, in this little volume, there be anything of useful guidance or
suggestion, I desire to connect it with the memory of my wife.

E. D.




Introduction to Shakespeare:

I. Shakespeare's Life at Stratford and in London, i

II. The Poetical Creations of his Intellect and

Imagination, - - - 43

III. The Pseudo-Shakespearian Plays, - - 85

IV. Influence of Shakespeare's Works on the

National Mind, - - - 88


Dedication prefixed to the Folio of 1623, - - 129

Address prefixed to the Folio of 1623, - - - 130

Commendatory Verses from those prefixed to the
Folio of 1623, 132

Note on the Early Editions of Shakespeare, - 134

Portrait of Shakespeare, after Droeshout, - frontis.
Sketch of the Interior of the Swan Theatre, by
Johannes de Witt, 51




§1. The life of Shakespeare has been threefold: first,
the external life of good and evil fortune which he
lived as a youth in Stratford, as a player and play-
wright in London, and again as an honoured inhabi-
tant of his native town; secondly, the inner life of
his spirit, the wide-orbing movement of his intellect
and imagination of which we can read something in
his marvellous series of poetical creations, and can
conjecture more; and last, the life which he has
lived during three hundred years in the history of
the national mind of England, or rather we should
say the mind of humanity, the life of posthumous
influence which he has exercised, and exercises at
the present day, on the generations of mankind.
Of each of these it will be our endeavour to speak.


§ 2. "All that is known with any degree of certaint)^
concerning Shakespeare is — that he was born at
Stratford-upon-Avon — married and had children
there — went to London, where he commenced actor,
and wrote poems and plays — returned to Stratford,
made his will, died and was buried." So wrote
Steevens a century ago, and Dc Quincey at a much


more recent date is even briefer in his summing-up
of the facts: "That he Hved, and that he died, and
that he was 'a httle lower than the angels' — these
make up pretty nearly the amount of our undis-
puted report". Having spoken of the perplexity
which we are likely to feel on finding the materials
for the biography of a transcendent writer so meagre
and so few, De Ouincey goes on to solve the
difficulty by an elaborate argument intended to
prove that the parliamentary war and the local
feuds engendered by it extinguished those tradi-
tions and memorials of Shakespeare which, he says,
must have been abundant up to that era. In truth
there is no great cause for wonder or perplexity.
More is known of Shakespeare's life than Steevens
and De Quincey allege. More is known of Shake-
speare's life than of the lives of many of his dramatic
contemporaries. Far less has been ascertained
respecting the life of Marlowe, whose fame stood
so high in Elizabethan days, and whose personality
was undoubtedly a striking one. Far less has been
ascertained respecting the life of Webster or the life
of Ford, although these dramatists flourished at a
later time, and one of them was a gentleman of posi-
tion. The materials for John Fletcher's biography
are of the scantiest kind; it is not certain whether
he went to Cambridge; it is not certain whether
he lived and died unmarried; from 1593 to 1607
his history is a complete blank. Yet Fletcher was
highly honoured by his contemporaries; he survived
till the opening of the reign of Charles I. ; his father
was the Bishop of London. The Elizabethan age
was not an age of literary biography; a playwright,


unless, like Ben Jonson, he were distinguished for
his scholarship and classical learning, was hardly
thought of as a man of letters. Our wonder as
regards Shakespeare should be, not that we know
so little, but that we know so much. Our acquaint-
ance with the facts of his outward history — partly
founded on tradition, partly on documents — is due
to the zeal of lovers of the great dramatist, from the
actor Betterton to the latest and most indefatigable
of investigators, Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps. We cannot
hope that much additional light will ever be gained.
The facts which we possess are enough to assure
us that the greatest of poets conducted his material
life, after, perhaps, some errors of his ardent youth,
wisely and well to a prosperous issue. They are
enough to prove his good sense and discreet dealing
in worldly affairs.

