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That the first poets had: his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear;
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.

Besides the dramatists thus far noticed, as the precursors of Shakspeare, we might mention Haughton, Brewer, Porter, Smith, Hathaway, Wilson, and a host of others; for from the diary of Henslowe it appears that, during the seven years following 1591, more than a hundred different plays were performed by four only, out of the ten theatrical companies then existing in London. Several good dramas also of this golden age have descended to us, the authors of which are unknown. A few of these possess merit of a very high order; such as the London Prodigal, the Yorkshire Tragedy, the Misfortunes of Arthur, Lord Cromwell, Edward the Third, and Arden of Feversham, the last of which is a domestic tragedy, founded on a murder which took place in 1551. On these, however, our limits will not permit us to dwell: we shall, therefore, at once pass to Shakspeare himself.


Lecture the Chirteenth.


HE genius of Greene, of Peele, and of Marlow, had essentially contributed to prepare the way for Shakspeare. These writers had given a more settled and scholastic form to the drama than it had previously possessed, and assigned to it a permanent place in English literature. They adorned the stage also with a greater variety of character and action, with deep passion, and with true poetry; and familiarized the public ear with the sound of blank verse. When Shakspeare, therefore, appeared conspicuously on the dramatic horizon, the scene may be said to have been prepared for his reception. The Genius of the drama had accumulated materials for the use of the great poet, who was destined to extend her empire over limits hitherto unrecognized, and invest it with a degree of splendor surpassing any thing that the world had yet witnessed.

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE was of a respectable family, and was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, on St. George's day, April the twentythird, 1564. His father, John Shakspeare, was a wool-comber, and by an early marriage with a rustic heiress, Mary Arden, he not only elevated his social position, but obtained an estate worth nearly seventy pounds a year. The poet's father's fortunes for some years so rapidly advanced that he rose, eventually, to be high bailiff and chief alderman of Stratford; but reverse of fortune compelled him, in 1578, to mortgage his wife's inheritance, and, from the public records of the town, it appears that he had fallen into comparative poverty. William was his eldest son, and was, at this time, at the grammar-school; but the change in his father's circumstances compelled him to return home to assist at his father's business. There is, from this period, a blank of some years in his history; but doubtless he was engaged, whatever might have been his condition or employment, in treasuring up those poetic materials which he afterward expanded with so much splendor. The study of man and of nature, facts in natural history, the country, the fields and the woods, would be gleaned by familiar intercourse and observations among his fellow-townsmen, and in rambling over the beautiful valley of the Avon.


It has been conjectured, and with apparent probability, that he was for some time in a lawyer's office, as his plays abound in technical legal phrases. The London players were also, at that time, in the habit of visiting Stratford; and Burbage, the greatest performer of his day, was originally from Warwickshire. Who can doubt, then, that the high bailiff's son, from the years of twelve to twenty, was a frequent and welcome visitant behind the scenes ? —that he there imbibed the tastes and feelings which colored all his future life-and that he there felt the first stirrings of his immortal dramatic genius?

Shakspeare, we are persuaded, had begun to write before he left Stratford, and had, most probably, sketched, if not completed, his Venus and Adonis, and the Lucrece. These poems were published a few years after his settlement in London, and were both dedicated to the Earl of Southampton in the following modest terms :-' I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burthen; only if your honor seem but pleased, I count myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honored you with some graver labor. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a god-father, and never after till so barren a land.' As the 'Venus and Adonis' was, in all probability, Shakspeare's first complete poem, we shall here introduce a passage from it in order to exhibit the beginnings of that genius which was destined so soon after to astound the world.


Since thou art dead, lo! here I prophesy,

Sorrow on love hereafter shall attend;

It shall be waited on with jealousy,

Find sweet beginning, but unsavoury end,

Ne'er settled equally, but high or low:

That all love's pleasure shall not match his woe.

It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud,

Bud and be blasted in a breathing while,

The bottom poison, and the top o'erstraw'd

With sweets that shall the truest sight beguile.

The strongest body shall it make most weak,

Strike the wise dumb, and teach the fool to speak.

It shall be sparing, and too full of riot,

Teaching decrepit age to tread the measures;

The staring ruffian shall it keep in quiet,

Pluck down the rich, enrich the poor with treasures.

It shall be raging mad, and silly mild,

Make the young old, the old become a child.

It shall suspect, where is no cause of fear,

It shall not fear, where it should most mistrust;

It shall be merciful, and too severe,

And most deceiving when it seems most just:

Perverse it shall be, when it seems most toward,
Put fear to valour, courage to the coward.

It shall be cause of war, and dire events,
And set dissension 'twixt the son and sire:
Subject and servile to all discontents,
As dry combustious matter is to fire.

