BIOGRAPHY OF SHAKSPERE.
1564, April 26. Baptized at Stratford-on-Avon.
SURMISES, LEGENDS, AND
MYTHS STATED AS FACTS
BY THE BIOGRAPHERS.
1 It is fortunate, in one sense, for Shakspere that so little is known of his life; the critics can create him to suit themselves. On this point one of the latter takes us into his confidence, for he says (Wise's 'Shakespeare, his Birthplace and its Neighborhood'), "it is best for us to draw our own ideal." Mr. Lowell furnishes us with the first specimen of this kind of carpentry.
Shakspere's lineage baffles research. Of his grandparents one only is known, Robert Arden, not of the gentry, as often said, but a husbandman. Richard Shakspere, of Snitterfield, also a husbandman, is supposed to have been his paternal grandfather, simply because two young men, John and Henry Shakspere, were living at the same place at the same time and "of the age which Richard's sons might be." This John Shakspere is likewise merely supposed to have been the reputed poet's father. In the mathematical formulæ of Shakespeareans, however, two suppositions combined equal a certainty; whereas it is evident that the strength of a conclusion depending upon repeated hypotheses is in inverse ratio to the number on which it rests. The maiden names of the two grandmothers are irrecoverably lost.
1571-78. "Received the technical or scholastic part of his education in the Grammar School of his native town."1--Prof. Baynes, Encyc. Brit.
" " "Remained at school for at least six years."2 --Ibid.
" " "At school Shakespeare acquired some knowledge of Latin and of Greek."3--Richard Grant White.
" " "Taken by his fatherto see [dramatic] performances at Stratford."4--Prof. Baynes.
"Shakspere was not on his mother's side of Norman blood, as some have concluded."--Richard Grant White.
1 No record. First mentioned by Rowe in 1709 on the authority of Thomas Betterton, the actor, who visited Stratford in the latter part of the seventeenth century, or more than one hundred years after Shakspere had attained school age.
How much information Betterton gathered up may be inferred from the character of Rowe's Biography, which was largely based upon it, and in which, as Malone says, there are eleven statements of fact, two of them true, one doubtful, and eight false.
2 No record. Stated on the authority of Betterton.
3 An inference only, derived from the plays. No evidence exists that he attended any school whatever. All the traditions respecting his early life, his domestic surroundings and the indications derived from his handwriting afford presumptive proof that he was uneducated.
4 Wholly imaginary.
1582, Nov. 28. Licensed to marry Anne
1583, May 26. His daughter Susanna baptized.
1584, Feb. 2. Hamnet and Judith, twins, baptized. bride, in all the charm of her sunny girlhood; and they may be said to have grown up together."1--Prof. Baynes.
1582, Dec. "Married."2--Richard Grant White.
1585. "The substantial facts in the story [of the deer-stealing] are that Shakspere in his youth was fond of woodland sports, and that in one of his hunting adventures he came into col-
1 Wholly imaginary and absurd. She was nearly eight years his senior, and "might have dandled him in his infancy," as White says, "upon her knee."
"The marriage-bond of November, 1582, includes the only evidences respecting Anne Hathaway during her maidenhood that have yet been discovered."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, Vol. II. p. 183.
"There is unhappily no tradition indicating the birthplace of Shakspere's Anne upon which the least reliance can be placed."--Ibid., p. 189.
In the entry on the Episcopal register for a marriage license, November 27, 1582, the bride is called Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton; in the bond given the next day to expedite the banns, the name appears as Anne Hathwey of Stratford. The first mention of the cottage at Shottery, now shown to visitors as her maiden residence, was made by Samuel Ireland (father of the celebrated forger), in a book entitled "Picturesque Views on the Warwickshire Avon," in 1795, or nearly two and a half centuries after Anne Hathwey's birth.
2 No record. A pure invention as to date.
1592. In London. His name parodied as Shake-scene in Greene's 'Groatsworth of Wit.' lision with Sir Thomas
Lucy's keepers."1-- Prof. Baynes.
1585-87. "With 'Venus and Adonis' written,2 if nothing else, Shakespeare went to London."--Richard Grant White.
1592. "He had already tested his faculty for acting by occasional essays on the provincial stage."3--Prof.Baynes.
1 Reported as a tradition by Betterton, Capell, and Oldys, about a century after the alleged event. Based probably on the first scene of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' and therefore fictitious.
2 Unsupported by testimony of any kind and incredible. Will it be believed that, in inserting the qualifying clause, "if nothing else," White actually had in mind the tragedy of 'Hamlet'?
3 A good illustration of the manner in which Shakspere's life has been written. In a prior part of the same article, Professor Baynes says: "It is not improbable that in connection with some of the companies [on their tours into the country], Shakespeare may have tried his hand both as poet and actor before leaving Stratford. . . . He may have been pressed by the actors to appear in some secondary part on the stage." It is not often that conjecture and fact are brought so closely together. Usually, it has taken two authors, one succeeding the other, to get a fact by this process into Shakspere's life.
Mr. Lowell found a similar artifice in Masson's 'Life of Milton': "What he puts by way of a query on page 402 has become downright certainty nine pages farther on."--Among My Books, p. 267.
A curious instance of this easily besetting sin in Shakespearean commentators is found in the Rev. William Harness' 'Life of Shakspere.' In 1768 Capell advanced the absurd hypothesis that Shakspere was afflicted with lameness, basing it on the following lines in the 'Sonnets':--
1592. "Chettle apologizes to and commends Shakpere, saying 'he was as sorry as if the original fault had been his own, to have offended a man so courteous, so gifted, and one who, by his worth and his ability, had risen in the esteem of many of his superi- ors in rank and station.' . . . Thus Shakspere, within six or seven years of his departure from Stratford, a fugitive adventurer, had won admiration from the public, respect from his superiors, etc."1--Richard Grant White.
1593. "The Earl of Southampton . . . had a special fondness for the drama; and, being a constant attendant up-
"So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite."--No. XXXVII.
"Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt."--No. LXXXIX.
Fifty-seven years afterward, Mr. Harness, without mentioning Capell, proclaimed the lameness as a fact, whereupon the announcement at once went the rounds of the newspaper press that three of England's greatest poets, Scott, Byron, and Shakspere, were cripples!
1 A mistake. Chettle neither made an apology to Shakspere nor commended him. The entire fabric, venerable with age, rests on a misapprehension. See pp. 150-153.
1596, Aug. 11. His son, Hamnet, buried at Stratford.
1597. Bought New Place in Stratford.
1598, Oct. 25. Returned on the rolls of Stratford as the holder (during a famine) of ten quarters of corn.
" Sold 1 load of stone to Town of Stratford for 10d. on the theatre, he saw much of Shakespeare and his plays."1-- Richard Grant White.
1593. To the Earl of Southampton Shakespeare dedicated "his 'Venus and Adonis,' although he had not asked permission to do so, as the dedication shows; and in those days and long after, without some knowledge of his man, and some opportunity of judging how he would receive the compliment, a player would not have ventured to take such a liberty with the name of a nobleman."2--Ibid.
1 As to Shakspere, wholly imaginary. Not the slightest evidence exists that Shakspere, the actor, was patronized by the Earl of Southampton.
2 A just commentary, discrediting Shakspere as the author of the poem. Southampton and Bacon were intimate friends.
1598, Feb. 4. Richard Quiney addresses a letter to Shakspere, asking a loan of £30 on security.1
1599. Applied for a grant of coat-armor to his father."2
1600. Sues John Clayton for £7, and obtains verdict.
1602. Buys two parcels of land and a cottage in Stratford.
1603. Appointed one of His Majesty's servants for theatrical performances.
1604. Sues Philip Rogers at Stratford for £1 15s. 10d. for malt delivered, including 2s. loaned.
1605. Purchases a moiety of the tithes of Stratford, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Welcombe for £440.
1599. "The patent of arms granted to his father."3--Prof. Baynes.
"King James, it is well known, honored
1 The only letter to him extant. None from him to any one ever heard of.
2 "There can hardly be any doubt that the pedigree which he constructed for himself in order to obtain a coat-of-arms from the Herald's College, and so enter the ranks of 'gentlemen,' was 'wholesale lying,' and that Shakspere knew it was."--Thomas Davidson.
"It was for this social consideration that he toiled and schemed."--Richard Grant White.
3 The application appears to have been rejected. No record of a grant on the books of the Herald's College has ever been published. "It seems that the grant was not ratified."--Henry Morley, English Writers, Vol. X. p. 498. (1893.)
1607, June 5. His daughter Susanna marries Dr. John Hall, at Stratford.
1608. Sues John Adden- broke of Stratford, obtaining judgment for £6, together with £1 4s. costs. Addenbroke not being found, sues his bondsman Hornby.
" Present, as sponsor, at baptism of son of Henry Walker, in Stratford.
1610. Purchases 20 acres of pasture land in Stratford. Shakespeare so far as to write to him with his own hand."1-- Schlegel.
1608. He was in the habit of visiting at several titled houses, amongst others those of the Earl of Bedford and Sir John Harrington."2--Prof. Baynes.
"The only known volume that certainly belonged to Shakspere and contains his autograph is Florio's version of Montaigne's Essays in the British Museum."3--Ibid.
1 First mentioned nearly one hundred and fifty years after Shakspere's death, by Oldys, who said he received the story from Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, who in turn claimed that he received it from the notorious Sir William Davenant. Suitable only for the most robust credulity.
"There is no proof that any personal patronage was extended to Shakspere by either Elizabeth or James."--Ward's English Dramatic Literature, Vol. II. p. 279.
2 A sheer fabrication. "Of Shakspere's social life during his long residence in London we have not even a tradition."--Richard Grant White. About 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh founded the Mermaid Club, which, Mr. White says, "owes its wide celebrity and perpetual fame chiefly to Shakespeare," although (he adds naïvely) "there is no evidence that Shakspere was one of its members."
3 The alleged autograph being beyond all reasonable doubt a forgery, it is safe to say that Shakspere never possessed the book.
1612 Brings suit to protect his interest in the
tithes of corn, grain, hay, wool,
lambs, etc., of Stratford.
1613, March 10. Purchases a house in London for £140.
" March 11. Mortgages the same for £60.
" June. Mrs. Hall brings suit against John Lane for slander.2
1614, Oct. 28. Guaranteed by William Replingham against loss by enclosure of commons at Stratford.
1610-1613. "He returned to Stratford a disappointed man."1-- Richard Grant White.
1 A total error. Shakspere returned to Stratford in middle life, possessed of that which had evidently been the sole object of his ambition, a large fortune. We have no hint from any source whatever that the society of his illiterate neighbors, in a "dirty village" (White), was not perfectly congenial to him.
2 "In June, 1613, there was a tiresome bit of gossip in circulation at Stratford-on-Avon, respecting Mrs. Hall, Shakespeare's elder daughter, and Ralph Smith and John Palmer. Matters came to such a pass that Dr. Hall deemed it advisable to take proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Court against one of the persons who had slandered his wife. The case was heard at Worcester, July 15, 1613, and appears to have been conducted somewhat mysteriously, the deposition of Robert Whatcot, the poet's intimate friend, being the only evidence recorded, and throwing no substantial light on the merits of the dispute."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, p. 168.
3 Shakspere at first opposed the enclosures as contrary to his personal interests, but afterwards, on being privately guaranteed against loss by the promoter of the scheme, withdrew his opposition. The remonstrance of the town, addressed to him on behalf of the poorer classes, seems to have had no effect.
1614, Nov. 16. Comes to London.
1614, Nov. 17. Explains to Thomas Greene how far the enclosure at Welcombe will extend.1
1616, Feb. 11. His daughter Judith marries Thomas Quiney without a license.2
" Bridegroom and bride arraigned before the Ecclesiastical Court at Worcester for violation of law.
1616, March 25. Makes his will.3
"It is certain that the poet was in favor of the enclosures."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, p. 168.
"That Shakspere was accessory to an attempt to enclose the common lands of Stratford and so oppress the poor, is beyond a doubt."--Thomas Davidson, N. Y. World, 1887.
1 One of the two conversations only in which Shakspere is reported to have taken part. The other is given by Manningham.
2 "Judith's marriage with Mr. Quiney was a mysterious and hurried one. There appears to have been some reason for accelerating the event."--Halliwell-Phillipps' Outlines, p. 182.
Mr. Quiney was a liquor-dealer; he was fined by the town for profanity and for making a public nuisance of his tippling-shop.
3 "Shakspere's will was one of great particulars, making little legacies to nephews and nieces, and leaving swords and rings to friends and acquaintances; and yet his wife's name is omitted from the document in its original form, and only appears by an afterthought, in an interlineation, as if his attention had been called to the omission, and for decency's sake he would not have the mother of his children unnoticed altogether. The lack of any other bequest than the furniture of her chamber is of small moment in comparison with the slight shown by that interlineation. A second-best bed might be passed over; but what can be done with second-best thoughts?"--Richard Grant White
1616, April 23. His death.
1635, Nov. 25. Dr. Hall's death.2
1642. Mrs. Hall sells her husband's note-book under peculiar circum stances.3 1616, April. "Two of the most cherished of his companions and fellow- poets, Drayton and Ben Jonson, had paid a visit to Stratford and been entertained by Shakspere only a few days before his death."1-- Prof. Baynes.
"He had forgot her."--Malone.
"In his will he only sparingly and meanly bequeathed to her his second-best bed."--Gervinus.
1 A tradition not heard of till fifty years after Shakspere's death.
2 Dr. Hall was expelled from the corporation of Stratford in 1633.
3 Dr. Cooke, who published this note-book in 1659, states in the preface how he came into possession of it. It appears that at the beginning of the civil war, probably in 1642, he was acting as surgeon to a Roundhead troop stationed at Stratford Bridge; and, having been invited to visit New Place, was shown by Mrs. Hall some books and manuscripts that had belonged to her deceased husband. He was also informed that she had in the house some other books, once the property of a physician who had pledged them to Dr. Hall for money advanced. Then ensued the following conversation: "I told her that if I liked them I would give her the money again. Mrs. Hall then brought them forth, amongst which there was this, with another of the author's, both intended for the press. I, being acquainted with Mr. Hall's hand, told her that one or two of them were her husband's and showed them to her. She denied, I affirmed, till I perceived she began to be offended, and at last I returned her the money."
1649, July 11. Mrs. Hall's death.
1662, Feb. 9. Mrs. Quiney's death.
1669-70. Death of Elizabeth, the only grandchild and last lineal descendant of William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon.
In 1780 George Steevens wrote the following oft-quoted summary:--
"All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspere is--that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon--married and had children there--went to London, where he commenced actor and wrote poems and plays--returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried."
We venture to bring this summary to date, as follows:--
All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakspere is, that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon; married, and had children there; went to London, where he became an actor, and was reputed to be the author of poems and plays; acquired wealth; applied for a title, which was refused; invested money in real estate, and in the tithes of his native town; instituted many lawsuits; returned to Stratford; sold malt; entertained a preacher at his house, and drew on the town for one quart of claret wine and one quart of sack (20d.) for the occasion; favored a conspiracy to enclose the commons there; made his will, died, and was buried.
"There is not recorded of him [Shakspere] one noble or lovable action."--Thomas Davidson.
"An obscure and profane life."--Ralph Waldo Emerson.
"A record unadorned by a single excellence or virtue."--William O'Connor in Hamlet's Note-Book.
"I am not sure that we should not venerate Shakespeare as much if the biographers had left him undisturbed in his obscurity. To be told that he played a trick on his brother player in a licentious amour, or that he died of a drunken frolic . . . does not exactly inform us of the man who wrote 'Lear.'"--Hallam.
"Whether Bacon wrote the wonderful plays or not, I am quite sure the man Shakspere neither did nor could."--John G. Whittier.
"I am a firm believer in the Baconian theory."--Benj. F. Butler.
"I would not be surprised to find myself ranged with Mrs. Pott and Judge Holmes on the side of the philosopher against the play-actor."--Oliver Wendell Holmes.
"Any man who believes that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote 'Hamlet' or 'Lear' is a fool."--John Bright.
"Ask your own hearts, ask your common sense, to conceive the possibility of the author of the plays being . . . the anomalous, the wild, the irregular genius of our daily criticism."--Coleridge.
In a word, to look persistently to this source for the literary masterpieces of all time is to illustrate that subtle and practically unlimited power of the human will to ignore, in the face of consequences deemed objectionable, the most elementary laws of evidence. It is necessary, perhaps, that the car of progress be equipped, like our railway trains, with a dozen brakemen to one stoker; but the time will come, we do not hesitate to predict, when this unreasoning and perverse, not to say intemperate, conservatism in the public mind on the subject of the authorship of "Shake-speare" will be universally regretted as a reflection upon the scholarship of our age.
Return to Table of Contents for Bacon vs Shakespere
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
LIST OF AUTHORS CONSULTED.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS