« ZurückWeiter »
pearances which nature never designed, and such as true taste cannot approve.
By marriage, at so early a period as seventeen, with the daughter of one Hathaway, a respectable yeoman, our author took on him the cares of the world; and seems to have designed an early settlement in life; but an accident, not of a very respectable nature, in the opinion of narrow-minded persons, removed him from Warwickshire; namely, deer-stealing in the park of Sir Thomas Lucy; which, however, we are induced to believe proceeded more from youthful frolic, than depravity of principle; and this we are the rather confirmed in by finding no subsequent accusation against him.
The malevolent baronet having now commenced a prosecution against our author, Shakespeare wrote a ballad, in which Sir Thomas Lucy was lampooned with such sererity, that in revenge for the conceived insult offered to his dignity, he redoubled his prosecution of the author, who was thereby reduced to the necessity of withdrawing precipitately from Stratford, and, in order to evade apprehension, of taking shelter in Lon. don.
On his arrival in the metropolis he had recourse, for the means of support, to an expedient as singular as the circumstance which brought him there. Hired coaches not being then in use, it was customary for persons of superior rank, who lived at any considerable distance from the play-houses, to ride thither on horse-back, so that men were employed to hold the horses till the close of the performance.
Our author, then unconscious of a genius which afterwards soared above all competitors, condescended to take upon him that servile office, and acquired such a reputation for vigilance and punctuality, that, in a short time, a greater number of horses being committed to his care than he could manage himself, he hired boys under him, who retained the appellation of Shakespeare's Boys, as long as the custom of riding on horse-back to the play-house continued.
From the situation in which he was placed, he attracted the notice of the comedians, who recommended him to the manager. He was at first only admitted to the humble station of what is termed call boy, or, in other words, prompter's attendant, whose business it is to warn the performers to be ready as often as the several scenes of the drama in which they are engaged require their appearance on the stage.
Having remained some time in this humble station, he at length became an actor : but of his success as such we have very unsatisfactory accounts; we. find his name inserted in the list with the other performers, as was the custom in those days, without specifying one particular part allotted each.
It appears that the Ghost in Hamlet was his principal character; and the following is supposed to be the reason why he was most distinguished in that part; namely, as a supernatural being, he pronounced the speeches pompously ; but in other characters attending to nature, he deviated from the turgid mode of expression of his fellow comedians, and therefore was little esteemed. Indeed it is not improbable to suppose, that Shakespeare meant to allude to this unnatural bombast mode of acting in his days, when he makes his Hamlet say, “ O it tears me to the soul to see a periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to rags, to very tatters,” &c. &c.
It was now the good fortune of Shakespeare to attract, by irresistible merit, the favourable notice of Queen Elizabeth, who commanded several of his plays to be acted at Court. Her Majesty's approbation of Falstaff, in the first and second parts of Henry the Fourth, procured him the honour and advantage of his Sovereign's commands, or rather request, to produce the fat knight a third time. This was rather a heavy task to perform adequately; however, his Merry Wives of Windsor shew he was equal to the undertaking: From Justice Shallow, a caricature portrait of Sir Thomas Lucy, we find our author had a permanent principle of resentment, so far as the use of his pen went.
It is a strong mark of Queen Elizabeth's masculine character, that she should fall in love with Falstaff, who since her time has scarce had a female admirer.
In the Midsunmer Night's Dream he pays his royal patroness a great and elegant compliment, where he stiles her “a fair vestal throned in the West*.” Mr, Rowe thinks, and we think with him, that Falstaff was an ill-chosen name for his facetious paltroon, as there was in the reigns of Henry the Fifth and Sixth a Sir John Falstaff, knight of the garter, and a military commander of merit. This part of Falstaff is said to
* Another great tribute to his royal patroness is paid in the prediction of Cranmer in his Henry VIII. at the conclusion of the play,
have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle ; but that, as some of the family were then living, her Majesty very candidly commanded the author to affix some other name to the part; upon which he adopted that of Falstaff.
The Earl of Southampton shewed several marks of favour to our author, but in particular, he gave him no less than a thousand pounds* at one donation. Had it been allowable for Shakespeare to have handled the earl of Essex's unhappy catastrophe, there is no doubt Lord Southampton's liberality would have been elegantly remembered.
The time of his quitting the stage is as dubious as the time of his going on it;t it is also a matter of great doubt which of his plays was written first, a point not very material. However, one agreeable circumstance, to a generous mind, we are authentically acquainted with, namely, that the latter part of his life, as appears from the most authentic accounts that can be obtained,
* A thousand pounds! what a bounty at any time, but especially if we consider the value of money at that period. We have but few instances of literary merit, being noted in this age, much less rewarded,
* His name appears in the list of the drama of Jonson's Sejanus in 1603, and the same year King James I. granted him a licence, together with Burbage and others, to exercise the art (as then expressed) of playing comedies, tragedies, &c. At that time he was so deeply engaged is dramatic concerns, that it cannot be reasonably supposed he entertained any design of retiring: and it is farther to be observed, that his tragedy of Macbeth was not written till after the accession of James I. at which period the absurd doctrine of witches became so prevalent
he spent in ease and retirement at Stratford, the place of his nativity; having acquired, by his dramatic pursuits, as author, manager, and actor, a property of about 2001. a year.—That he became a private gentleman, at least three years before his death, is obvious from the following remarkable story, related by Mr. Rowe: “Shake. speare had a particular intimacy with a Mr. Combe, an old gentleman, noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury; it happened that in a pleasant conversation amongst their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare, in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; since he could not know what must be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately, upon which Shakespeare gave him the four following lines:
“ Ten in the hundred lies here engravid,
But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely that he never forgave it.”
This John Combe is supposed to be the same who, by Dugdale, in his Antiquities of Warwickshire, is said to have died in 1614, and for whom, at the upper end of the choir of the Guild of the Holy Cross at Stratford, a fair monument is erected, having a statue therein cut in alabaster and in a gown with this epitaph.
“ Here lieth interred the body of John Combe, Esq. who died the 10th of July 1614, who bequeathed sevca