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less melody.' A passage in Richard II. ' must be
regarded as the last hysterical struggle of rhyme
to maintain its place in tragedy.'

The effect of the New Learning upon the work
of Shakespeare, under the influence of Marlowe,
cannot be fully appreciated without a glance at
the condition of the vernacular literature of
England at the beginning of the century in
which he was born^^Jiallam fixes the year 1400
as the beginning of a national literature written
in English, a language that was then growing
into literary existence. This was the year of the
death of Chaucer. The vernacular literature
which showed such promise in Chaucer, made no
progress in the century and a half between his
death and the accession of Elizabeth. The only
book written in England in those years which
holds a first-class position in literature, More's
Utopia, was written in Latin. Then had come
the great intellectual movement known as the
Classical Renaissance, which reached England
in the early years of the sixteenth century.
St. Paul's School was founded by Dean Colet,
and William Lily, a famous grammarian, who
had studied Greek and Latin in Italy, was
appointed High Master in 15 12. The grammar
school at Stratford held a high position, and was
one of the first in which Greek was taught, and



by the teaching of that school Shakespeare was
made ready for discipleship to Marlowe. Dull
and long-forgotten plays after the manner of
Seneca had no effect on the development of the
national drama. Ralph Roister Doister, written
in 1550, may be taken as the precursor of the
Elizabethan national drama, the first fruit of
the Classical Renaissance. The author, Nicholas
Udall, was headmaster at Eton, and a famous
classical scholar. The play is founded on the
Miles Gloriosus of Plautus, and is in the form of
a Latin comedy. But it is written in rhyming
doggerel verse. Only thirty-seven years inter-
vened between the writing of this play and the
production of Tamburlaine. The greatness of the
revolution worked by the genius of Marlowe can
best be realised by a comparison of his line with
the jigging vein of the rhyming mother wit which
found expression in Ralph Roister Doister.

It was by the spirit and not the letter of the
ancient learning that Marlowe was inspired.
The difference between the letter and the spirit
of this influence is illustrated by a comparison of
the work of Marlowe with the efforts of a school
of pedants who with Gabriel Harvey and William
Webbe * were engaged in a fruitless endeavour
to i reform ' English versification by forcing it

• A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586).



into the metres of Latin poetry. It is also seen
by a comparison of Shakespeare's Roman plays
with Jonson's. Jonson's plays are ' well
laboured.' His characters ' are made to speak
according to the very words of Tacitus and
Suetonius ; but they are not living men ' ; and
we know from Leonard Digges how the audience
was ravished when Shakespeare's Caesar would
appear on the stage. Such was the mighty in-
fluence which, mainly through the instrumen-
tality of Marlowe, was brought to bear upon
Shakespeare's work as a dramatist.

Professor Dowden, in writing of Shakespeare,
devotes himself to a ' critical study of his mind
and art.' It is in regard to the art of Shake-
speare that the influence of Marlowe has been,
for the most part, considered. But no less real
was his influence upon the mind of Shakespeare,
upon his outlook on life, upon the character of
the man, and upon his office as teacher.

While Marlowe was engaged in his great work
of literary pioneer and discoverer he had under-
taken a mission of a different kind. The charge
of atheism which Marlowe was called upon to
answer was never tried, or, indeed, exactly
formulated. The word was, in those days,
applied to deviations from orthodoxy of different
degrees. It was applied to the freethinking of



Raleigh and his literary circle. It is evident
from Greene's friendly expostulation that he
used the term, in its application to Marlowe,
in its literal sense. It is impossible to avoid the
conclusion that Marlowe towards the end of his
life had become the apostle of a kind of un-
orthodoxy, to which the word ' atheism ' was
regarded as applicable by friends as well as foes.
Marlowe had an influential friend and patron
in Sir Thomas Walsingham, who is said to have
been nearly related to Elizabeth's famous minis-
ter. Chapman was his intimate friend, and, as
we have seen, he was beloved as well as admired
by his literary brethren, who would have been
moved by the tragedy of his death to clear his
memory of so odious a charge, if it had been
possible so to do.

