Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

improbable and inconsistent circumstances are added in course of time, that to disprove these latter is often no difficult task. This has been the case in the present instance; and Mr. Knight is triumphant when he reaches the circumstantial statement of Ireland, who makes Fulbroke Park the scene of the exploit, and goes so far as to give us a representation of the keeper's lodge in which Shakespeare was confined after his detection. According to Mr. Knight, Fulbroke Park did not come into the possession of the Lucy family till the seventeenth century. This is, of course, a final refutation of Ireland's account; but it must be recollected, no such testimony is produced against the fact that Sir Thomas Lucy persecuted the Poet for stealing his deer. This is in substance all that is here contended for; and Mr. Knight writes so evidently with a purpose, – for in no single instance, on no strength of evidence, will he allow a blemish in Shakespeare's moral character, even in venial lapses which really do not lessen our respect for his memory - that it may perhaps be necessary to impress upon the reader how biography loses nearly all its value, if we are not permitted to exhibit social character as it actually existed, and thus make it of a philosophical importance, by teaching us in what substances 'finely touch'd' spirits are suffered to dwell."

We fully agree with this candid writer in not wishing to make Shakespeare out any better than he was. Little as we know about him, it is but too evident that he had many frailties, and ran into divers faults, both as a poet and as a man. And when we find him confessing, as in Sonnet cx.,

-“ Most true it is, that I have look'd on truth askance and strangely,” — we may be sure that he was but too conscious of things that needed to be forgiven, and that he was as far as any one from wishing his faults to pass for virtues. Still it should be borne in mind that deer-stealing was then a kind of fashionable sport, and that, whatever might be its legal character, it was not morally regarded as involving any

criminality or disgrace. Proofs of this might easily be multiplied. Thus Dr. John Raynolds, who wrote bitterly against plays in 1599, reckons deer-stealing in the same class of orfences with dancing about May-poles and robbing orchards. And Fosbroke, in his History of Gloucestershire, gives an anecdote, how several respectable persons of that county, attorneys and others, “all men of mettle, and good woodmen, I mean old notorious deer-stealers, well-armed, came in the night-time to Michaelwood, with deer-nets and dogs, to steal deer." 20 So that the whole thing may be justly treated as nothing more than a youthful frolic, wherein there might indeed be much indiscretion, and a deal of vexation to the person robbed, but no stain on the party engaged in it.

It is commonly supposed that the part of Justice Shallow was framed more or less upon the model of Sir Thomas Lucy. The passage from Davies, quoted in note 17 of this Chapter, shows that such a notion was entertained as early as 1708. The Sir Thomas Lucy of 1586 died in 1600. Granting him to have been drawn upon somewhat for the features of the portrait in question, still, perhaps, we are hardly warranted in affirming that the part was intended as a particular satire on Sir Thomas. Or at least, if this be not allowed, we must in all fairness suppose The Merry Wives of Windsor to have been written before 1600; it being altogether unlikely that “my gentle Shakespeare," as he was proverbially called,

20 Dr. Forman, in his Diary, already quoted, mentions a curious instance of two Oxford students in 1573, — “ The one of them was Bir Thornbury, that after was bishope of Limerike, and he was of Magdalen College, the other was Sir Pinckney his cossine of St. Mary Helle ;” and then adds, -" Thes many 1ymes wold make Simon to go forth too Loes, the keper of Shoutofer, for his houndes to goe on huntinge from morninge to nighte; and they never studied, nor gave themselves to their bockes, but to goe to scolles of defence, to the daunceing scolles, to stealle dear und connyes, And to hunt the hare, and to woinge of wentches; to goe to Doctor Lawrence of Cowly, for he had two fair daughters, Besse and Martha."

would have continued the satire after the object of it had undergone the consecrating touch of death. But the more likely supposition appears to be, that he regarded Sir Thomas merely as one of a class, and then borrowed from him so much as would serve the dramatic purpose of individualizing that class. Such a course were more consonant to the laws of art, as well as of charity, than to hold up a particular person as a theme of ridicule to the play-going public. Old Aubrey, as we have seen, tells us that “Ben Jonson and he did gather humours of men daily, wherever they came." Doubtless his quick and piercing observation caught up many lines of humour and character from the actual men and women that came under his eye: these were legitimate material of his art; and the working of them in, as they would serve this end, should not be called personal satire. Mr. Halliwell has shown that he sometimes adopted the names of people within his knowledge. Bardolph, Fluellen, Davy, Peto, Perkes, Partlett, Page, Ford, Herne, and Sly, were all of them names of people living at Stratford in his time.

The precise time of the Poet's leaving Stratford is not known. From the position he held in 1589, Mr. Collier thinks he must have joined the company before the end of 1586. And certainly his pace must have been rapid indeed, to have got on so far in a less space of time than this supposition would give him. We have seen that his children, Hamnet and Judith, were born in the early part of 1585. It was made evident in our preceding Chapter, that from 1579 till after 1586 his father was in pecuniary distress, and that this distress kept growing upon him. At the latter date, he had on his hands a family of five children. The prosecutions of Sir Thomas Lucy, added to the increasing embarrassments of his father, may very well have rendered him at this time desirous of quitting Stratford ; and the meeting of inclination and opportunity, as we have traced them, in the acquaintance of the players, may as well have determined him

where to go and what to do. There can be no doubt, that the company which he joined were already in a course of thrift; the demand for their labour's was constantly growing; and nothing is more likely than that he may have espied, in their connection, a hope of retrieving, as he soon did retrieve, his father's fortune.

Of course, there can be little question that Shakespeare held at first a subordinate rank in the company. Dowdall, writing in 1693, – the passage is quoted in note 14 of this Chapter, — tells us he was received into the play-house as a servitor ;” which probably means no more than that he started as an apprentice to some actor of standing in the company, - a thing not unusual at the time. It will readily be believed, that he could not long be in such a place, without recommending himself to a higher one. As for the well-known story of his being reduced to the extremity of “picking up a little money by taking care of the gentlemen's horses, who came to the play,” we cannot perceive the slightest likelihood of truth in it. The first that we hear of it is in The Lives of the Poets, written by a Scotchman named Shiels, and published under the name of Cibber, in 1753. The story is there alleged to have passed through Rowe ir. coming down to the writer's knowledge. 22 If so, it would

21 Henslowe's manuscript register has a memorandum, how be hired as a covevaunt servant Willyam Kendall for ii. years, after ibe statute of Winchester, with ii. single penc, and he to geve bym for his sayd servis everi week of his playing in London x. s., and in the countrie v.s.; for the which he covenaunteth for the space of those ii. yeares to be redye at all tymes to play in the howse of the said Philip, and in no other, during the sayd terme.” ..

22 Shiels gives the following illustrious pedigree of the tale as it came to him: “I cannot forbear relating a story which Sir Wile liam Davenant told Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Rowe; Rowe told it to Mr. Pope, and Mr. Pope told it to Dr. Newton, the late editor of Milton, and from a gentleman who heard it from him, 'tis here related. Concerning Shakespeare's first appearance in the play-house. When he came to London, he was without money and friends, and, being a stranger, he knew not to

appear that Rowe must have discredited it, else, surely, he would not have omitted so remarkable a passage. Be that as it may, the station which the Poet's family had long held in Stratford, the number and rank of his fellow-townsmen in the company, and the place himself held in 1589, all bear witness against it as an arrant fiction. Shiels served as an amanuensis to Dr. Johnson, who gave an improved version of the tale; which version we subjoin :

“In the time of Elizabeth, coaches being yet uncommon, and hired coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. Many came on horseback to the play; and when Shakespeare fled to London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in a short time every man, as he alighted, called for Will Shakespeare, and scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will Shakespeare could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shakespeare, finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired boys to wait under his inspection, who, when Will Shakespeare was summoned, were immediately to present themselves, — “I am Shakespeare's boy, Sir.' In time, Shakespeare found higher employment; but as long as the practice of riding to the play-house continued, the waiters that held the horses retained the appellation of Shakespeare's boys."

whom to apply, nor by what means to support himself. At that time, coaches not being in use, and as gentlemen were accustoined to ride to the play-house, Shakespear, driven to the last necessity, went to the play-house door, and pick'd up a little money by taking care of the gentlemen's horses who came to the play.

« ZurückWeiter »