Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Wood, mad, wild.
Woodcock, a silly person.
Wooden, awkward.
Woodman, wencher.
Woolvish, hairy?
World, going to the, marrying.
Wreak, revenge.
Wrest, a tuning instrument ?
Wroth, ruth?

Yare, handy, nimble.
Ycleped, called, named. See also

“Cleped.” Yearning, or eaning time, time of

parturition. Yearn, to grieve. Yield, to reward. Yoxen, for waxen.

Zany, fool.

THE LIFE

OF

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

On the 23d April 1564 occurred the most important event, perhaps, in the literary history of the world — the birth of the great English dramatist of the immortal Shakespeare. He was born in the pleasant town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. His father, by trade a glover, and not, as has been erroneously asserted, either a dealer in wool, or a butcher, (the absurd fiction related by Aubrey that our dramatist himself exercised the latter trade scarcely merits allusion,) was born near Stratford about the year 1530: and is supposed to have been the son of Richard Shakespeare, farmer, who tenanted a house and land belonging to Robert Arden, a small, but respectable land-proprietor of Wilmecote in the parish of Aston Cantlowe, not far from Stratford. To Mary, seventh daughter of the above Robert Arden, John Shakespeare was married. She inherited from her father, besides a sum in money, a small estate in fee, in the parish of Aston Cantlowe, called Asbyes, consisting of a messuage, fifty acres of arable land, six acres of meadow and pasture, and a right of common for all kinds of cattle. This simple pair, become in our times so interesting when we are contemplating the almost miraculous genius, and wide-spread fame of their illustrious offspring, were married in the year 1557; and we are justified in thinking that the bridegroom's affairs were sufficiently prosperous to warrant his union with the youngest of seven co-heiresses. The Ardens were an ancient and considerable family in Warwickshire, who derived their name from the forest of Arden in or near which they had

possessions. One of them Sir John Arden, the brother of Mary's great-grandfather, had been esquire of the body to Henry VII., who had bountifully rewarded his services and fidelity. Many Shakespeares were resident at an early date in different parts of Warwickshire, as well as in some of the adjoining counties; the name however was very differently written: we find Sbakspere, Shakespere, Shakespeyre, Shaxper, Chacsper, Shakespeare and Shakspeare; the first was written by the great dramatist himself in a volume of a translation of Montaigne's essays known to have belonged to him, and now in the British Museum; the last is the manner in which he signed his final testament.

The first fruit of the union of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden was a daughter, baptized by the name of Joan, on the 15th Sept. 1558. She died in early infancy. The second child Margaret, was baptized on the 2d Dec. 1562, and died in the following April. Our great dramatist was born therefore a year after, and the memorandum of his baptism in the church register is precisely in the following form:

“1564 April 26. Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere.” So that whoever kept the book either committed a common clerical error or was no great proficient in the rules of grammar.

He was baptized therefore three days after he was born, for it was at that period the custom to carry infants very early to the font. A house is still pointed out in Henley-street, as that in which William Shakespeare first saw the light, and in this street, his father was owner of a copyhold dwelling. His two sisters having died before his birth, William became the eldest child of his parents, and in the course of time his mother bore to her husband five more children. Gilbert born in 1566. Joan in 1569. Anne in 1571, who died at an early age, being buried in 1579. Richard in 1573 and Edmund born in the spring of 1580. While William Shakespeare was yet in extreme infancy, a malignant fever denominated the plague, broke out at Stratford, he was but two months old when it made its appearance; it does not appear to have reached any member of John Shakespeare's family, we mention it therefore merely to notice that on this calamitous visitation he contributed one shilling to the relief of the poor, showing that at this date he was in moderate and probably comfortable, though not in affluent circumstances, and we are warranted in concluding that he was then an industrious and thriving tradesman. At the time of his marriage he was probably a member of the corporation of Stralford; in 1558 he was appointed one of the four constables, and soon after he was chosen one of four persons, called affeerors, whose duty it was to impose fines on their fellow-townsmen for offences against the bye-laws of the borough. He continued to advance in rank and importance in the corporation, and was elected one of the fourteen aldermen of Stratford on the 4th July 1565, and rather more than three years afterwards the father of our poet was chosen bailiff, when his son William was four years and a half old. This was the highest distinction in the power of his fellow-townsmen to bestow, yet although he had risen to a station so respectable, and was at the same time a magistrate, his name being in the commission of the peace, he was not able to write. There was however nothing remarkable in this inability, for in 1565 when one John Wheler was called by nineteen aldermen and burgesses to undertake the duties of bailiff, John Shakespeare was among twelve other marksmen, including the then bailiff, and the “head alderman.” The simple Mary Arden too could not boast of a more accomplished education than her husband, for it is recorded that she also was unable to pen her name.

In 1570 when William Shakespeare was in his seventh year, his father rented a meadow two miles from Stratford; the annual payment was £8, a considerable sum, certainly, for that time; and in 1574 he bought two freehold houses, with orchards and gardens, in Henley-street for £40. To one of these he is supposed to have removed his family; but for aught we know he had lived from the time of his marriage and continued to live in 1574 in the copyhold in Henley-street, which had been alienated to him eighteen years before.

It is indisputable, we apprehend, that soon after this date the tide of John Shakespeare's affairs began to turn, and that he experienced disappointments and losses which seriously affected his pecuniary circumstances. At a borough hall on the 29th Jan. 1578 it was ordered that every alderman in Stratford should pay VII.

481

[ocr errors]

6s. 8d., and every burgess 3s. 4d. towards “the furniture of three pikemen, two billmen, and one archer.” Now although John Shakespeare was not only an alderman, but had been chosen "head alderman” in 1571, he was allowed to contribute only 3s. 4d., as if he had been merely a burgess. In November, 1578, when every alderman was required to “pay weekly to the relief of the poor 4d.,John Shakespeare and another were excepted. Other proofs might be added to these. In the same year he mortgaged his wife's estate, called Asbyes, for £40. But the most striking contirmation of his embarrassments about this date is that he parted with his wife's interest in two tenements in Snitterfield for the small sum of £4. Another point worthy of notice in this newly-discovered document - the deed of sale of his wife's property, is, ibat he is termed “yeoman,” and not glover: perhaps in 1579, although he continued to occupy a house in Stratford, he had relinquished his original trade, and having embarked in agricultural pursuits, to which he had not been educated, had been unsuccessful. This may appear not an unnatural mode of accounting for some of his difficulties.

At the period of the sale of their Snitterfield property by his father and mother, William Shakespeare was in his sixteenth year, and in what way he had been educated is mere matter of conjecture. It is highly probable that he was at the free-school of Stratford, founded in the reign of Edward IV., and subsequently chartered by Edward VI. We know nothing of the time when he might first have been sent thither; but if so sent between 1570 and 1578, Walter Roche, Thomas Hunt, and Thomas Jenkins, were successively masters, and from them he must bave derived the rudiments of his Latip and Greek. That his father and mother could give him no instruction of the kind is quite certain from the proof we have adduced that neither of them could write; but this very deficiency might render them more desirous that their eldest son, at least, if not their children in general, should receive the best education circumstances would allow. The free grammar-school of Stratford afforded an opportunity of which, it is not unlikely, the parents of William Shakespeare availed themselves. As we are ignorant of the time when he went to school, we are

« ZurückWeiter »