Association with Marlowe had not the influence
on the mind of Shakespeare which it was said,
probably with truth, to have exerted on weaker
intellects. Shakespeare remained unshaken in
his hold of the great truths of religion, and three
centuries having elapsed, the anniversary of his
death will be celebrated, with gratitude for his
teaching, in services of the church of which he
was a member.

But although Shakespeare emerged unscathed
from the fiery trial of his faith to which intimate



association with one like Marlowe must have
exposed him, the influence of Marlowe on his
religious belief, as well as on his work as an artist,
is clearly discernible. No question has been
oftener asked in regard to Shakespeare than this :
What was his creed ? It is a question that can
be easily answered with regard to other great
men of the Elizabethan age. But as to Shake-
speare it has not been answered yet ; or, rather,
it has been answered so differently by various
earnest students of his work as to lead to the con-
clusion that the problem is insoluble. Charles
Butler, in Historical Memoirs of English Catholics,
claims him as a Roman Catholic ; and a French
man of letters, A. J. Rio, in his Shakespeare,
arrives without doubt at the same conclusion.
He has been described as an atheist, and as a
deist, and Charles Wordsworth, Bishop of St.
Andrews, claims him as a faithful son of the
English Church of the Reformation.

Many of us in our passage through life have
come across a young man of exceptionally
brilliant intellect, who, under the influence of a
friend of a masterful personality, was led to
abandon for agnosticism the religion in which
he was brought up. After a time such a one
' like him who travels ' may return again. But
he returns a different man. Should he become



a divine, his theological teaching will be cha-
racterised by a spirit of tolerance, and by an
understanding of forms of belief and unbelief to
which he would otherwise have been a stranger.
If he should become a dramatist or novelist,
there will be found in his work the characteristics
which have baffled inquirers after the creed of
Shakespeare ; a firm grasp of eternal verities,
with an indifference to the forms and dogmas of
any particular Church.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.*

With words like these he may close a dis-
cussion on religious subjects, relegating, with
Milton, reasoning high

Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute

to spirits of another sort, in another place.

A firm religious faith is consistent in a man like
Shakespeare, with easy-going toleration, and
even with occasional indulgence in an unseemly
jest. Some such thought was present to his
mind when he put these words into the mouth
of Don Pedro :

• Hamlet, I. v. 167. The ' our ' of the Folio has been need-
lessly altered to ' your.' Hamlet and Horatio had been fellow
b tudents in Wittenberg.



The man doth fear God, howsoever it seems not in
him by some large jests he will make.*

Large jests were in vogue in Shakespeare's day,
and even his Beatrice indulged in a kind of
pleasantry that has been long since banished
from the servants' hall. But there is no irrever-
ence in Shakespeare's jests. He never calls evil
good, or good, evil. He did not love a Puritan,
and he had no taste for frequent churchgoing.
' An honest, willing, kind fellow,' says Mistress
Quickly of Rugby, ' as ever servant shall come
in house withal, and, I warrant you, no tell-
tale nor no breed-bate ; his worst fault is that
he is given to prayer ; he is something peevish
that way ; but nobody but has his fault ; but
let that pass.'f At times, under special provo-
cation, he might be of the mind of Sir Andrew
Aguecheek :

Mar. Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of puritan.

Sir And. O, if I thought that Fid beat him like a dog !

Sir To. What, for being a puritan ? Thy exquisite
reason, dear knight ?

Sir And. I have no exquisite reason for't, but I have
reason good enough. |

But more often his mood would be that of the
good-humoured indifference underlying the cha-

* Much Ado, II. iii. 204.
f Merry Wives, I. iv. 10.
% Twelfth Night, II. iii. 151.


racteristic language of a certain clown : ' Young
Charbon the puritan and old Poysam the papist,
hovvsome'er their hearts arc severed in religion,
their heads are both one ; they may joul horns
together, like any deer i' the herd.' *

We are certain that he received with ' gentle '
courtesy the preacher whose entertainment at
New Place has been recorded. If another such
visit had been paid when Shakespeare was
writing Cymbriine, we can understand how when
the worthy man departed his host could con-
tain himself no longer, and relieved his feelings
by writing some things of which Sir Sidney Lee
says : l Although most of the scenes of Cymbeline
are laid in Britain in the first century before the
Christian era, there is no pretence of historical
vraisemblance. With an almost ludicrous inap-
propriateness the British King's courtiers make
merry with technical terms peculiar to Calvin-
istic theology, like " grace ' and " election."
In I. i. 136-7 Imogen is described as " past
grace " in the theological sense. In I. ii. 30-31
the Second Lord remarks : " If it be a sin to
make a true election, she is damned."

