II.

 

WILLIAM SHAKSPERE.

 

I. The family of William Shakspere, the actor, was grossly illiterate. His father and mother made their signatures with a cross. Of his two children, Judith, at the age of twenty-seven, was also unable to write her name; Susanna could not read her husband's manuscript, nor even identify it by sight among others. The little we know of his own youth and early manhood affords presumptive proof of the strongest kind that he was uneducated.

 

"Nature only helped him."--Leonard Digges, 1640.

"His learning was very little."--Thomas Fuller's Worthies, 1662.

 

"Old Mother-wit and Nature gave Shakespeare and Fletcher all they have."

Sir John Denham, 1668.

"Shakespeare said all that Nature could impart."--Chetwood, 1684.

"Never any scholar, as our Shakespeare, if alive, would confess himself."--Winstanley, 1684.

"He was as much a stranger to French as Latin."--Gerard Langbaine, 1691.

"The clerk that showed me this church is above eighty years old. He says that this Shakespeare was formerly bound in this town to a butcher, but that he ran away from his master to London."--Letter from Dowdall, visiting Stratford, 1693.

"In him we find all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy, without knowing that he ever studied them."--Dryden.

 

11

 

 "Without any instruction either from the world or from books."--Hume's History of England, III. 110.

"The constant criticism which his contemporaries, from Greene to Ben Jonson, passed on him was that he was ignorant of language and no scholar."--Richard Simpson's School of Shakspere, II. 398.

"Where this wonderful creator gained the knowledge of human nature and experience of human motives which have presented him to posterity rather as something divine than a mere mortal artist, it is impossible to learn."--Prof. Shaw's English Literature, p. 121.

 "And thou, who did'st the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honor'd, self-secure,
Didst stand on earth unguess'd at."

--Matthew Arnold's Sonnet to Shakespeare.

 

"The only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philosopher and even the man of the world may be born, as well as the poet."--Alexander Pope.

"The untaught son of a Stratford yeoman."1--Richard Grant White.

 

II. The Shakspere family, like many others of that period, had no settled or uniform method of spelling their name.2 More than thirty different forms have been found among their papers, on their tombstones, and in contemporaneous public records. How William wrote it, it is impossible to say; according to Dr. Johnson, each time differently in the three signatures to his will.1

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1 No reference to Shakspere personally, made in his lifetime or within a hundred years after his death, in contradiction of the above, can be produced. The only possible exception is Jonson's well-known jest relating to his "small Latin and less Greek," for which see p. 102.

2 English orthography was then in a plastic state, as orthography always is before the formation of a national literature. Bacon once wrote his own name Bakon, with the evident intention, entirely characteristic of him, to simplify our alphabet by substituting for the hard sound of c the letter k, after the manner of the Greek and primitive Roman languages.

 

12

In the registry of his baptism and of his burial, it is Shakspere; in his marriage bond, Shagspere; under the bust at Stratford, Shakspeare. Among other forms discovered in the records of the family are the following: Shaxpur, Chacksper, Schakespeire, Chacsper, Shexpere, Shackspire, Shakispere, Shaxberd, Shakaspeare, Shaykspere, and Schakespayr.2 Patronymics often varied at that time, as they do now, in different families and in different sections of the country; but here the variations in the same household were unusually numerous, and to all appearances at hap-hazard.

It is a singular circumstance, nevertheless, that in all the forms tabulated by Wise, nineteen hundred and six in number, the one printed on the title-pages of the plays and poems, SHAKESPEARE, does not appear. It is unique. So far as we know, no person in Stratford or in any other part of the kingdom, previously to the publication of the 'Venus and Adonis,' wrote it in that way. Literature had an absolute monopoly of it.3

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1 "Whether it be a privilege of genius never to write one's name alike twice, even on the same day, such was certainly the fact with Shakespeare."--Mellen Chamberlain, Librarian Boston Pub. Lib., 1889.

2 In Stratford the name was undoubtedly pronounced, as it was often written, Shaxpere. It occurs in this form one hundred and four times in the town records. The last syllable, also often written pur, was uttered like the first, with a short vowel sound.

3 It is significant that in many of the quartos a hyphen is inserted between the syllables (Shake-speare), perhaps (as it has been suggested) to give the name a fanciful turn, and distinguish it in another slight respect from that of the actor. The true explanation, however, may lie deeper than this. In Grecian mythology, Pallas Athene (the Roman Minerva) was the goddess of wisdom, philosophy, poetry, and the fine arts. Her original name was simply Pallas, a word derived from p£llein, signifying "to brandish or shake." She was generally represented with a spear. Athens, the home of the drama, was under the protection of this Spear-shaker.

 

13

 

III. Shakspere's handwriting, of which we have five specimens in his signatures to legal documents, was not only almost illegible, but singularly uncultivated and grotesque, wholly at variance with the description given of the manuscripts of the plays in the preface to the folio edition of 1623. The editorial encomium was in these words:--

"His mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers." [Italics our own.]

In this connection we reproduce the five autographs of Shakspere, the only acknowledged specimens of his penmanship in existence, in fac-simile.1

IV. No letter written by him has come down to us, and but one (soliciting a loan of money) addressed to him. An inspection of his autograph is alone sufficient to explain the paucity of his correspondence, if not its absolute non-existence.

_________

 

In our age such a signature would be understood at once as a pseudonym.

1 The Public Library of the City of Boston contains a volume of North's Plutarch of 1603, in which is inscribed on a fly-leaf the name of "Wilm. Shakspeare." Concerning this signature the following statement is made in one of the official bulletins of the association:

"The field of comparison of the library signature with the known originals is narrow, being limited to those written between 1613 and 1616, all of which show such a lack of facility in handwriting as would almost preclude the possibility of Shakespeare's having written the dramas attributed to him."--Mellen Chamberlain, Librarian, 1889.

 

14

SHAKESPERE'S SIGNATURES

 

V. In the dedication of the 'Venus and Adonis,' published in 1593, Shakespeare calls that poem the "first heir" of his invention. This makes it antedate the Plays. Accordingly Richard Grant White sets it down as written in 1584-5, before Shakespeare left Stratford. Gervinus, also, assigns it to the same early date.

The 'Venus and Adonis' is a product of the highest culture. It is prefixed with a Latin quotation from Ovid,1 and is written throughout in the purest, most elegant and scholarly English of that day. Hazlitt compares it to an ice-house, "almost as hard, as glittering, and as cold." Is it possible that in a town where six only of nineteen aldermen and burgesses could write their names, where the habits of the people were so inconceivably filthy that John

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1 "Taken from a poem of which there existed at the time no English version."--Prof. Baynes in Fraser's Mag., 1880.

"It is hardly possible that the Amores of Ovid, whence he derived his earliest motto, could have been one of his schoolbooks."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

 

15
 "The 'Venus and Adonis' and the 'Lucrece' bear palpable tokens of college elegance and predilection, both in story and in treatment. The air of niceness and stiffness, peculiar to the schools, invests these efforts of the youthful genius with almost unmistakable signs of having been written by a schoolman."--Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke.

"It is extremely improbable that a poem so highly finished and so completely devoid of patois as the 'Venus and Adonis' could have been produced under the circumstances of his then domestic surroundings."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

"There was a grammar school in Stratford; but the idea of anybody being taught English grammar in an English grammar school (let alone the English language) in those days, is utterly inconceivable. There was no such branch, and mighty little of anything in its place except birchen rods, the church catechism, the criss-cross row, and a few superfluous Latin declensions out of Lily's Accidence. Nor did Shakespeare hear the limpid, urban English of the poems and sonnets at home or in Stratford streets. . . . Members of Parliament could not understand each other's rustic patois, says Mr. White. Even the soldiers in Elizabeth's army could not comprehend the word of command, unless given by officers of their own country or shire town. . . . But Shakespeare, uncouth rustic as he was, writes, as the 'first heir' of his invention, the most elegant, sumptuous, and sensuous verses that English literature possesses to-day."--Appleton Morgan.1

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1 It is well known that Dr. Morgan, after writing 'The Shakespearean Myth,' repudiated the conclusions to which that book naturnaturally leads. He is now the orthodox president of a Shakespeare Society in New York, still asserting, however, that he knows of no misstatement of fact in the work above mentioned.

 IMAGE

 

 

 

19

 

VI. It is believed that Shakspere left his home in Stratford and went to London some time between 1585 and 1587. He was then twenty-one to twenty-three years of age. One of the first of the "Shake-speare" Plays to be produced on the stage was 'Hamlet,' and the date not later than 1589.1 It was founded on a foreign tragedy of which no translation then existed in English. As first presented, it was probably in an imperfect form, having been subsequently rewritten and enlarged into what is now, perhaps, the greatest individual work of genius the human mind has produced.2 To assume that Shak-Shakspere, father of William, was publicly prosecuted on two occasions for defiling the street in front of his house, where the common speech was a patois rude to the verge of barbarism, and where, probably, outside of the school and church, not a half-dozen books, as White admits, were to be found among the whole population,--is it possible that in such a town a lad of twenty composed this beautiful epic?

1 In an epistle to university students, published in Greene's 'Menaphon' in 1589, Thomas Nash refers to 'Hamlet' as a play then familiar to them. That this early 'Hamlet' was Shake-speare's there can be no reasonable doubt, for we can trace it in contemporary notices all along from the time of its production in Oxford and Cambridge to its appearance in the Shake-speare quarto of 1603, where we read on the title-page that the play had often been acted in the presence of the two universities. In 1591 Nash alludes to the famous soliloquy, "To be or not to be," and says that it had been a subject of declamation on the public stage for five years preceding, or since 1586. Gabriel Harvey, writing in 1598, distinctly ascribes the 'Venus and Adonis' and 'Lucrece' and the play of 'Hamlet' to the same person. The most striking feature of the play from the first is the part taken by the ghost; this was not in the original legend, and is so extraordinary that, wherever it appears, we must ascribe it to the creative genius of Shake-speare himself. The play was therefore written in 1585-6, probably before William Shakspere left Stratford. Bacon was then about twenty-five years of age, had been highly educated at home and abroad, and was a briefless barrister at Gray's Inn.

2 It has rivals for this honor:--

"Othello is, perhaps, the greatest work in the world."--Macaulay.

"King Lear, the most wondrous work of human genius."--Richard Grant White.

"Macbeth, perhaps the greatest tragedy of ancient or modern times."--E. P. Whipple.

 

 

18

 

"When at twenty-two years of age he fled from Stratford to London, we may be sure that he had never seen half-a-dozen books other than his horn-book, his Latin Accidence, and a Bible. Probably there were not half-a-dozen others in all Stratford."--Richard Grant White.

"There were certainly not more than two or three dozen books, if so many, in the whole town."1--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines.

_________

 

Of the curriculum of the Stratford Grammar School in the sixteenth century there is no record. We can judge of it only by the intellectual light which it shed upon the people around it, most of whom, as a matter of fact, could not read or write. Speculations drawn from the study of other schools of the same grade in more favored parts of the kingdom, such as Professor Baynes indulges in, are of little value.

1 Here are two views of Stratford:--

1. The ideal:

"As his [Shakspere's] stout gelding mounted Edgehill [on the road to London], and he turned in his saddle to take a parting look at the familiar landscape he was leaving, he would behold what Speed, in his enthusiasm, calls 'another Eden.'"--Prof. Baynes in Encyc. Brit., XXI. 739.

2. The real:

"A dirty village. . . . The streets foul with offal, mud, muck-heaps, and reeking stable refuse."--Richard Grant White.

"Shakespeare's home was in the vicinity of middens, fetid watercourses, mud walls, and piggeries."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

"The most dirty, unseemly, ill-paved, wretched-looking town in all Britain."--David Garrick, 1769.

"Stratford was a perfect hot-bed of religious and domestic strife."--C. Elliot Browne in Fraser's Mag., 1874.

As a specimen of the popular style in which the life of Shakspere is often written, we append the following:--

"Four years were spent by Shakespeare [after leaving London] in this dignified retirement, and the history of literature scarcely presents another such picture of calm felicity and satisfied ambition."--Cleveland's Compendium of English Literature for the Use of Schools and Colleges, p. 129.
______

 

22

 

 

VII. His residence in London extended over a period of twenty-five years, during which time, according to popular belief, he wrote thirty-seven dramas, one hundred and fifty-four sonnets, and two or three minor poems, besides accumulating a fortune the income of which has been estimated at £400 (equivalent in our time and in our money to $24,000) per annum.1 Such an instance of mental fecundity the world has never seen, before or since.

At the same time, he was personally unknown in literary and political circles.

 
"Of his eminent countrymen, Raleigh, Sydney, Spenser, Bacon, Cecil, Walsingham, Coke, Camden, Hooker, Drake, Hobbes, Inigo Jones, Herbert of Cherbury, Laud, Pym, Hampden, Selden, Walton, Wotton, and Donne may be properly reckoned as his contemporaries, and yet there is no evidence whatever that he was personally known to either of these men, or to any others of less note among the statesmen, scholars, soldiers, and artists of his day, excepting a few of his fellow-craftsmen."--Richard Grant White's Memoirs of William Shakespeare, p. cxi.

"The prose works published in the latter part of the sixteenth and the early part of the seventeenth centuries contain abundant notices of every poet of distinction save Shakespeare, whose name and works are rarely and only slightly mentioned. . . . It is plain that the bard of our admiration was unknown to the men of that age."--Ingleby

________

1 "The relative value of money in Shakespeare's time and ours may be roughly computed at one-twelfth in articles of trade, and one-twentieth in landed or house property."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

 

23

 

."Since the constellation of great men who appeared in Greece in the time of Pericles, there was never any such society; yet their genius failed them to find out the best head in the universe."--Emerson.

 

Imagine the inhabitants of Lilliput paying no attention to Gulliver!

VIII. The end of his career was as remarkable as its beginning. In 1610 or thereabouts, while he was still comparatively young (at the age of forty-six), he retired from London and passed the remainder of his days among his old neighbors in Stratford,1 loaning money and brewing beer for sale.2 His intellectual life seems to have terminated as abruptly as it had begun. The most careful scrutiny fails to show that he took the slightest interest in the fate of the plays left behind him, or in his own reputation as the author of them. Some of these productions were still in manuscript, unknown even to the stage, and not given to the public, either for fame or profit, till spere, under the circumstances in which he was then placed, at so early an age, fresh from a country town where there were few or no books, and from a family circle whose members could not read or write, was the author of this play, would seem to involve a miracle as great as that imputed to Joshua,--in other words, a suspension of the laws of cause and effect.

_________
1 "Could go down to Stratford and live there for years, only collecting his dividends from the Globe Theatre, lending money on mortgage, and leaning over his gate to chat and bandy quips with neighbors."--Lowell's Among My Books, p. 172.

"At a period of life when Chaucer began to write the 'Canterbury Tales,' Shakspere, according to his biographers, was suddenly and utterly to cease to write. We cannot believe it."--Charles Knight.

2 Evidently a wholesale business, for a bill against a single person for malt delivered within the space of about two months, called for one pound nineteen shillings and ten pence, an amount equivalent now to one hundred and twenty dollars. This bill, including an item of two shillings, money loaned, was put in suit in 1604, the year in which the perfected 'Hamlet' was published.thirteen years after his retirement. Such indifference to the children of his brain, and so complete a seclusion in the prime of his manhood from the refinements of life, present to us a picture, not only painful to contemplate, but one that stultifies human nature itself.

IX. He was exceedingly litigious. He brought suits against several persons for money loaned, in one instance for a sum as small as two shillings, and in another, failing to recover from the debtor, he relentlessly pursued the debtor's bondsman for a year. He was also plaintiff in an action against the town of Stratford in the matter of the tithes. There is reason to believe that he kept an attorney constantly beside him, domiciled in his house.1

 
"The biographer must record these facts, because the literary antiquaries have unearthed, produced, and pitilessly printed them as new particulars in the life of Shakespeare. We hunger and we receive these husks; we open our mouths for food, and we break out teeth against these stones."--Richard Grant White's Memoirs of Shakespeare, p. 88.

 

X. We have conclusive evidence that he was ambitious for a title, and that for the purpose of acquiring one for his father, and indirectly for himself, he made representations to the Herald's College which were not only false but ridiculous. The grant was refused.

 
"Toward the close of the year 1599 a renewed attempt was made by the poet to obtain a grant of coat-armor to his father. It was now proposed to impale the arms of Shakespeare with those of Arden, and on each occasion ridiculous statements were made respecting the claims of the two families."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, p. 87.

 

_________

1 Thomas Greene, attorney, "residing under some unknown conditions at New Place."--Halliwell-Phillipps27

 

 

The officer at the head of the college, Sir William Dethick, was charged with connivance at the forgery under the influence of a bribe.

 

 

22

 

"Of his eminent countrymen, Raleigh, Sydney, Spenser, Bacon, Cecil, Walsingham, Coke, Camden, Hooker, Drake, Hobbes, Inigo Jones, Herbert of Cherbury, Laud, Pym, Hampden, Selden, Walton, Wotton, and Donne may be properly reckoned as his contemporaries, and yet there is no evidence whatever that he was personally known to either of these men, or to any others of less note among the statesmen, scholars, soldiers, and artists of his day, excepting a few of his fellow-craftsmen."--Richard Grant White's Memoirs of William Shakespeare, p. cxi.

"The prose works published in the latter part of the sixteenth and the early part of the seventeenth centuries contain abundant notices of every poet of distinction save Shakespeare, whose name and works are rarely and only slightly mentioned. . . . It is plain that the bard of our admiration was unknown to the men of that age."--Ingleby.

________
1 "The relative value of money in Shakespeare's time and ours may be roughly computed at one-twelfth in articles of trade, and one-twentieth in landed or house property."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

 

23

 

"Since the constellation of great men who appeared in Greece in the time of Pericles, there was never any such society; yet their genius failed them to find out the best head in the universe."--Emerson.
 

 

_________
1 "Could go down to Stratford and live there for years, only collecting his dividends from the Globe Theatre, lending money on mortgage, and leaning over his gate to chat and bandy quips with neighbors."--Lowell's Among My Books, p. 172.

"At a period of life when Chaucer began to write the 'Canterbury Tales,' Shakspere, according to his biographers, was suddenly and utterly to cease to write. We cannot believe it."--Charles Knight.

2 Evidently a wholesale business, for a bill against a single person for malt delivered within the space of about two months, called for one pound nineteen shillings and ten pence, an amount equivalent now to one hundred and twenty dollars. This bill, including an item of two shillings, money loaned, was put in suit in 1604, the year in which the perfected 'Hamlet' was published.

 

24

IMAGE SH ST

30

 

XIII. Shakspere made no mention of any literary property in his will. He was careful to specify, among other bequests, his "second-best bed," but not a book, not one of his own books, not even a manuscript, though one-half of all the works that bear his name, including the immortal drama of 'Macbeth,' 'The Tempest,' and 'Julius Cæsar,' were unpublished, and some of them even unknown, at the time of his death.1

 

"He had no books. His will shows the fact. He leaves houses, lands, messuages, orchards, gardens, wearing apparel, furniture, a sword, a silver and gilt punch-bowl, a second-best bed for his wife--no books. He had twenty thousand dollars a year, and not a volume. The man who wrote 'Love's Labor's Lost,' so learned, so academic, so scholastic in expression and allusion that it is unfit for popular representation, the man whose ample page is rich with the transfigured spoils of ages, that man lived without a library!"--O'Connor's Hamlet's Note Book, p. 75.

 

XIV. We have two portraits of Shakspere, each possessing historically some claims to our confidence. One is the famous bust in the church at Stratford, placed there within seven years after Shakspere's death. This is, in all probability, a correct likeness. That it was not set up, however, by any one in Stratford is evident from the fact that Shakspere's body is said in one of the inscriptions to be "within this monument," whereas we know that the body was buried under the floor of the chancel, at some distance from the bust, and with one other grave intervening between them.1 Concerning the bust itself we quote as follows:--

 
"What a painful stare, with its goggle eyes and gaping mouth! The expression of the face has been credited with humor, bonhommie, hilarity, and jollity. To me it id decidedly clownish."--Norris' Portraits of Shakespeare, p. 18.

"No one can look upon its manifest defects without wishing to know if he who wrote for all time did really inhabit such a body as this."--Ibid.

"The skull has the smoothness and roundness of a boy's marble, and about as much individuality or expression. . . . The cheeks are puffy and spiritless; the mustaches are curled up in a manner never found except on some city exquisite; . . . finally, the expression of the eyes, so far as they have any, is simply that of easy, rollicking good nature, not overburdened with sense or intellect."--Prof. J. S. Hart in Scribner's Monthly, July, 1874.

"It has no more individuality or power than a boy's marble."--Friswell's Life Portraits of Wm. Shakespeare, p. 10.

Malone's work, in covering the bust with a coat of white paint, "did not altogether obliterate the semblance of an intellectual human being, and this is more than can be said of the miserable travesty which now distresses the eye of the pilgrim."--Halliwell-Phillipps.

"The painted figure-head-like bust is hideous."--Richard Grant White.

_________

1 "It is not likely that these verses [under the bust] were composed by a Stratfordian."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, I. 285.

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1 "It is simply silly to talk, as the commentators will, of Shakespeare's omitting to mention them in his testaments because his copyrights had expired, or because he or his representatives had sold them to the Globe Theatre. . . . These plays had been entered on the Stationers' books, and, once so entered, it was impossible to alienate them to the Globe Theatre or to any other purchaser, except by registry of later date. . . . The record of alienation could have been made in but one place, and it was never made there."--Appleton Morgan.

The cicerone at Stratford informs visitors that the wicked manuscripts were destroyed, after Shakspere's death, by his puritanical children!

 

31
 
 

32

image SHAKESP

 

 

34

 

The other portrait is the Droeshout engraving on the title-page of the first folio, than which it would be impossible, we think, to imagine anything more hideous. It is, without doubt, a caricature. For once the critics are agreed:--

 

"A hard, wooden, staring thing."--Richard Grant White.
"Even in its best state, it is such a monstrosity that I, for one, do not believe that it had any trustworthy exemplar."--Ingleby's The Man and the Book.

"It is not known from what it was copied, and many think it unlike any human being."--Norris' Portraits of Shakespeare, p. 18.

"The hair is straight, combed down the sides of the face, and bunched over the ears; the forehead is disproportionately high; the top of the head bald; the face has the wooden expression familiar in the Indians used as signs for tobacconists' shops, accompanied by an idiotic stare that would be but a sorry advertisement for the humblest establishment in that trade."--Appleton Morgan.

 

Of the new portrait of Shakspere, found in the house of the Town Clerk of Stratford in 1861, and preserved among the treasures of the birthplace, Mr. Friswell says:--

 "As a suggestion of the face of Shakspere it would be very good, save for the weakness, want of power, and, indeed, vacuity which is to be seen in it."--p. 57.
"I have very little, if any, doubt that this portrait was copied from the bust, at the very earliest, some time in the first half of the last century, but more probably about the time of the jubilee in 1769."1--Halliwell-Phillipps.
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1 The number of different portraits of Shakspere in existence exceeds three hundred, all of them, with the exception of those above mentioned, purely ideal. It is worthy of remark, however, that out of these has come, by a kind of evolution, a type which not only is characteristic and popular, but which bears a singular resemblance to the features of Francis Bacon. It would seem as though artists were unconsciously striving to get the two heads, as Mr. Donnelly says, "under one hat."

 

35

 

XV. So far as we know, Shakspere never claimed the authorship of the plays.1 He permitted his name to be used, doubtless for good and sufficient reasons, and in accordance with a not unusual custom at that period,2 on the title-pages of fourteen of them printed in his lifetime, though they were all (thirty-seven in number) ascribed to him unmistakably in the collective editions that appeared after his death.3 His dramatist and oblivion; with Bacon, between fame as a dramatist and fame as a statesman, the still greater one (in his own estimation) of a philosopher being assured.

_________
 

1 "Shakespeare never claimed the plays as his own. . . . . He was unquestionably indifferent about them, and died without seeing the most remarkable series of intellectual works that ever issued from the brain of man in the custody of type."--The Athenæum (London), Sept. 13, 1856.

"I pretend to no special erudition in English literature, but have read from boyhood that Shakespeare never claimed the tragedies as his, nor kept any copy of them."--Prof. Francis W. Newman in The Echo, Dec. 31, 1887.

"Here are plays constantly pirated, and yet it is impossible to discover that anybody, or a legal representative of anybody, named Shakespeare, ever set up a claim to proprietorship in any of these works."--Appleton Morgan.

2 John Rogers published an edition of the Bible in 1537 with the statement that it was "truly and purely translated into English by Thomas Matthew." The name of Thomas Matthew was a fictitious one, the work itself being substantially a reprint from Tyndale and Coverdale. It is still known, however, as Matthew's Bible.

3 It has been suggested that Bacon could not have voluntarily deprived himself of the honor of having written the plays, if he were the author of them; this is exactly what astonishes us in Shakspere.

"But for them [Heminge and Condell] it is more than likely that such of his works as had remained to that time [1623] unprinted, would have been irrecoverably lost, and among them were 'Julius Cæsar,' 'The Tempest,' and 'Macbeth.'"--Lowell's Among My Books, p. 167.
36 

 

With Shakspere, the choice would have lain between fame as a reticence on the subject, especially after his retirement to Stratford, is itself significant. His fellow-townsmen, it is probable, never witnessed one of these productions on the stage. Neither his local fame (if he had any) as a dramatist, nor the influence of his wealth and position (if exerted by him) overcame their repugnance to theatrical representations, for in 1602 the board of aldermen prohibited any performance of the kind in the town under a penalty of ten shillings. In 1612, when Shakspere's reputation among his neighbors should have been at its zenith, the penalty was increased to ten pounds. The key to the situation lies in his stolidity or in his sense of honor.

XVI. The references to Shakspere, direct and indirect, in contemporaneous literature (1592-1616), have been carefully collated and published. They number (reckoning all that have been claimed, some of which are undoubtedly spurious, and only eighteen refer to Shakspere by name) one hundred and twenty-seven, and may be classified as follows:--

Those made to his works, one hundred and twenty; those made to him as a man, seven.1 The citations in the first class are, of course, irrelevant to our purpose. In the second, we find statements from the following named persons: Thomas Nash, 1589;

_________

1 For the testimonies of Heminge, Condell, and Leonard Digges, given in 1623, see page 148 et seq. These ten contemporaries comprise the whole number of those whose references to Shakspere personally have come down to us,--seven during his lifetime, and three after his death. For Chettle's alleged testimony, see p. 150.

 

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Robert Greene, 1592; John Manningham, 1601; two anonymous writers, about 1605; Thomas Heywood, 1612; and Ben Jonson, 1616. Nash calls Shakspere an idiot; Greene, a Jack-at-all-trades; Manningham makes him the hero of an amour; the anonymous writers refer to his wealth, to his landed proprietorship, and (one of them) to his aspirations for a title; Heywood is indignant because two of his own poems had been published by a piratical printer as Shakspere's, although (he affirms) without the latter's consent; and Ben Jonson caricatures him as a Poet-Ape.

With the exception of Manningham and Heywood, who make no reference to the subject, all these writers concur in attributing some sort of imposture to Shakspere. They seem to recognize in him a pretence of authorship which excites their contempt. Greene makes his statement from a dying bed, addressing it to the playwrights Marlowe, Nash (or Lodge), and Peele, as though they also were familiar with the truth of what he writes. Greene's sincerity cannot be successfully impugned.1 We quote these testimonials as follows:--

 
A. "Amongst this kind of men that repose eternity in the mouth of a player [as distinguished from plays in print] I can but engross some deep-read schoolmen or grammarians [persons educated at grammar-schools] who have no more learning in their skull than will serve to take up a commodity [to keep a tradesman's books] nor art in their brains;" "idiot art-masters, who think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank verse, . . . and translate two-penny pamphlets from the Italian, without any knowledge even of its articles. . . . It may be the ingrafted overflow of some kill-cow conceit,"--Nash's Letter prefixed to Green's 'Menaphon,' 1589.

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1 It is painful to read the harsh criticisms on Robert Greene's character made with one consent by all Shakspereans. Greene differed from his associates, so far as we can see, chiefly in one particular, viz.: he repented of his follies and with his dying breath tried to induce others to follow his example. But then, at the same time, he pronounced Shakspere an impostor. Hinc illæ lacrymæ!

 

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For interpretation of the above, we quote from a noted Shaksperean:--

 
"Nash was in demand for his style, and his business was to reduce to pointed form the matter furnished him by others. Hence his publications of 1589 must be supposed to represent, not the fruits of his own experience, but the ideas decanted into him. Greene may be assumed to have crammed him with what had to be said as introduction to Menaphon; and the identity of idea, as well as of phrase, between Nash's epistle and things which Greene subsequently wrote will prove this assumption to be correct. We shall see that the actor-author, here attacked by Nash, is assailed in the same phrases as the one attacked by Greene three years later, in his 'Groatsworth of Wit.' But in the latter case it is Shakspere who is thus assailed. Therefore it is probably, also, Shakspere in the former case."--Simpson's School of Shakspere, II. 355.
 

The following specifications, drawn from points in Nash's epistle, will make this clearer:--

1. Eternity in the mouth of a player, and not in printed plays.

The plays of "Shake-speare" had then been coming out on the stage for several years, but not one of them had been printed. The earliest quarto edition of a "Shake-speare" play, of which we have any record, bears date 1591.

2. I can but engross some deep-read schoolmen or grammarians, that is, persons educated at grammar-schools.

 

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Shakspere had had no opportunity to acquire an education beyond that afforded by the grammar-school of his native village.

3. The swelling bombast of bragging blank verse.

"Shake-speare," not Marlowe, was the first to introduce blank verse on a large scale into the English drama. Not only was Marlowe three years younger, but he began to write five years later, than "Shake-speare." It is time that the contrary opinion, a well-worn fiction, should be set at rest.

4. Translate two-penny pamphlets from the Italian, without any knowledge even of its articles.

The plays drawn from Italian sources or laid in Italian scenes and antedating Nash's letter, were 'The Comedy of Errors,' 'The Taming of a Shrew,' and 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona.'

5. The ingrafted overflow of some kill-cow conceit.

To kill the cow or the calf was, in the slang phrase of the day, to make extemporary speeches during a performance on the stage. It was said of Shakspere, by a ridiculous introversion of facts, that in his younger days, when apprenticed as a butcher to his father, "he would kill a calf in high style."

The whole gravamen of Nash's charge is that some contemporary playwright, having no education beyond that of a "country grammar-school," unable to read Italian or "even latinize his neck-verse," an idiot art-master, was endangering university scholarship by fraudulent practices.1

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1 The prominent dramatists of the Elizabethan age were university men. Marlowe, Greene, Nash, Fletcher, and Heywood were educated at Cambridge; Chapman, Peele, Daniel, Beaumont, Lodge, Lyly, Drayton, Ford, and Massinger, at Oxford. Ben Jonson received classical instruction at the famous Westminster school, supplemented, it is believed, by a course at Cambridge.

 

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B. "An upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapped 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 Factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country."--Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592).1

"Throughout we see Greene's determination not to recognize Shakspere as a man capable of doing anything by himself. . . . He will not own that the man is capable of having really done that which passes for his."--Simpson's School of Shakspere (1878), II. 389.

C. "Thou shalt learn to be frugal, . . . to feed upon all men, . . . and, when thou feelest thy purse well lined, buy thee some place in the country."--Ratsie's Ghost (anon.), 1605.

D. "With mouthing words that better wits have framed,

They purchase lands and now esquires are made."2

Return from Parnassus (anon.), 1606.

 

E. "Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,

Whose works are e'en the frippery of wit,

From brokerage is become so bold a thief

As we, the robbed, leave rage and pity it.

At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,

Buy the reversion of old plays. Now grown

To a little wealth and credit in the scene,

He takes up all, makes each man's wit his own,

 

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 1 In 1587 Greene wrote as follows of the author of 'Fair Em,' an anonymous production once attributed to Shakespeare:--

"The ass is made proud by this underhand brokery. And he that cannot write true English, without the help of clerks of parish churches, will needs make himself the father of interludes."--Preface to 'Farewell to Folly.'

"Greene probably did not mean to accuse Shakespeare of theft, but only to charge him, a mere actor and an uneducated peasant, with intruding among authors."--Richard Simpson.

2 No other actor is known at that time to have possessed large landed property, or aspired to any mark of social distinction.

 

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And told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish, gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose 't was first, and after times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours."

-Ben Jonson.

 

This famous epigram, by Ben Jonson, was first printed with many others of his in 1616, but was written several years earlier, perhaps, as Mr. Thomas W. White in 'Our English Homer' conjectures, in 1598. That Shakspere is meant appears not only from other and similar references to him from the same pen (to be cited hereafter)1 but also from the following considerations:--

1. This "Poet-Ape" masqueraded as the "chief" dramatist of the age.

2. He had acquired wealth.

3. He had the habit of appropriating to his own use, freely and unscrupulously, the writings of others.

We add one more testimony of the same tenure. We omitted it from our computation, given above, for the reason that it is not personal enough to fall directly within the scope of our argument. Nevertheless, it confirms in an unmistakable manner the existence at that time of some great imposture on the stage:--

 

F. "Our age doth produce many such, one of the greatest being a stage-player, a man with sufficient ingenuity for imposition."--Confessio Fraternitatis, Chap. XII. (anon. 1615).2

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1 See pp. 93-108.

2 It has been contended by a German writer that the person referred to as a stage-player by the author of the Confessio was one Heinrich Khunrath; but Khunrath was not a stage-player and, at the time when the Confessio was published, had been dead fourteenyears. The theory seems to be utterly without foundation. It appears, also, that in the next edition of the book this passage was omitted, as though some one, influential in Rosicrucian circles, considered it dangerous, even in its obscurity.

  

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Excepting some further statements made by Ben Jonson (which we shall give in their proper place), and apart from the official records of baptism, marriage, and death, of transfers of property, of suits at law, and of two fraudulent and abortive applications for a title, these are all the references to be found in contemporaneous literature to William Shakspere, the man. Every one of them implies that he was an impostor. Not a word, not the remotest hint from friend or foe within the circle of his acquaintance, of a transcendent genius, or, indeed, of any literary ability whatever!

 
"I cannot marry this fact to his verse."--Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"A mere fabulous story, a blind and extravagant error."--Schlegel.

"To this individuality we tack on a universal genius, which is about as reasonable as it would be to take the controlling power of gravity from the sun and attach it to one of the asteroids."--Whipple's Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, p. 36.

"A miraculous [sic] miracle."--Richard Grant White.

"What! are we to have miracles in sport? . . . Does God choose idiots by whom to convey divine truth to man?"--Coleridge.

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Return to Table of Contents

 

I. THE AUTHOR OF THE "SHAKE-SPEARE" PLAYS . . . . . 1

II. WILLIAM SHAKSPERE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

III. FRANCIS BACON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

IV. OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118

V. COINCIDENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184

VI. DISILLUSION, A GAIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264

VII. BIOGRAPHY OF SHAKSPERE IN FACT AND IN FICTION . . 266

VIII. SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280

INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283

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LIST OF AUTHORS CONSULTED.

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

 
 

 

 

 

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