§ 3. Richard Shakespeare, the poet's grandfather,
was a Warwickshire farmer, renting land at Snitter-
field, a village some three or four miles from Strat-
ford-on- Avon. His son John, evidently a man of
some enterprise and energy, settled at Stratford
about 1 55 1, and did business in Henley Street as
a fellmonger and glover. According to Aubrey he
was a butcher, and it may be that he slaughtered
the beasts whose skins he converted into gauntlets
and leggings; according to Rowe he was a con-
siderable dealer in wool, and it is certain that he
had transactions in corn and in timber. In 15 57
he greatly improved his position by his marriage
with Mary, the youngest and the favourite daughter
of Robert Arden, a wealthy farmer, lately deceased,
of the neighbouring hamlet of Wilmccote. That


these Ardens were connected with an ancient family
of gentlefolk of that name has been asserted, and
may be true, but the statement cannot be proved.
Mary Arden inherited from her father an estate of
some sixty acres, known as Asbies, at Wilmecote,
together with the reversion to part of a larger pro-
perty at Snitterfield, on which Snitterfield property
her father-in-law, Richard Shakespeare, held land
as a tenant. From this date John Shakespeare
became a person of some importance at Stratford,
and he rose year by year in the esteem of his fellow-
townsmen. Appointed at first by the corporation
one of the officers whose duty it was to supervise
malt liquors and bread, he became in 1561 a
chamberlain of the borough, in 1565 an alderman,
and in 1568 he was elected to the most important
official position in the town, that of high bailiff.
It is true that he could not write even his name,
but the accomplishment of penmanship was rare
among the members of the corporation. He was
certainly a successful man of business and a skilful

§4. In the house in Henley Street towards the close
of April, 1564, was born William Shakespeare, the
eldest son of his parents. Two daughters, who died
in infancy, had been born before him. On April
the 26th the child was baptized ; a tradition of the
last century, that Shakespeare died upon his birth-
day, would favour the popular opinion that he was
born on April 23rd; but his monument states that
he died in his fifty-third year. Attention was called
by De Quincey to the fact that Shakespeare's only
grandchild, Elizabeth Hall, was married to Thomas


iSIash on April 22nd, and he suggested that the day
may have been chosen as the anniversary of her
grandfather's birthday. The matter remains doubt-
ful. April the 23rd, Old St}-le, corresponds with
our present May 5th.

Stratford-on-Avon, in which Shakespeare spent
his youth -and to which he gladly returned in his
elder years, was a town of gable-roofed, timber or
timber-and-plaster houses, containing some fourteen
or fifteen hundred inhabitants. Its chief buildings
were the noble church hard by the river, and the
Guildhall where on occasions travelling companies
of actors would present their plays. Around it in
Warw^ickshire, " the heart of England", lay the per-
fection of rural landscape: in the Feldon division
such pasture-lands, with a wealth of wild flowers, as
Shakespeare has described in A Winter's Tale; and
in the Arden division the perfection of forest
scenery, such woodland glades and streams as he
has imagined in the French Arden of As You Like
It. During the Wars of the Roses the county was
divided against itself; Coventry was Lancastrian,
Warwick, for a time, Yorkist. The battle of Bos-
worth Field was fought near its north-eastern
border. Traditions of the stirring events of those
times must have lived on to Shakespeare's day, and
created in his imagination a sympathy with, the great
historical figures of that period which he has repre-
sented with such life and force in his historical

That Shakespeare was sent to the Free School at
Stratford is stated by his first biographer, Rowe,
and we may reasonably assume that such was the


fact. Some knowledge of reading and writing was
required at entrance; the usual age of pupils when
admitted was seven. When duly drilled in the
Latin accidence (of which we have an amusing
Shakespearian reminiscence in Sir Hugh Evans'
examination of William Page in The Merry Wives
of Windsor), the boy began to construe from the
Sententiae Pueriles, and, if he remained long enough
at school, advanced as far as Ovid, Virgil, Cicero,
and the Eclogues of Mantuanus. Much has been
written on the subject of Shakespeare's learning,
r^rom Ben Jonson's scholarly point of view he may
be said to have had "small Latin and less Greek".
Perhaps the Greek was nothing or next to nothing;
but Aubrey was probably not wrong when he stated
on the authority of a Mr. Beeston that Shakespeare
" understode Latine pretty well". In later years he
seems to have acquired a little knowledge of French,
and possibly a little knowledge of Italian.

