William Shakespeare.

The works of Shakespeare: the text carefully restored according to the first editions; with introductions, notes original and selected, and a life of the poet; (Volume 12) online

. (page 1 of 44)
Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe works of Shakespeare: the text carefully restored according to the first editions; with introductions, notes original and selected, and a life of the poet; (Volume 12) → online text (page 1 of 44)
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.

Copyright, 1881,






JBHAKESPEARE, by general suffrage, is the greatest name
in LiteratureTy There can be no extravagance in saying, that
to all who speak the English language his genius has made
the world better worth living in, and life a nobler and diviner
thing. And, throughout the civilized world, those who do not
"speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake" are growing
more and more to wish that his vernacular were theirs, and
even to study the English language, that they may be at
home with him. TSow he came to be what he was, and to
do what he did, are questions that can never cease to be in-
teresting, wherever his works are known, and men's powers
of thought in any fair measure developed. But Providence
nas left a veil, or rather cloud, about his history, so that these
questions can never be satisfactorily answered. And perhaps
it is better that the thing stands thus, lest we should trust
overmuch to historical transpirations for the understanding
of that which no such transpirations can adequately convey.
Nevertheless, these questions are certainly well worth all the
labour and pains that have been or are likely to be spent in
trying to answer them from the grounds of historyT/ We
have barely facts enough to stimulate and guide in the right
course of inquiry ; and where facts are so few, there is the
.ess danger of our relying too much on these for that knowl-
edge which, after all, must be chiefly sought for in a highet
sphere of thought.


The first formal attempt at an account of Shakespeare 'a
life was made by Howe, and the result of his labours was
published in 1 709, ninety-three years after the Poet's death.
Howe's account was avowedly made up for the most part
from traditionary materials collected by Betterton the actor,
who made a journey to Stratford expressly for that purpose. 1
Betterton was born in 1635, nineteen years after the death
of Shakespeare, became an actor before 1660, retired from
the stage about 1700, and died in 1710. At what time he
visited Stratford, is not known : Malone thinks it was late in
life ; Mr. Collier, that it was not later than 1670 or 1675,
" when he would naturally be more enthusiastic in a pursuit
of tliat kind, and when he had not been afflicted by that dis-
order from which he suffered so severely in his later years,
and to which, in fact, he owed his death." It is to be re-
gretted that Howe did not give Betterton's authorities for
the particulars gathered by him. It is certain, however, that
very good sources of information on the subject were acces-
sible in his tune : Judith Quiney, the Poet's second daugh-
ter, lived till 1662 ; Lady Barnard, his granddaughter, till
1670 ; and Sir William Davenant was manager of the thea-
tre in which Betterton acted.*

1 I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the advantage
with which we have seen this master-piece of Shakespeare dis-
tinguish itself upon the stage, by Mr. Betterton's fine performance
of that part. No man is better acquainted with Shakespeare's
manner of expression ; and indeed he has studied him so well,
and is so much a master of him, that whatever part of his he per-
forms, he does it as if it had been written on purpose for him, and
that the author had exactly conceived it as he plays it. I must
own a particular obligation to him for the most considerable part
of the passages relating to this Life, which I have here transmit-
ted to the public ; his veneration for the memory of Shakespeare
having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire, oa
purpose to gather up what remain* he could of a name for which
he had so great a veneration. HOWE'S Account.

2 Downes was prompter at one of the theatres in 1662, and for
some time afterwards. In his Roscius Anglicanus, 1708, we have
the following in reference to Sir William Davenant's theatre, be-
iween 1662 aud 1665 : " The tragedy of Hamlet : Hamlet being


After Howe's narrative, scarce any thing was added till
the time of Malone, who by a learned and most industrious
searching of public and private records brought to light a
considerable number of facts, some of them very important,
touching the Poet and his family. And in our own day, Mr.
Collier has followed up the same course of inquiry with al-
most incredible diligence, and with a degree of success that
gives earnest of still further discoveries yet to be made.
Lastly, Mr. Halliwell has brought his intelligent and inde-
fatigable labours to the same task, and made some valuable
additions to our stock of information. Collier's Life of the
Poet, published in 1844, is a work of very great interest and
worth, and will long stand a monument of the author's
learned and patient researcn ; but, besides being too lengthy
for our purpose, it needs in divers particulars to be corrected
or completed, from the results of later investigation. Halli-
well's Life was published in 1848. It is a work of small
pretence and large merit ; though its merit consists rather
in the fulness and accuracy of the original materials, than in
the shape and expression which the author has given them :
NO that the work, though highly valuable to the scholar, is
little suited to the purposes of the general reader.

