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And haue before this time been often prest
pay them home, because they doe provoke ; So, pray reade on : wee’le stand to all we spoke.”
Hence we might infer, as is very likely to have been the case, that there were intermediate editions of “ Tis merry when Gossips meet,” besides those of 1609 and 1619. The new songs in the latter are very good and very droll, but not very decent, according to the present notions of society, and for that reason I refrain from inserting either of them. Perhaps, too, as this paper may be said only to illustrate Shakespeare, incidentally, and through some of his most celebrated contemporaries, it is long enough.
T. J. SCOTT. London, June, 1844.
Art. XXI.- Who was “ Will, my lord of Leycester's
jesting player ? There is a passage of some little dramatic interest in a letter of Sir Philip Sydney's, to which, I think, due attention has never yet been paid. As the letter is published in two common books,' I cannot suppose that it is not sufficiently well known; but it is very possible that, attracted by its manly sentiments and the calm dignity of its style, those who have perused it have overlooked its indirect bearing upon the history of the drama.
The letter is dated “at Utrecht, this 24th March, 1586 ;" and the original, from which I shall quote, exists in the Harleian MS., 287, fol. I.
The admirable writer was then engaged in that war for the independence of the Low Countries in which a few months afterwards he found an honourable grave. The Earl of Leycester had recently accepted the office of Governor-general of the United Provinces, and Sir Philip Sydney, and all the other followers of the earl, were paying the penalty of his ambitious vanity in the stoppage of their supplies, which followed upon Queen Elizabeth's disapprobation of the step taken by her favourite. In the midst of their troubles, whilst the soldiers were mutinous for want of pay, and, in a foreign country and during a rigorous spring, were suffering the conjoined hardships of defective clothing and insufficient food, Sydney writes thus to Mr. Secretary Walsyngham, his father-in-law ::
“Such is the goodwil it pleaseth you to bear me, that my part of the trouble is something that troubles you, but I beseech yow let it not.
I had before cast my count of danger, want, and disgrace; and before God, sir, it is trew in my hart, the love of the cause doth so farr overballance them all, that, with
| In Lodge's Portraits, and in the Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Philip Sydney:
grace, they shall never make me weary of my resolution. If her majestie were the fountain, I would fear, considering what I dayly find, that we should wax dry. But she is but a means whom God useth ; and I know not whether I am deceaved, but I am faithfully persuaded, that, if she shold withdraw her self, other springes wold ryse to help this action ; for methinks I see the great work indeed in hand against the abusers of the world, wherein it is no greater fault to have confidence in mans power, then it is hastily to despair of Gods work. I think a wyse and constant man ought never to greev while he doth plai, as a man mai sai, his own part truly, though others be out; but if himself leav his hold becaws othir marriners will be ydle, he will hardly forgive himself his own fault. For me, I cannot promis of my cource, no, nor of the mynd, becaws I know there is a hyer power that must uphold me, or els I shall fall, but certainly I trust I shall not by other mens wantes be drawn from myself. Therefore, good sir, to whom for my particular I am more bound then to all men besydes, be not troubled with my troubles, for I have seen the worst in my judgement before hand, and wors than that cannot be. If the queen pai not her souldiours, she must loos her garrisons ; there is no doubt thereof. But no man living shall be hable
say the fault is in me. What releef I can do them I will. I will spare no danger, if occasion serv. I am sure no creature shall be hable to lay injustice to my charge, and for furdre doubtes truly I stand not uppon them.”
These sentences, which seem to contain something like a foreshadowing of several of Shakespeare's? noblest passages, are followed by others, written in the same strain, and ultimately by the following :
“ I wrote to yow a letter by Will, my lord of Lester's jesting plaier, enclosed in a letter to my wife, and I never had
My own opinion is in favour of spelling the name Shakspere; but I cannot think of disturbing the wonderful unanimity of the Shakespeare Society upon a point of such infinite unimportance.
answer thereof. Hit contained somthing to my lord of Lester and council, that som wai might be taken to stay my ladi there. I since dyvers tymes have writt to know whether
had receaved them, but you never answered me that point. I since find that the knave delivers the letters to my ladi of Lester, but whether she sent them yow or no I know not, but earnestly desire to do, because I dout there is more enterpreted thereof."
Upon this passage several questions arise, and the first of them is—Who was “Will, my lord of Lester's jesting plaier ?"
In the enumeration of Lord Leycester's company of players, in 1574, there is one “William Johnson.” Amongst the players mentioned in the plat of Tarlton's Seven Deadlye Sinns, which may be assigned to about the year 1589, there are
Will,” who played Itys, and “ W. Sly,” who represented Ferrex. In the certificate of the good conduct of the sharers in the Blackfriars, dated Nov., 1589,3 three Williams are enumerated, Shakespeare, Kempe, and Johnson; and in the petition from the actors, in 1596, the number of Williams remains the same, but they were then Shakespeare, Kempe, and Sly.
Of course it is possible that, between 1574 and 1596, there were other persons of the Christian name of William in the company; and it is also possible that there were persons of that Christian name in the company who were not enumerated in the lists I have quoted. But, on the other hand, I believe no other player of that period and of that Christian name is known ;5 and I infer, from the words of Sir Philip Sydney,
1 Collier's Shakespeare, i. xxxv.
5 William Ostler and William Ecclestone, who are enumerated in the list of players in the first folio, belong to a later period. See Malone, üj. 212, 217.
that there was a certain degree of intimacy between himself, and also between the Earl and Countess of Leycester, and the person
alluded to, which seems to point to the player in question, as one of station and eminence in his calling, one likely to become a shareholder in the company of which he was a member, and one not likely to have entirely escaped the researches of dramatic antiquaries. My own opinion, founded upon these circumstances, is that the “ Will ” alluded to was one of the persons I have enumerated.
Nor do I see much reason to doubt that he was the same “Will” who is described as the representative of Itys in the plat of Tarlton's Seven Deadlye Sinns. It would be strange indeed if, at about the same time and in the same company, two persons were both termed by the same familiar appellation. If this be thought probable, we get rid of Sly from the four persons amongst whom we are to look for “Will,” because Sly is set down in the plat referred to as a distinct person from " Will.” Our choice is thus limited to Johnson, Kempe, and Shakespeare.
Now that Shakespeare was a light-hearted, frolicsome man is clear from the deer-stealing ; that he was witty in conversation is to be inferred from his daughter's epitaph ; that he was termed “Will Shakespeare” is certain ; but I must at once express my own conviction that Sir Philip Sidney never could have applied to him the terms “jesting player" and “knave,” even allowing that the latter word might not be used in the modern offensive sense. Shakespeare's earliest works bear upon them the stamp of a mind far too contemplative and refined for its possessor ever to have been regarded as a jester or buffoon; besides which, the only traces that we have of him as an actor are in old Adam and the ghost in Hamlet, certainly not humorous characters. In my own opinion, therefore, the choice lies between Johnson and Kempe.
Of Johnson we know literally nothing more than I have stated. He is not mentioned in the list of players in the first