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It would be curious to know at what time and by what play Shakespeare made his first conquest of Queen Elizabeth. It is tolerably clear that before the spring of 1596 he had written Richarl III., King John, Richard II., and A Midsummer-Night's Dream. There is also reason for thinking that the original Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice were then in being; for it appears that in the summer of 1594 the companies of the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Admiral had joint possession of a theatre in Newington Butts ; and among the plays acted there, are found notices of a “Hamlet” and a “ Venetian Comedy.” These notices are from Henslowe's Diary, who was often ludicrously inexact in his entries of names. So that Malone might very well conjecture, as he did, that the Venetian Comedy was our Poet's Merchant of Venice; and it seems nowise unlikely that his first form of Hamlet may have been written before that date. We have little doubt, also, that All's Well that Ends Well, as originally written, was in being by the time in question. So that probably the first four of these plays at least, and perhaps all the seven, had then been performed for “the recreation and solace of her Majesty.” At all events, there can be no question that both her taste and her vanity were at an early date touched and conciliated by the Poet. Already, no doubt, he was well started in those achievements of royal favour, to which Ben Jonson alludes in his great verses prefixed to the folio of 1623. And here we may aptly quote another allusion of similar import. In 1603, soon after the death of Elizabeth, Henry Chettle, whom we have already met with, put forth a poem entitled England's Mourning Garment, in which, after reproving divers poets for not writing in honour of the Queen, he thus refers to Snakespeare:
“Nor doth the silver-longued Melicert
Hitherto we have met with no information as to where abouts in London Shakespeare had his residence. Edward Alleyn, the player, and founder of Dulwich College, kept a Bear-garden in Southwark. Henslowe was manager of one of the London theatres, and Alleyn was son-in-law to his wife. The Bear-garden became a source of annoyance to the neighbourhood. Among the papers at Dulwich College, Mr. Collier found a memorandum of certain "inhabitants of Southwark," who in July, 1596, complained of this annoyance. “Mr. Shakespeare” was one of them. Which establishes that he was then occupying a house in that quarter; and the probability is, that he had lately taken it for the purpose of being near the Globe theatre. There is reason to think he continued to reside there for some years; for Mr. Collier quotes from a letter written by Mrs. Alleyu, October 20th, 1603, to her husband, then in the country ; in which she speaks of having seen “Mr. Shakespeare, of the Globe,” in Southwark. We have indeed no evidence that the Poet ever had his family with him in London, neither have we any that he did not. We are not aware of any thing which should make it unlikely that they may have been sometimes with him in the city; and the fact of his occupying a house there may well be thought to argue that such was the case.
Before quitting this period, we must observe that on the 11th of August, 1596, Shakespeare buried his only son, Hamnet, then in his twelfth year. This is the first severe home-stroke that we hear of as lighting upon him. His Sunnets, we think, infer him to have been a man of warm and true domestic affections; and from the strong desire he evidently had of handing down his name with honour to posterity, fathers can well conceive how he must have felt the blow.
Aubrey tells us Shakespeare “was wont to go to his native country once a year.” We now have better authority than Aubrey for believing that the Poet's heart was in “his native country" all the while. No sooner is he well estab lished at London, and in receipt of funds to spare from the necessary demands of business, than we find him making liberal investments amidst the scenes of his youth. Mr. Collier inferred with much strength, that his first purchase at Stratford took place in 1597. For a full settlement of the point we are indebted to Mr. Halliwell, who discovered in the Chapter House, Westminster, the fine levied on that occasion. This discovery ascertains that in the spring of 1597 Shakespeare Bought of William Underhill, for the sum of £60, the establishment called New Place, described as consisting of “one messuage, two barns, and two gardens, with their appurtenances.” This was one of the best dwelling-houses in Stratford, and was situate in Chapel-ward, one of the best parts of the town. Early in the sixteenth century it was owned by the Cloptons, and called “the great house." It was in one of the gardens belonging to this house that the Poet was believed to have planted a mulberry tree; and the tradition to that effect has some support in that King James in 1609 made great efforts to introduce the mulberry into England, £935 being paid that year out of the public purse for the planting of trees “near the palace of Westminster."
We have seen that in January, 1597, John Shakespeare was still living in one of his Henley-street houses. There are strong reasons for believing that, after the purchase of New Place, the Poet's father and mother made their residence there, along with his wife and children. Those reasons are as follows: About that time, England was visited with a great dearth and scarceness. Stowe informs us that in 1596, wheat was sold for six, seven, and eight shillings the bushel. The dearth increased through 1597, and in August of that year wheat rose to thirteen shillings the bushel, then fell to ten, then rose again to “ the late greatest price." What effects this produced at Stratford, as also what repute the Poet was then held in among his old neighbours, appears from a letter dated January 24th, 1598, and written by Abraham Sturley, an alderman of Stratford. The letter was to Sturley's brother-in-law, Richard Quiney, who was then in London; and in it we have the following:
“I pray God send you comfortably home. This is one special remembrance, from your father's motion. It seemeth by him, that our countryman, Mr. Shakespeare, is will ing to disburse some money upon some odd yard land or other at Shottery, or near about us. He thinketh it a very fit pattern to move him to deal in the matter of our tithes. By the instructions you can give him thereof, and by the friends he can make therefor, we think it a fair mark for him to shoot at, and not unpossible to hit. It obtained would advance him indeed, and do us much good.
“ You shall understand, brother, that our neighbours are grown, with the wants they feel through the dearness of coin, (which here is, beyond all other countries that I can hear of, dear and over dear,) malcontent. They have assembled together in great number, and travelled to Sir Thomas Lucy on Friday last, to complain of our maltsters; on Sunday, to Sir Fulk Greville and Sir John Conway. There is a meeting here expected to-morrow. The Lord knoweth tu what and it will sort! Thomas West, returning from the two knights of the woodland, came home so full, that he said to Mr. Bailiff that night, he hoped within a week to lead off them in a halter, meaning the maltsters; and I hope, saith John Grannams, if God send my Lord of Essex down shortly, to see them hanged on gibbets at their own doors."
Further light is thrown on this subject of the dearth hy a curious manuscript list, headed “Stratford Borough, Warwick. The note of corn and malt, taken the 4th of February, 1598.” The purpose of it evidently was, to ascertain how much corn and malt there really was in the town, under a suspicion that the owners were withholding it from use in order to raise its price. The names of the townsmen are all given, with the several wards where they resided, and also
of the strangers, so far as known. In the statement of the “townsmen's corn” in Chapel-street Ward, we have, among others, “Wm. Shakespeare, 10 quarters ;” and only two persons in the ward are put down as having a larger quantity. The name of John Shakespeare does not occur in the list; and from this fact Mr. Collier reasonably infers that he was then living with his son William ; and that the Poet had laid in this large store, in order to be sure of a competent provision for a larger family than his wife and two daughters.
New Place remained in the hands of Shakespeare and his heirs till the Restoration, when it was repurchased by the Clopton family. In the spring of 1742, Garrick, Macklin, and Delane were entertained there by Sir Hugh Clopton, under the Poet's mulberry-tree. About 1752, the place was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, who, falling out with the Stratford authorities in some matter of rates, demolished the house, and cut down the tree, for which his memory has heen visited with exemplary retribution.
FROM THE EARLIEST PRINTED CRITICISM ON SHAKESPEARE TILL HIS RETIREMENT FROM THE STAGE.
THE earliest printed copies of Shakespeare's plays, known in modern times, were “The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of York and Lancaster,” and “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,” severally dated 1594 and 1595. They were doubtless written several years before, and at the time of the printing had probably been revised into the form they now bear as the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI. The matter is sufficiently