The labours of Howe, Malone, Collier, and Halliwell are
all before us ; and whatsoever we can gather from them to-
wards making the reader acquainted with the man Shake-
speare, will be found embodied in the following pages. Of
course no means of adding to the stock of matter lie within

perform'd by Mr. Betterton, Sir William, having seen Mr. Taylor
of the Black-fryars company act it, who being instructed by the
author, Mr. Shakespear, taught Mr. Betterton in every particle
of it ; which, by his exact performance of it, gain'd him esteem
and reputation superlative to all other plays. . . . King Hen-
ry the 8lh. This play, by order of Sir William Davenant, was all
new cloath'd in proper habits. The part of the King was so right
and justly done by Mr. Betterton, he being instructed in it by Sii
William, who had it from old Mr. Loweti, that had his instructions
from Mr. Shakespear himself, that I dare and will aver none can
or Mill come near him in this age in the performance of that part."


our reach, even if we had ever so much time and skill to
prosecute such researches ; so that the most we can hope foi
is, to put into a compact and readable shape what others
have collected. As Howe's narrative was the first essay of
the kind, and as it is, withal, very brief and well-written, it
may justly receive a place in tin's our introductory chapter :

or THE


It seems to be a kind of respect due to the memory ol
excellent men, especially those whom their wit and learning
have made famous, to deliver some account of themselves,
as well as then 1 works, to posterity. For this reason, how
fond do we see some people of discovering any little per-
sonal story of the great men of antiquity ! their families, the
common accidents of then: lives, and even then- shape, make,
and features have been the subject of critical inquiries.
How trifling soever this curiosity may seem to be, it is cer-
tainly very natural ; and we are hardly satisfied with an ac-
count of any remarkable person, till we have heard him
described even to the very clothes he wears. As for what
relates to men of letters, the knowledge of an author may
sometimes conduce to the better understanding of his book ;
and though the works of Shakespeare may seem to many
not to want a comment, yet I fancy some little account of
the man himself may not be thought improper to go along
with them.

He was the son of Mr. John Shakespeare, and was born
at Stratford-upon-Avon, hi Warwickshire, 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. Hh father, who was a
considerable dealer in wool, had so large a family, ton dii)-




dren in all, that, though he was his eldest son, he could give
him no better education than his own employment. He had
bred him, it is true, for some time at a free-school, where it
is probable he acquired what Latin he was master of ; but
the narrowness of his circumstances, and the want of his
assistance at home forced his father to withdraw him froai
thence, and unhappily prevented his further proficiency in
that language. It is without controversy, that in his works
we scarce find any traces of any thing that looks like an
imitation of the ancients. The delicacy of his taste, and the
natural bent of his own great genius (equal, if not superior,
to some of the best of theirs) would certainly have led him
to read and study them with so much pleasure, that some
of their fine images would naturally have insinuated them-
selves into and been mixed with his own writings ; so that
his not copying at least something from them may be an ar-
gument of his never having read them. Whether his igno-
rance of the ancients were a disadvantage to him or no, may
admit of a dispute ; for, though the knowledge of them might
have made him more correct, yet it is not improbable but that
the regularity and deference for them, which would have air
tended that correctness, might have restrained some of that
fire, impetuosity, and even beautiful extravagance which we
admire in Shakespeare ; and I believe we are better pleased
with those thoughts, altogether new and uncommon, which
cis own imagination supplied him so abundantly with, than
if he had given us the most beautiful passages out of the
Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable man-
ner that it was possible for a master of the English language
to deliver them.

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. Hia
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 continued for some time, ti.l an


extravagance that lie was guilty of forced him both out of
his country and that way of Hying which he had taken up ;
and, though it seemed at first to be a blemish upon his good
manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily
proved the occasion of exerting one of the greatest geniuses
that ever was known in dramatic poetry. He had, by a
misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into iii
company; and among them some, that made a frequent
practice of deer-stealing, engaged him with them more than
once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy,
of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted
by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat 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 degree,
that he was obliged to leave his business and family in War-
wickshire for some time, and shelter himself in London.