§ 5. At what age Shakespeare was withdrawn from
school we cannot tell. But we know that when he
was thirteen years old his father was no longer a
prosperous man, and that the fortunes of his house
continued for a considerable time to decline. While
John Shakespeare's means were first waxing and
then rapidly waning, his family had increased in
numbers. His son Gilbert, who afterwards became
a haberdasher in London and who lived certainly
to 1609, was born in 1566; Joan, who was married
to William Hart, and whose name appears in the
great dramatist's will, was born 1569; Anne, born
in 1 571, died in her eighth year; Richard, born in
March 1 573-74, lived to manhood, dying at Stratford


in 1613; John Shakespeare's last child, Edmund,
born in 1580, became an actor, died in September
1607, and on the morning of his burial at St.
Saviour's, Southwark, a knell of the "great bell"
of the church was rung, a mark of respect secured
only by the payment of a considerable fee. Thus
with younger brothers and a sister requiring susten-
ance and education, and with narrowing means in
the household, William Shakespeare, at the age of
thirteen may, as the tradition asserts, have been set
to help his father in business. An old parish clerk
of Stratford towards the close of the seventeenth
century declared that Shakespeare was bound
apprentice to a butcher; and according to Aubery
he performed the sacrificial rites with dramatic
accompaniments, for " when he killed a calf, he
would do it in a high style and make a speech".
According to another report he was a country
schoolmaster, and Malone has argued from Shake-
speare's frequent and exact use of law-terms that
most probably he was for two or three years in the
office of a Stratford attorney. We may indulge
our imagination by picturing the future poet rather
as a wool-stapler than as a butcher's lad.

What cannot be doubted is that his father had
passed from wealth to comparative poverty. In
1578 he effected a large mortgage on the estate of
Asbies; when he tendered payment in the following
year it was refused until other sums due had been
repaid; the money designed for the redemption of
Asbies had been obtained by the sale of his wife's
reversionary interest in the Snitterfield propert}'.
His taxes were lightened, nor was he always able


to pay those which were still claimed. He dropped
off from attendance at the town-council, and in
consequence was ultimately deprived of his alder-
man's gown (1586). He fell into debt, and was
tormented with legal proceedings. A commission
appointed to inquire respecting Jesuits, priests, and
recusants reported his name in 1592 among those
of persons who "come not to church for fear of
process for debt". It does not appear, however, that
he was obliged to part with his house in Henley
Street, and, as we shall see, his eldest son was care-
ful, when prosperity came to him in his dramatic
career, to restore the fallen fortunes of his father.

1 6. Before he was nineteen years old Shakespeare
had a new and a powerful motive for trying to
better himself in the world; he had taken to himself
a wife. A bond given before the marriage, for the
security of the bishop in licensing the marriage after
once asking of the banns, is preserved in the registry
at Worcester. It is dated November 28, 1582.
The bride, Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a
substantial yeoman, lately deceased, of Shottery
hamlet in the parish of Stratford, was between
seven and eight years older than her husband. The
sureties of the bond were friends of the Hathaway
family, and the seal of Anne's father was used on
the occasion, whence it has been inferred that the
Shottery folk rather than those of Henley Street
were desirous of the match. Whether the consent
of Shakespeare's parents was or was not given we
have no means of ascertaining. Shakespeare's
eldest child — Susanna — was baptized on May 26,
1583, just six months after the bond, preliminary to


marriage, had been signed. The ceremony of wed-
lock may have been preceded by precontract, which
according to the custom of the time and place would
have been looked on as having the validity of
marriage, though as yet unsanctifiedby ecclesiastical
rites. Halliwell-Phillipps has aptly pointed out
that when Shakespeare's maternal grandfather,
Robert Arden, "settled part of an estate on his
daughter Agnes, on July the seventeenth, 1550, he
introduces her as mine uxor TJionie Stringer, ae
nuper tixor JoJiannis Heivyns, and yet the marriage
was not solemnized until three months afterwards".
It may be added that the words "wedded wife"
were at this time in no way tautological; a woman
duly espoused might be a wife though the priestly
benediction of wedlock had not yet been bestowed.
The marriage of a boy of eighteen with a woman
eight years his senior, of humbler rank than his own
and probably uneducated, cannot be called prudent;
but we have no evidence to prove that the union
was unhappy. Shakespeare remained in Stratford
with his wife until he went to seek his fortune in
London. Although he did not bring her and her
children to the capital, he certainly from time to
time visited his home. He looked forward to
returning to his native town, and living henceforth
by her side, and he actually carried that long-con-
templated purpose into effect. It may be, as
Shakespeare's Sonnets seem to indicate, that for a
season his heart was led astray by the intellectual
fascination of a woman who possessed all those
qualities of brilliance and cultured grace which
perhaps were lacking in his wife; but if so, Shake^

( 789 ) B


speare perceived his error, and in due time returned
to the companion of his youth. In his will he
leaves her only his "second best bed with the
furniture", and this as an afterthought, for the
words occur as an interlineation ; but without
special bequest she was sufficiently provided for
by free-bench and dower; the best bed, as Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps suggests, was probably that re-
served for strangers, the second best may have been
that of the master and mistress of the house. We
cannot suppose that the wife of his early choice,
the daughter of a husbandman, could have followed
Shakespeare in his poetical mountings of mind or
in his profound dramatic studies of character, but
there is a wide field for mutual sympathy and help
in the common joys and sorrows and daily tasks
of household life, and the greatest of men are
sometimes they who can best value the qualities of
homely goodness. We cannot think of Shake-
speare's marriage as a rare union of perfect accord,
but we are not justified in speaking of it as unfor-
tunate. In A Midsummer Night's Dream Lysander
has a reference to love " misgraffed in respect of
years"; in Twelfth Night the Duke warns Viola,
when disguised in the garb of a youth, against the
danger of an unequal marriage : —

Let still the woman take
An elder than herself; so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart. — (ii. 4. 30-32.)

Even if the lines were non-dramatic, they would
prove no more than that the writer with good sense
admitted as a rule that to which his own experience


may have been the exception. One other passage
from the plays has been cited as bearing on Shake-
peare's marriage, that passage in The Tempest where
Prospero, after he has given his daughter to Ferdi-
nand as his future bride, cautions the Prince against
" breaking her virgin-knot" before

All sanctimonious ceremonies may

With full and holy rite be minister'd. — (iv. i. 16, 17.)

The Tempest was probably written to grace some
noble wedding, and Shakespeare's mature wisdom
of life, uttering itself through Prospero, recognized
the fact that the sanctity of marriage can hardly be
guarded with too great jealousy. Having closed
the series of his dramatic works, perhaps with the
very play in which this passage occurs, he returned
to his home to find the happiness of his elder years
in company with her whom he had loved in boyhood.

1 7. For three or four yearsafter his marriage Shake-
speare continued to reside at Stratford, and in 1585
his wife gave birth to twins, a bo}^ and girl, baptized
(Feb. 2) Hamnet and Judith, doubtless after Hamnet
Sadler, a baker of Stratford, and Judith his wife.
For this Hamnet Sadler, presumably sponsor for
the boy, who, to the grief of his father, died before
he had reached the age of twelve (buried August 1 1,
1596), Shakespeare retained a regard to the close
of his life. He is remembered in the great drama-
tist's will, where the name appears in the form
" Hamlett " Sadler, receiving a bequest of one pound
six and eightpence "to buy him a ringe".

