« AnteriorContinuar »
speare : and I believe we are better pleased with those thoughts, altogether new and uncominon, which his own imagination supplied him so abundantly with, ihan if he llad given 11s the most beanriful passages out of the Greek and Latin poets, and that in the most agreeable man. ner that it was possible for a master of the Eng, lish language to deliver them.
Upon his leaving school, he seems to have giveu entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him; 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 subtantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. In this kind of settlement he conti. nned for, some time, till au extravagance that he was guilty of forced him both ont of his country, and that way of living which he had taken up; and though it seemed at first to be a blemish upon his good manners, and a misfortune to him, yet it afterwards happily proved the occasion of exert. ing one of the greatest genius's that ever was known in dramatic poetry. He had, by a misfor. une common crough to you g fellows, faļlen into ill company;
and amongst them, some that made, a frequent practice of dcer - stealing, engaged him more than once in robbing a parli that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely : and in order to reveuge that ill usage, he made a bailad upon him. And though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, said to have beca so very bitter, that it redoubied the prosecution against him to that degrec, vaat
yet it is
he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwick shire, for some time, and shelter him: self in London.
It is at this time, and upon this accident, that he is said to have made his first acquaintance in the play-house. IIc was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank; but his admirable wit, and the natural turn of it to the stage, soon distinguished him, if not an extraordinary actor,
an excellent writer. His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, anongst those of the other players, before some old plays , but without any particu. lar account of what sort of parts he used to play; and though I have inqnired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. I should have been much more pleased, to have learned from certain au. thority, which was the first play he wrote ; would be without doubt a pleasure to any man, curious in things of this kind, to see and know what was the first essay of a fancy like Shako speare's. Perhaps we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among their least perfect writings ; art had so little, and na. iure so large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I would not be thought by this to mean, that his fancy was so loose and extravagant , 'as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment; but what he thought, was com. monly so great, so justly and rightly conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction,
and was immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the first sight. But though the order of time in which the several pieces were written be generally uncertain, yet there are passages in some few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the fourth act of Henry V. by a compliment very handsomely turued to the Earl of Essex , shows the play 10 have been written when that Lord was General for the Quzeen in Ireland: and his clogy upon Queen Elizabeth, and her successor King James, in the latter end of his Henry VIII. is a proof of that play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two Princes to the crowil of England. Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, wo, began to grow won. derfully fond of diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to see a genius arise amongst them of so pleasurable, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners , and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those ti. mes. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour: it is that maiden Princess plainly, whom he intends by, - a fair vestal, throned by the west.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. and that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely applied in her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Paris of Henry
the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well: she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally iwder the name of Oldcastle: some of that family being the remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which lie made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, since it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, wlio was knight of the garter, and a Lieutenant - generel, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's timcs. What grace soever the Queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that timė for his friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Essex. It was to that noble Lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is oue instance so singular in the magni@cence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I haŭ not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted , that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go ugh with a 'purchase which he heard he had a mind to.
bounty very great , and very rare
at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shown to French dancers and Itan lian singers.
What particular habitude or friendships 'he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that everyone, who had a trne taste of merit, and could distinguish meni, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good nature must cer• tainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him.
His acquaintance with Beir Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and goodnature; Mr. Jonson, who was at that time alto. gether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted: and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superci. liously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill - natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the publick. Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter, was more than a balauce for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper.
In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant,