Imatges de pÓgina
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lution of the fraternity, a charter of Edward VI. established the free school of the town, and here no doubt, as in others of like origin, Latin at least was taught more or less efficiently—it might be even very efficiently. The present grammar-school is an ancient room over the old town-hall, adjoining the chapel of the guild; but it appears, from a change that was made in 1505, that the school had previously been held in the chapel itself. The structure belongs, for the most part, to the reign of Henry VII., and the interior was anciently adorned with paintings of the traditional history of the Holy Cross, and others, which were discovered beneath encrusted whitewash in 1804; the first obliterating coat was given in the birth-year of Shakespeare, when the Corporation expended 2s. for “ defacing ymage in Chappell.”

Rowe asserts that Shakespeare's father bred him for some time at a free school, but was forced by narrow circumstances, and want of his assistance at home, to with aw him prematurely. This agrees in both points with what we know of his father's circumstances; as to the degree of efficiency the pupil carried away, the line of Ben Jonson," and though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,” implies that he had learned, if not even the rudiments of Greek, something more than the rudiments of Latin. My own impression from his works is, that he probably had no acquaintance with Greek literature whatever, and comparatively little with Latinnone at all, it may be, beyond one or two school-text books, but that his knowledge of the language, of the vocabulary and the accidence, was originally sufficient, however it may have rusted from counter attractions determining him to other reading.

Illustration in abundance has been obtained of the numerous opportunities which surrounded the youth of Shakespeare for the development of a taste for the drama, dramatic poetry and the stage. The town accounts of the time show usually several, sometimes many payments yearly to different companies of players, who are distinguished as the Earl of Leicester's players, the Earl of

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Worcester's players, and so forth, according to the noble. man whose protection they enjoyed, and whose servants they styled themselves. It is remarkable, that the first of these entries occurs in the year of John Shakespeare's magistracy, as if he had set the example from peculiar liking and interest in playing, though for the rest it was the ordinary custom of the time for players visiting a town to accredit themselves in the first instance to the Mayor or High Bailiff, and exhibit for the first time in the town-hall, under his patronage. Ten or eleven different companies are noted within a few years, and many of them over and over again; and there can be no doubt from what is known of the history of the stage, that the performances even of the same company were most various in style and constantly diversified by novelty.

Between the dates of Shakespeare's birth and majority we find notices of acted plays that range through every variety of Moral and Miracle play, plays from English and Ancient history, mythological, romantic, and what may be called fantastic subjects. Blank verse, prose, rhyme, extemporised dialogue, dumb show and, to a certain extent, spectacle, were interchanged and combined with every degree of extravagance and simplicity. At the same time the custom of the presentation of plays by the Inns of Court, public schools, choristers and universities, brought into exercise the invention of a different class of ininds, which would have a stimulant reaction the rather that their productions were frequently presented to the same audience, to royalty, nobility, and the court. The interest of the audiences was not unfrequently stimulated by very direct treatment of matters polemical as well as political, a tendency that from time to time was sharply checked ; at other times a source of amusement was sought in personal satire, especially it would seem in London, where the players and the corporation were at constant feud,—the mayor and aldermen apparently being butts as highly valued at that time as they have been so often since.

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Against these enemies, and against others who were embittered by the nascent asceticism that was at last to be triumphant in Puritanism, the players were protected by the favour and personal tastes of the sovereign and the ingenious, ardent and vivacious aristocracy that at that time animated the English court. In Shakespeare's tenth year (1574) the Earl of Leicester obtained a patent for James Burbage and four others, authorizing them “ to use, exercise and occupy the art and faculty of playing tragedies, comedies, &c. as well for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure when we shall think good to see them,” and this was to apply

as well within our city of London and liberties of the same, as throughout our realm of England.” As if this were scarcely enough, within three months after a letter from the Privy Council enjoined the Lord Mayor to “ admit the comedy players within the city of London, and to be otherwise favourably used." The response to this seems to have been an act of the Common Council the next year, assuming the right of licensing theatrical exhibitions within the city, and making the condition of a license the contribution of half receipts to charitable purposes. Thus beset, James Burbage availed himself of the immunity from civic authority of the precinct of the suppressed religious houses of Dominicans, the Black Friars, and purchased and converted certain rooms abutting there on the very city wall, into a common playhouse, and in spite of hostile petition made good his ground, and established the stage which was to be that of Shakespeare.

