« AnteriorContinua »
vious year his absence from church-attendance is accounted for in a return made by Sir Thomas Lucy of recusants and others, as probably owing to fear of process for debt; and it is not till 1595, only two years before his son's purchase of New Place, that he ceases to appear as a party in petty actions, which bear at least the colour of pertinacity.
In 1582 William Shakespeare became a married man, at the age of eighteen years and a half. Rowe's account runs thus :-" Upon his leaving school he seems to have given entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him (the wool-trade seems implied), and in order to settle in the world after a family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet very young: his wife was the daughter of one Hathaway, said to have been a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford." The marriage is not recorded in the Stratford register, and must have been celebrated elsewhere; but a few years since, Rowe's tradition was confirmed by the discovery of a marriage bond at Worcester, the metropolis of the diocese, which was given by Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, of Stratford, in order to obtain license for William Shakespeare to marry Ann Hathaway, maiden, of Stratford, with once asking of the banns. The bond is dated the 28th of November.
It is sufficiently proved that Anne was the daughter of Richard Hathaway, of Shottery, adjoining and in the parish of Stratford, and who is traced in an acquaintance not only with the two sureties, but with John Shakespeare, who was security for him in the poet's birth year.
They sign their names with marks, the whole set of them, and are styled in deeds and instruments, agricolæ or husbandmen, like Robert Arden, but they have dwellings of their own, appointed as a yeoman's should be,— that of Richard Hathaway yet stands, though now divided into cottages, and is occupied by a descendant,— and have goods, and cattle and land too, to divide by will among their children. Richard Hathaway died in September, 1581, the year before the marriage: his will
mentions other children, but not Anne; as her identity seems indisputable, it is possible that she was passed over as not unprovided for, and thus came not quite portionless to her husband.
Anne Hathaway, by the evidence of her epitaph, was between seven and eight years older than her youthful bridegroom; their first child, Susannah, was baptized at Stratford, 26th of May, 1583; the obvious inference from comparison of dates is confirmed by the shortened banns and the celebration of the marriage elsewhere than at Stratford. The conclusion has been variously but vigorously fenced with by biographers. One (Mr. Halliwell) says vaguely, "the espousals of the lovers were celebrated in the summer-(to wit, 28th of November), 1582," and others are prompt to magnify the virtue and dignity of an assumed "troth-plight." That Shakespeare himself repudiates the apology, by the expressions he assigns to Prospero monitory to the betrothed Ferdinand, and to Claudio in his assertion of his own respect for himself and his betrothed, dispenses with the necessity for considering it. The presumption as the evidence stands is not to be escaped from, and it is more to the honour of Shakespeare to note his timely reparation, and how superior he was to the egotism of allowing his own lapse, if such there were, to pervert his moral judgment in his writings, than to falsify biography, not to say morals, for a false apology.
To be swayed or surprised by passion in youth, and even later, has ever been the besetting liability of the poet, and without allowing much value to scandalous tradition I cannot but recognize in some of the sonnets a personal recognition of weakness, and also the weakness itself struggling with the admission, and almost becoming-never quite becoming, strong enough to brave it :
"Love is too young to know what conscience is:
On the 2nd of February, 1584-5, were baptized at Stratford, Hamnet and Judith, twin children of William
and Anne Shakespeare; they were no doubt christened after Hamnet Sadler, baker by trade, and Judith his wife, a firm friend of the poet till death, and remembered by him in his will. These were the last children that were born from the marriage, and the fact has been absurdly wrested to support a futile theory, that it was not a happy one. In the same sense stress has been laid on the poet's repeated allusion to the disadvantage of seniority for a wife: the fact of repetition certainly gives an impression that Shakespeare had the maxim at heart, but it argues at the same time that he had it not painfully so. I would not say that in writing it down he had not some feeling of self-accusation, but this is more than balanced by a grateful admission of admirable permanence in feminine attachment.
"Let still the woman take
An elder than herself; so wears she to him;
Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
The traditions are too steady and consistent of Shakespeare's regular visits and constant attachment to Stratford all through his life, for us to believe that he found there lying in wait for him either disgrace abroad or conjugal discomfort in his home.
A tradition seems to have reached Oldys, that Anne Hathaway was beautiful; the epitaph placed on her grave by her daughter bespeaks that she was the object of filial affection, and from this point of view some value may be attached to the gossip of the old parish clerk, who, gossip as he might be, probably chimed in with the general tone of tradition of a united domestic hearth, in reporting that the wife and the daughter earnestly desired to share Shakespeare's grave. It was the great service of Mr. Knight, to point out that after his death his widow, from the nature of his property, would be
amply provided for by dower, through the known and usual operation of the English law: this simple indication happily sweeps away as nonsense a web of ill-contrived comment on her position in his will.
Before Shakespeare then reached his twenty-first year in 1585 he had a wife and three children to provide for, and may readily have betaken himself to the most promising means, his father's doubtful occupation, or, as one tradition would have it, to that of a schoolmaster. From the familiarity with legal technicalities displayed in his writings, and his fondness for, I had almost said addiction to, metaphors from legal instruments and proceed. ings, an opinion has gained ground that he was for a time in a lawyer's office, and I must say, I think there is more in it than can be accounted for by an alternative supposition: this is, that the habit may have been acquired from listening to the legal talk and terms that were rife around him through the multifarious processes in which his father was a party, and the frequent and complicated changes in the disposition of his real property and that of his wife.
Positive record of Shakespeare's course we have none, from that of the baptism of his twins till seven years later, when, at the age of twenty-eight, he is distinctly alluded to by Greene as a dramatist, fertile and flourishing, in London. Great political events had agitated the interval: the Queen of Scots was executed in 1587, and the next year the enthusiasm and confidence of the nation was raised to the highest pitch by the defeat of the Armada. The annals of the drama, for the same year, record the death of Tarlton, a comedian, who was himself a national drama; and in the current years a settled and decided character had been given to the productions of the stage by the best works of Lyly, Marlowe, and Greene, who were at the height of their powers and reputation. Beside them Shakespeare had taken his place by 1592, a formidable and advancing rival; but how, and why, and when he first joined the players is only matter of doubtful tradition.
The terms of Greene imply that the success of Shake
speare was brilliant and decided, and had given him a position in marked contrast to his commencement. Greene was at the premature end of a short, disappointed, and dissipated life, and dying in September, 1592, a work was shortly after published in his name by Henry Chettle, also a dramatist, entitled, "A Groatsworth of Wit bought with a million of Repentance," and inscribed "To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, who spend their wits in making plays." In the course of it he urges three friends, it is thought Marlowe, Nash, and Peele, to give up writing for the players :
"Base minded men all three of you, if by my misery ye be not warned: for unto none of you like me sought those burs to cleave: those puppets, I mean, who speak from. our mouths, those Anticks garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they have all been beholding; is it not like that you, to whom they have all been beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart Crow, beautified in our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shakescene in a country. Oh that I might intreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove an usurer, and the kindest of them all will never prove a kind nurse; yet, whilst you may, seek you better masters, for it is pity men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms."
The parodied name of the combined actor and author would be decisive, without the parody of a line from the Third Part of Henry VI., one of the pieces produced by Shakespeare by the process of adaptation which also seems to be cavilled at.
Chettle, who published the tract, defended himself in another from the charge of having been the writer of it. In "Kind-Heart's Dream," published a few months later, he also adverts to the offence that it had given to two persons, one apparently Marlowe, on whom it had fixed the vulgar, and at that time perilous stigma of atheism, and the other Shakespeare.