It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said
to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house. He
was received into the company then in being, at first in a
very mean rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural
turn of it to the stage, soon distinguishedHm, if not as an
extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent wrl^i His name is
printed, as the custom was in those times, among those of
the other players, before some old plays, but without any
particular account of what sort of parts he used to play ;
and, though I have inquired, I could never meet with any
further account of him this way, than that the top of his
performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. I should
have been much more pleased to have learned from some
certain authority which was the first play he wrote : it would
be without doubt a pleasure to any man curious in things of
this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a
fancy like Shakespeare's. Perhaps we are not to look for
his beginnings, like those of other authors, among his least


perfect writings : art had so little, and nature so large a
share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the perform-
ances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had
the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the
besE^jI would not be thought by this to mean, that his
fancy was so loose and extravagant as to be independent on
the rule and government of judgment ; but that what he
thought was commonly so great, so justly and rightly con-
ceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and
was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the
first sight. But, though the order of time in which the
several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there
are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their
dates. So the Chorus, at the end of the fourth Act of Hen-
ry V., by a compliment very handsomely turned to the Eari
of Essex, shows the play to have been written when that
lord was general for the Queen in Ireland. And his eulogy
upon Queen Elizabeth and her successor King James, in
the latter end of his Henry VHL, is a proof of that play's
being written after the accession of the latter of those two
princes to the crown of England.

^"Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the
people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of
diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to
see a genius arise among them of so pleasurable, so rich a
vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite
entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was
in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his
manners, and a most agreeable companion ; so that it is no
wonder if with so many good qualities he made himself ac-
quainted with the best conversations of those times. _Queen
Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before KferJand
without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour
it is that maiden princess plainly, whom he intends by, " a
fair vestal throned by the west." And that whole passage
is a compliment very properly brought in, and very hand'


omely applied to her. s She was so well pleased with that
admirable character of Falstaff, in the two Parts of Henry
IV., that she commanded him to continue it for one play
more, and to show him in love. This is said to be the occa-
sion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How
well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof.
Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that
this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally
under the name of Oldcastle : some of that family being
then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to
alter it ; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present
offence was indeed avoided ; but I do not know whether the
author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second
choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a
knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name
of distinguished merit in the wars in France, in the times
of Henry V. and Henry VL 4

8 It is hardly needful to inform the reader that the passage re
ferred to is in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act ii. sc. 1 :

" That very time I saw (but thou could'st not)
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm'd : a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west ;
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts :
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon ,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free."

The blame, in this ease, if there be any, rather seems to rest
with Howe himself, who confounds Falitaff with Fastolfe, the let-
ter being the name of the distinguished soldier to whom he refers.
Sir John Fastolfe figures a little as one of the characters in th
First Part of King Henry the Sixth. The change of name from
Oldcastle to Falstaff : s discussed in our Introduction to the First
Part of King Henry IV, In further illustration of the point, Mr.
Halliwell, in his Life of the Poet, prints from manuscript a dedi-
cation by Dr. Richard James to Sir Henry Bourchier, written
about the year 1625. We subjoin a part of this curious document,
from which it will be seen that Rowe was not the first to confound


f What grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it
was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputa-
tion of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with
many and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from
the Earl of SouthamptonJ^amous in the histories of that
time for his friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Essex. It
was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus
and Adonis. There is one instance so singular in the mag-
nificence of this patron of Shakespeare's, that if I had not
been assured that the story was handed down by Sir Wil-
liam Davenant, who was probably very well acquainted with
his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that
my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand
pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which
he had heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, and
very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse gen-
erosity the present age has shown to French dancers and
Italian singers.

Falslaff and Fastolfe : " A young gentle ladie of your acquaint
ance, having read the works of Shakespeare, made me this ques-
tion : How Sir Jhon Falstaffe, or Fastolf, as it is written in the
statute book of Maudlin Colledge in Oxford, where everye daye
that societie were bound to make memorie of his soule, could be
dead iii Harrie the Fifts time, and againe live in the time of Harrie
the Sixt to be banisht forcowardize ? Whereto I made answeare,
hat this was one of those humours and mistakes for which Plato
banisht all poets out of his commonwealth ; that Sir Jhon Falstaffe
was in those times a noble valiant souldier, as apeeres by a book
in the Heralds Office dedicated unto him by a herald whoe had
binne with him, if I well remember, for the space of 25 yeeres in
the French wars ; that he seemes allso to have binne a man of
learning, because, in a librarie of Oxford, I finde a book of ded-
icating churches sent from him for a present unto Bisshop Wain-
flete, and inscribed with his owne hand. That in Shakespearc'
first shewe of Harrie the Fift, the person with which he undertook
to playe a buffone was not Falstaff, but Sir Jhon Oldcastle ; and
that, offence beinge worthily taken by personages descended from
bis title, as peradventure by manie others allso whoe ought to have
him in honourable memorie, the poet was putt to make an ignorant
shifle of abusing Sir Jhon Fastolphe, a man not inferior of vertue
tho igh not so famous in pietie as the other."


What particular habitude or friendships he contracted
with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than
that every one who had any true taste of merit, and could
distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for
him. His exceeding candour and good-nature must cer-
tainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to
love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the
most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire



His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remark-
able piece of humanity and good-nature. Mr. Jonsou, who
was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had of-
ferred one of his plays to the players, in order to have it
acted ; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after
having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just
upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it
would be of no service to their company ; when Shakespeare
luckily cast his e} r e upon it, and found something so well in
it as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards
to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public.
Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had
the advantage of Shakespeare ; though at the same time I
believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter
was more than a balance for what books had given the for-
mer ; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion
was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation be-
tween Sir John Suckling, Sir William Davenant, Endymion
Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson, Sir John
Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had
undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some
warmth : Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told
them that, if Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had
likewise not stolen any thing from them ; and that, if he
would produce any one topic finely treated by any of them,
he would undertake to show something xipon the same sub-
ject at least as well written by Shakespeare. 6

The same story is told with more minuteness by Gildon in an


~Tbs latter pai-t 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 occasions, and, in that, to his
wish ; and is said to have spent some years before his death
at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good-nature
engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the

Essay addressed to Dryden in 1694. The writer, it may be seen
appeals to Dryden as his authority for the anecdote : " But, to give
the world some satisfaction that Shakespeare has had as great ven
eration paid his excellence by men of unquestioned parts as this I
now express for him, I shall give some account of what I have
heard from your own mouth, Sir, about the noble triumph he gained
over all the ancients, by the judgment of the ablest critics of that
time. The matter of fact, if my memory fail me not, was this :
Mr. Hales of Eton affirmed that he would show all the poets of
antiquity outdone by Shakespeare, in all the topics and common-
places made use of in poetry. The enemies of Shakespeare
would by no means yield him so much excellence; so that it came
to a resolution of a trial of skill upon that subject. The place
agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hales' chamber at Eton. A
great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet ;
and on the appointed day my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling,
and ail the persons of quality that had wit and learning, and in-
terested themselves in the quarrel, met there ; and, upon a thorough
disquisition of (he point, the judges chosen by agreement out of
this learned and ingenious assembly unanimously gave the pref-
erence to Shakespeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were ad-
judged to vail at least their glory in that to the English hero."
It may be well to and that John Hales, canon of Windsor ard
Fellow of Eton, was tor his great learning called "the ever-mem-
crable," and "the walking library." Under the tyranny of the
Long Parliament, he was thrust from his preferment and stripped
of his revenues ; and when an ofier was made of restoring him the
fellowship he refused it, saying, that "as the Parliament had put
him out, he was resolved never to be put in again by them." He
died ii: 1656. Lord Clarendon says of him, " he had made a
greater and better collection of hooks, than were to be found in
any other private library that I have seen ; as he had sure read
more, and carried more about him in his excellent memory, than
any man I ever knew, my lord Falkland only excepted, who, I

Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareThe works of Shakespeare: the text carefully restored according to the first editions; with introductions, notes original and selected, and a life of the poet; (Volume 12) → online text (page 1 of 44)