A report regarding Shakespeare that ' he dyed
a papist ' reached the Rev. Richard Davies,

• All's Well, I. iii. 55.

f Life of Shakespeare, p. 424, and note 1 .



Rector of Sapperton, who inserted it in some
brief notes respecting Shakespeare which are in
the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
Davies died in 1708, and the report probably had
its origin towards the end of the seventeenth
century. Although it was not founded in fact,
it is easy to understand how it came to be said of
Shakespeare by the Puritans among whom his
lot was cast. He had heard in his youth from
old people of the beauty of the old services, and
the sweet singing of the monks. With this in
his mind, when he thought of the fair proportions
of some abbey church, dismantled and going to
ruin, he wrote these words :

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.*

If the passages in his writings by which learned
and thoughtful readers have been led to con-
clude that he was a Roman Catholic had a
counterpart in his daily converse at Stratford,
his Protestantism would certainly have been
called in question by the good folk of that town,
and the story would go abroad that he was
reconciled to the old faith before his death.

' Bishop Charles Wordsworth, in his Shake-

* Sonnet lxxiii.



speare's Knowledge and Use of the Bible (fourth
edition, 1892), gives a long list of passages for
which Shakespeare may have been indebted to
the Bible. But the Bishop's deductions as to
the strength of Shakespeare's adult piety seem
strained. The Rev. Thomas Carter's Shake-
speare and Holy Scripture (1905) is open to the
same exceptions as the Bishop's volume, but no
Shakespearean student will fail to derive profit
from examining his exhaustive collection of
parallel passages.' * It may be, as Sir Sidney
Lee thinks, that Shakespeare's ' scriptural remi-
niscences bear trace of the assimilative or recep-
tive tendency of an alert youthful mind,' and it
may be a mistake ' to urge that his knowledge
of the Bible was mainly the fruit of close and
continuous application in adult life.' But his
knowledge of the Bible, however acquired, was
a fact, and in it he found a safeguard against the
missionary efforts of Marlowe, all the more
dangerous by reason of the admiration and
affection with which he was regarded by his friend
and disciple.

An interesting feature of the annual celebra-
tion at Stratford of the birthday of Shakespeare
is the preaching of a memorial sermon in the
parish church. In one of these the late Canon

# Life of Shakespeare, p. 23, note 2.


Ainger, having spoken of the discipline ' under
which he grew to be a prophet and a teacher to
his kind,' says ' wherever men do congregate,
or wherever they muse in solitude, there abides
this great cause of thankfulness to Almighty God
that the greatest name in our literature should
be also our wisest and profoundest teacher.' *

Coleridge expressed his confidence ' that
Shakespeare was a writer of all others the most
calculated to make his readers better as well as
wiser,' f and Professor Dowden writes : ' Is
Shakespeare a religious poet ? An answer
has been given to this question by Mr. Walter
Bagehot, which contains the essential truth :
" If this world is not all evil, he who has under-
stood and painted it best, must probably have
some good. If the underlying and almighty
essence of this world be good, then it is likely
that the writer who most deeply approached to
that essence will be himself good. There is a
religion of weekdays as well as of Sundays, a
religion of ' cakes and ale,' as well as of pews
and altar cloths. This England lay before
Shakespeare as it lies before us all, with its green
fields, and its long hedgerows, and its many
trees, and its great towns, and its endless ham-

* Shakespeare Sermons, preached in the Collegiate Church of Strat-
ford-on-Avon (1900).

f Lecture on Shakespeare and Milton.



lets, and its motley society, and its long history,
and its bold exploits, and its gathering power ;
and he saw that they were good. To him per-
haps more than to anyone else has it been given
to see that they were a great unity, a great
religious object ; that if you could only descend
to the inner life, to the deep things, to the secret
principles of its noble vigour, to the essence of
character ... we might, so far as we are capable
of so doing, understand the nature which God
has made. Let us then think of him, not as a
teacher of dry dogmas, or a sayer of hard

sayings, but as

A priest to us all
Of the wonder and bloom of the world,

a teacher of the hearts of men and women."