In the meantime affairs at Stratford,—the private affairs of the family of Shakespeare,—were taking that turn to which tradition ascribed, probably with some truth as its basis, his adoption of the profession of the stage. The proofs of his father's narrowing circumstances follow on continuously from the year that William Shakespeare was thirteen, till he was twenty-three; ten years' experience of a straitened home, at the opening of life, insufficient, however, to subdue the buoyancy of his

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spirits, to depress either his ardour or his energies. The details may be concisely told.

In 1577, John Shakespeare is for the first time found irregular in his attendance as Alderman ; the next year he is excused half charge for the furniture of pikemen and bill men, and entirely excused from the weekly payment of his brother Aldermen of 4d. towards the relief of the poor, rendered necessary by one of the occasional visits of the plague. In 1579, the sum due from him towards purchase of armour and weapons is returned, “unpaid and unaccounted for.” He and his wife sell her share of property at Snitterfield for £4,—he is styled “yeoman” in the deed, and marks with a cross instead of the cipher resembling a capital A that he formerly used: they also mortgage the estate of Asbyes for £40 to Edmund Lambert, brother-in-law of Mary Shakespeare.

In 1580, the list of debts appended to the will of Roger Sadler, baker, shows John Shakespeare as owing him £5, for which he appears to have had credit only on the guarantee of Edmund Lambert and another. This was in or before January ; in May of the same year John Shakespeare has a son baptized Edmund, probably after his uncle by marriage, whose assistance therefore was accepted and considered to be offered, in good part and good faith. According to the terms of the deed, the mortgage of Asbyes was to be a sale, unless the money were repaid by the feast of St. Michael the Archangel in this the ensuing year (29th September). They seem to have counted upon being able to effect this by the falling in of Mary Shakespeare's reversionary interest in Snitterfield property, by the anticipated death of Mary Arden, her step-mother. This death did not occur till December, and they had then sold the interest, still reversionary only, to R. Webbe, for £40; and this sum, according at least to their own averment in later proceedings, they duly tendered in redemption of Lambert's mortgage. Lambert declined to accept the money in that sense, unless other sums due to him were acquitted at the same time, and thus he retained the property un:)

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proceedings in Chancery were instituted at a later date, with what effect is not known. These proceedings, from their date, were no doubt undertaken with the advice of William Shakespeare, and as they correspond in time with the production of Henry IV., first part, I have no doubt that Edmund Lambert, or rather his representative and heir, John Lambert, was the spiteful or fraudulent occupant of land sought by the poet, who according to Sir William Bishop's tradition, was the original of Falstaff.

On the other side of the account there is the qualifying fact, that John Shakespeare never parted with his houses in Henley Street, which descended to his son; and whatever, therefore, may have been his embarrassments, they by no means amounted to destitution. In fact, the records of the bailiff's court, that prove his difficulties in meeting demands upon him, show him by other entries of the same date, suing debtors for monies owing.

In 1586 a crisis came ; it was returned to a writ of distraint on the 19th of January, "quod prædictus Johannes Shackspere nihil habet unde distringi potest,”“ that the said John Shakespeare has nothing on which the distraint can be executed.” A month later a capias was issued, and then another capias in March ; his municipal standing also declined, and in September this same year the books of the corporation show this entry by the town clerk. “ At this hall William Smith and Richard Court are chosen to be Aldermen in the place of John Wheler and John Shaxpere ; for that Mr. Wheler doth desire to be put out of the Company, and Mr. Shaxpere doth not come to the halls when they be warned, nor hath not done of a long time.” For the time present there

may have been an obstruction known, but not mentioned, for in the ensuing March, 1587, is recorded a writ of habeas corpus, which seems to imply that John Shakespeare had been in custody, or imprisoned for debt. To finish these notices at once, it may be added, that another distringas was issued against him in 1593, evidently no mere matter of form, for in the pre

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