In what employments and with what recreations
these years at Stratford, growing years of early man-


hood, went by we can but conjecture. How they
came to a close we are told by Shakespeare's first
biographer, Rowe: " He had by a misfortune, com-
mon enough to young fellows, fallen into ill com-
pany, and amongst them, some that made a frequent
practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than
once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas
Lucy, of Charlcote, near Stratford. For this he was
prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, some-
what too severely; and in order to revenge that ill
usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though
this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost,
yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it
redoubled the prosecution against him to that de-
gree, that he was obliged to leave his business and
family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter
himself in London." According to Archdeacon
Davies, vicar of Sapperton in the county of Glou-
cester, who died in 1708, Sir Thomas Lucy had the
young poacher " oft whipped and sometimes im-
prisoned", in revenge for which Shakespeare after-
wards made him "his Justice Clodpate [Justice
Shallow: clodpate meaning foolish] and calls him a
great man, and that in allusion to his name bore
three louses rampant for his arms". The first stanza
of the ballad which Rowe speaks of as lost is given
by Oldys on the authority of " a very aged gentle-
man living in the neighbourhood of Stratford", and
it contains the same offensive play on the name
Lucy — " O lowsie Lucy" — as that in the passage to
which Davies refers.

We can hardly doubt that there is a kernel of
truth in these traditions. Malone endeavoured to


disprove the deer-stealing story by showing that
Sir Thomas Lucy had no park at Charlcote; but
he may have had deer there ; or the scene of the
adventure, instead of Charlcote, may have been the
adjoining sequestered estate of Fulbroke, over which
Sir Thomas, as a local magnate devoted to the
crown, may have kept watch and ward. It has been
suggested that he may have felt some animosity
against the Shakespeare family as possibly having
sympathy with the old religion, for Sir Thomas was
not only a game preserver but a zealous Protestant.
The offence of poaching was commonly regarded at
the time by those who did not suffer from it as a
venial frolic of youth ; " the students of Oxford, the
centre of the kingdom's learning and intelligence,"
says Halliwell-Phillipps, " had been for manygenera-
tions the most notorious poachers in all England".
There can be no doubt that Shakespeare retained
some ill-will against the Lucy family. In The Merry
Wives of Windsor Justice Shallow fumes with vio-
lent indignation against Sir John Falstaff, whom he
charges with having beaten his men, killed his deer,
and broken open his lodge. Weare informed by Slen-
der that in the Shallow coat of arms are a " dozen
white luces", translated by Evans, the Welsh parson,
with unconscious humour, into "adozenwhitelouses"
which " do become an old coat well ". Sir Thomas
was a member of that strong Protestant commission
which reported that Shakespeare's father did not
attend church in 1592 for fear of process for debt,
a circumstance w^hich might have kept the early
soreness of feeling from subsiding. If it is any
satisfaction to us we have some reason to believe


that the barb prepared for Sir Thomas Lucy struck
home, and that the family did not forget the
mockery of their old coat. A copy of the 1619
Quarto edition of The Merry Wives of Windsor was
discovered not very long since among the family
records, the only copy of any one of Shakespeare's
plays in the early editions found at Charlcote.

§ 8. In what year Shakespeare quitted Stratford
we cannot tell; it can hardly have been earlier than
1585, and may have been a year or two later. Nor
can we say with certainty how he came to join him-
self to a company of players. From early childhood
he had opportunities of seeing dramatic perform-
ances. Perhaps he inherited from his father a taste
for the drama ; theatrical entertainments, as has been
noticed by Halliwell-Phillipps, are first heard of at
Stratford-on-Avon during the year of John Shake-
speare's bailiffship. While the players declaimed in
the Guildhall the boy may have looked on, standing
between his father's legs, as his contemporary Willis
tells us he did when he saw The Cradle of Security
acted before the aldermen and common council of
the city of Gloucester. He may have witnessed the
performance of the mysteries at Coventry on the
Corpus Christi festival ; his phrase " out-herods
Herod" is a reminiscence of the ramping and raging
king by whose command the innocents of Bethlehem
were slaughtered ; his comparison of the flea on
Bardolph's fiery nose to "a black soul burning in
hell-fire" was the grotesque fancy of one who had
probably watched the exhibition of the damned
with their sooty faces and black and yellow garb
in the pageant at Coventry. Various companies of


players visited Stratford from time to time and per-
formed under the patronage of the corporation;
before Shakespeare forsook his home, says Dyce,

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Online LibraryEdward DowdenIntroduction to Shakespeare → online text (page 1 of 10)