From Shakespeare's fellowship with Marlowe
we learn something of the strength and sanity
of his character, and also of his constancy in
friendship. He was ready to learn from Marlowe
what he had to teach, and to follow him where
he ought to tread, but no further. He was loyal
to the memory of a fallen and discredited friend.
Deaf to Chettle's entreaty that he would drop a
tear on the sable hearse of Elizabeth, he was
moved to depart from his use by the tragic death

• Shakespeare, his Mind and Art, quoting from Estimates of Some
Englishmen and Scotchmen.

1 68


of Marlowe, as he was by the circumstances of the
last days of Spenser :

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

Loyalty such as Shakespeare's to his fellows and
friends is a sure token of the genuineness of the
character which Spenser was the first to discover
in Shakespeare.



Towards the end of the century in which
Shakespeare died an attempt was made to
collect and record what was then remembered
of the facts of his life. Nicholas Rowe, Poet
Laureate, the earliest critical editor of the plays
of Shakespeare, was also his earliest biographer,
for none of the scanty notes of former writers
deserve the name of biography. Rowe was a
man of note, as a poet and as a dramatist.
The popularity of his best-known drama, The
Fair Penitent, is attested by the survival from
it of the phrase ' gallant gay Lothario,' de-
scriptive of the villain of the piece. Of this
play, Dr. Johnson writes : ' There is scarcely
any work of any poet at once so interesting by
the fable, and so delightful in the language.'
Rowc's work as editor was of considerable value
at the time, but his edition of the plays which
appeared in 1709 was before long superseded by
that of Pope (1725) and by the far superior work
of Theobald, ' the Porson of Shakespearian

criticism.' *

• Essays and Studies (Churton Collins).


Rowe's poems and plays are now forgotten.
But he has a claim to our undying gratitude,
second only to that which is due to the players
to whom we owe the Folio of 1623. It is founded
on the pains that he took, by careful inquiries
at Stratford, to preserve from oblivion such
knowledge of Shakespeare's life as had then sur-
vived, and on the discrimination and restraint
with which he made use of the material which
was supplied to him.

In this pious labour he had the assistance of
the famous actor Thomas Betterton. Born about
the year 1635, Betterton in 1661 joined a com-
pany of players formed by Sir William Davenant
at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre. He was thus
brought into contact with one who was closely
connected with Shakespeare. Shakespeare's
intimacy with the D'Avenant family has been
noted in an earlier chapter. With William the
connection was closest, for he was Shakespeare's
godchild, and devoted to the memory of his
godfather. Betterton was not only an actor,
but a dramatist, many of whose plays were
produced, and in the words of Pepys, ' well

Betterton was known to Rowe not only as
a great actor, but as an earnest student of
Shakespeare. ' No man,' he writes, ' is better

I7 1


acquainted with Shakespeare's manner of expres-
sion, and, indeed, he has studied him so well,
and is so much a master of him, that whatever
part of his he performs, he does it as if it had
been written on purpose for him, and that the
author had exactly conceived it.'

Betterton was the first to make a serious
attempt to collect material for a biography of
Shakespeare : ' his veneration for the memory
of Shakespeare having engaged him to make a
journey into Warwickshire on purpose to gather
up what remains he could of a name for which
he had so great a veneration.'

At what time Betterton's veneration engaged
him to journey to Stratford we do not know.
No time is more probable than shortly after the
death of Davenant in 1668. The strong per-
sonal interest in Shakespeare which prompted
this undertaking can be traced back to this date,
when Betterton purchased the Chandos portrait,
which had been in the possession of Davenant.
In his later years Betterton was in straitened
circumstances and a martyr to gout, and in
those days a pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon
was a serious undertaking. Rowe, when he
published his Life in 1709, made use of the infor-
mation which had been collected by Betterton,
but there is no reason to suppose that Betterton's



visit to Stratford was made in contemplation of
Rowe's work.

Fifty-two years after the death of Shakespeare
there must have been men and women living at
Stratford who had not reached the extreme limit
of life, and who had spoken with Shakespeare
when he was resident at Stratford during his
later years.

Nothing can be more commonplace than the
story as told by Rowe. He tells us of the birth
of Shakespeare in April, 1564. * His family, as
appears by the register and public writings
relating to that town, were of good figure and
fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen.
His father, who was a considerable dealer in
wool, had a large family, ten children in all, and
could give his eldest son no better education
than one to fit him for his own employment.'
He was educated for some time at a free school,
' but the narrowness of his circumstances, and
the want of his assistance at home, forced his
father to withdraw him from thence. . . . Upon
his leaving school he seems to have given entirely
into that way of living which his father proposed
to him ; and in order to settle in the world after
a family manner, he thought fit to marry while
he was yet very young. His wife was the
daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a



substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of
Stratford. In this kind of settlement he con-
tinued for some time till an extravagance that
he was guilty of forced him both out of the
country and that way of living which he had
taken up.'

Rowe tells the tale of the stealing of the deer
of Sir Thomas Lucy, for which he was prose-
cuted, as he thought too severely ; of Shake-
speare's revenge for the ill-usage in the form of
a ballad, ' the first essay of his poetry,' then
lost, which ' redoubled the prosecution against
him to that degree that he was obliged to leave
his business and family in Warwickshire for
some time, and shelter himself in London. . . .
The latter part of his life was spent, as all
men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in
ease, retirement, and the conversation of his
friends. He had the good fortune to gather an
estate equal to his occasion, and, in that to his
wish, and is said to have spent some years before
his death at his native Stratford. His pleasur-
able wit and good nature engaged him in the
acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship
of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood.'

This commonplace record, the result of the
inquiries of Betterton and Rowe, may be taken
as representing the impression made on the good


folk of Stratford by the life of Shakespeare, in
so far as it was spent among them, and of this
record no part is more commonplace than the
reference to his marriage. His early marriage
to the daughter of a substantial yeoman is
attributed to a desire to settle in the world in a
family manner, in the way of living which his
father proposed to him ; that is to say, as an
assistant in his business as a considerable dealer
in wool. It never occurred to Betterton's
informants, or to the seventeenth-century col-
lectors of Stratford gossip and scandal, that
there was anything out of the common, or worthy
of note, about the circumstances of Shakespeare's
marriage. Not a hint at unhappy relations
between husband and wife can be found in the
local gossip collected by Aubrey, Ward, Davies,
Hall, and Oldys.

With the revival of interest in the facts of
Shakespeare's life came the searching of ancient
records, and the discovery of certain facts which,
read in the light of nineteenth-century ideas,
seemed to have a significance that had not been
attached to them by the sixteenth-century folk
among whom they took place. On Monday,
the 28th of November, 1582, Shakespeare
obtained at the Bishop's Registry at Worcester
a licence to be married to Anne Hathaway, after



publication of banns. In what church the
celebration of the marriage took place is unknown.
The eldest child of the marriage, Susanna, was
baptized in the parish church of Stratford on
the 26th of May, 1583.

A marriage in November, followed by the
birth of a child in the following May, if these
facts were to occur in our day, would naturally
lead to the conclusion that prenuptial inter-
course had been followed by a forced marriage,
at the instance of the wife's relations, and this
is the conclusion from which most biographers
have started in their accounts of the domestic
life of Shakespeare.

It is always dangerous to draw inferences
from facts which have a relation to conduct
without a complete knowledge of the laws and
customs of the period at which they took place,
and this peril is especially imminent when the
facts and inferences are conversant with the
relations between the sexes, as governed by the

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Online LibraryDodgson Hamilton MaddenShakespeare and his fellows : an attempt to decipher the man and his nature → online text (page 9 of 13)