Sith in his prime, death doth my love destroy,

They that love best, their love shall not enjoy.

The extent to which Shakspeare pursued classical studies at the grammar-school where he received his education, has been made a question of much scrutiny and controversy. Ben Jonson says he had 'little Latin and less Greek;' but this is not denying that he had, at least, some. The choice of the two classical subjects which we have just noticed for his early poems, the Latinized idioms and expressions scattered throughout many of his plays, and his numerous felicitous allusions to the mythology of the ancients, show that he was imbued with the spirit and taste of classical literature, and was a happy student, if not a critical scholar. His mind was too comprehensive to degenerate into pedantry; but when, at the age of twenty-five or twenty-six, he took the field of original dramatic composition, in company with the university-bred authors and wits of the age, he soon distanced them all, in correctness as well as facility, in the intellectual richness of his thoughts and diction, and in the wide range of his acquired knowledge. It may be safely assumed, therefore, that at Stratford he was a hard, though, perhaps, an irregular student.

The precocious maturity of Shakspeare's passions hurried him into a premature marriage. On the twenty-eighth of November, 1582, before he had attained the nineteenth year of his age, he became united to Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a 'substantial yeoman' of the village of Shottery, about a mile from Stratford. He remained in Stratford after his marriage until he became the father of three children, all that he ever had; and having now arrived at early manhood, and feeling the ties of a husband and a father, we may readily suppose that so small a place as his native town did not afford sufficient scope for the ambition of the poet; and he, therefore, removed to London. This important event in his life took place in 1587; and it has been said that his departure was hastened by the effects of a lampoon he had written on a neighboring squire, Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, in revenge for Sir Thomas prosecuting him for deer-stealing. This story, though inconsistent, is now so intimately associated with the name of Shakspeare, that, from the obscurity which rests, and probably will ever rest, on his history, there seems little likelihood of its ever ceasing to have a place in the public mind.

Shakspeare, on his arrival in London, entered the Blackfriar's Theatrical Company, and in it soon rose to distinction. In the course of two or three years he became one of the shareholders: in 1596, his name is the fifth in a list of only eight proprietors; and in 1603, when a new patent was ob

tained from King James, he held the second place. Collier has recently discovered that the wardrobe and stage properties also belonged to Shakspeare, and with the shares which he held, were estimated at a sum equal to seven thousand pounds of the present money. He was also proprietor of the Globe Theatre; so that his annual income must, at this time, have been equal to at least fifteen hundred pounds of the present day. As an actor, Shakspeare is said, by Lord Southampton, to have been 'of good account in the company;' but the cause of his unexampled success was his immortal dramas, the delight and wonder of the age. These were thirtyseven in number, and were all produced previous to 1611.


With the nobles, the wits, and the poets of his day, Shakspeare was in constant and familiar intercourse. The 'gentle Shakspeare,' as he was usually styled, was enthroned in all hearts. But notwithstanding his brilliant success in the metropolis, the poet early looked forward to a permanent retirement to the country. He visited Stratford once a year; and when wealth flowed in upon him, he purchased New Place, the principal house in the town, together with other property in the vicinity, preparatory to returning thither himself. At what precise period Shakspeare took leave of the city is not known. The latest entry of his name among the king's players is in 1604; but it is certain that he was living in London five or years after that date. The year 1612, is now generally fixed upon, as the time of his retirement to the country, and is, perhaps, as nearly correct as any that could be selected. In the fullness of his fame, with a handsome competency, and before age had chilled the enjoyment of life, the poet returned to his native town to spend the remainder of his days among the quiet scenes and friends of his youth. His parents were now both dead, but their declining years had been gladdened by the prosperity and fame of their illustrious son. Four years were passed by Shakspeare in this dignified retirement, and the history of literature scarcely presents another such picture of calm felicity and satisfied ambition. He died on the twenty-third of April, 1616, having, on that very day, completed his fifty-second year. His widow survived him seven years. His only son, Hamnet, died in 1596; his two daughters were both married, and one of them had three sons; but they all died without issue, and there is now remaining no lineal representative of the great poet.

Shakspeare began his career as a dramatist by altering old plays and adapting them to the stage. The extract from Greene's 'Groat's Worth of Wit,' which we have given in our sketch of the life of that unhappy author, shows that he had been engaged in this subordinate literary labor previous to 1592. This drudgery he soon, however, abandoned, and relying upon his own internal resources, in a short time eclipsed, by the production of original sketches, all his contemporaries. Some of these sketches, such as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and the Merry Wives of Windsor, he afterward elaborated into their present finished form; and others he abandoned as unworthy of preservation. His plots were nearly all borrowed; some from

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