A Life of William Shakespeare - with portraits and facsimiles
by Sidney Lee
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If ever there were she-devils incarnate, They are altogether in thee incorporate.

Jodelle's 'Contr' Amours.'

In France Etienne Jodelle, a professional sonnetteer although he is best known as a dramatist, made late in the second half of the sixteenth century an independent endeavour of like kind to stifle by means of parody the vogue of the vituperative sonnet. Jodelle designed a collection of three hundred sonnets which he inscribed to 'hate of a woman,' and he appropriately entitled them 'Contr' Amours' in distinction from 'Amours,' the term applied to sonnets in the honeyed vein. Only seven of Jodelle's 'Contr' Amours' are extant, but there is sufficient identity of tone between them and Shakespeare's vituperative efforts almost to discover in Shakespeare's invectives a spark of Jodelle's satiric fire. {122} The dark lady of Shakespeare's 'sonnets' may therefore be relegated to the ranks of the creatures of his fancy. It is quite possible that he may have met in real life a dark-complexioned siren, and it is possible that he may have fared ill at her disdainful hands. But no such incident is needed to account for the presence of 'the dark lady' in the sonnets. It was the exacting conventions of the sonnetteering contagion, and not his personal experiences or emotions, that impelled Shakespeare to give 'the dark lady' of his sonnets a poetic being. {123} She has been compared, not very justly, with Shakespeare's splendid creation of Cleopatra in his play of 'Antony and Cleopatra.' From one point of view the same criticism may be passed on both. There is no greater and no less ground for seeking in Shakespeare's personal environment the original of 'the dark lady' of his sonnets than for seeking there the original of his Queen of Egypt.


Biographic fact in the 'dedicatory' sonnets.

Amid the borrowed conceits and poetic figures of Shakespeare's sonnets there lurk suggestive references to the circumstances in his external life that attended their composition. If few can be safely regarded as autobiographic revelations of sentiment, many of them offer evidence of the relations in which he stood to a patron, and to the position that he sought to fill in the circle of that patron's literary retainers. Twenty sonnets, which may for purposes of exposition be entitled 'dedicatory' sonnets, are addressed to one who is declared without periphrasis and without disguise to be a patron of the poet's verse (Nos. xxiii., xxvi., xxxii., xxxvii., xxxviii., lxix., lxxvii.-lxxxvi., c., ci., cvi.) In one of these—Sonnet lxxviii.—Shakespeare asserted:

So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse And found such fair assistance in my verse As every alien pen hath got my use And under thee their poesy disperse.

Subsequently he regretfully pointed out how his patron's readiness to accept the homage of other poets seemed to be thrusting him from the enviable place of pre-eminence in his patron's esteem.

The Earl of Southampton the poet's sole patron.

Shakespeare's biographer is under an obligation to attempt an identification of the persons whose relations with the poet are defined so explicitly. The problem presented by the patron is simple. Shakespeare states unequivocally that he has no patron but one.

Sing [sc. O Muse!] to the ear that doth thy lays esteem, And gives thy pen both skill and argument (c. 7-8). For to no other pass my verses tend Than of your graces and your gifts to tell (ciii. 11-12).

The Earl of Southampton, the patron of his narrative poems, is the only patron of Shakespeare that is known to biographical research. No contemporary document or tradition gives the faintest suggestion that Shakespeare was the friend or dependent of any other man of rank. A trustworthy tradition corroborates the testimony respecting Shakespeare's close intimacy with the Earl that is given in the dedicatory epistles of his 'Venus and Adonis' and 'Lucrece', penned respectively in 1593 and 1594. According to Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first adequate biographer, 'there is one instance so singular in its magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare's that if I had 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 venture to have inserted; that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great and very rare at any time.'

There is no difficulty in detecting the lineaments of the Earl of Southampton in those of the man who is distinctively greeted in the sonnets as the poet's patron. Three of the twenty 'dedicatory' sonnets merely translate into the language of poetry the expressions of devotion which had already done duty in the dedicatory epistle in prose that prefaces 'Lucrece.' That epistle to Southampton runs:

The love {127} I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.

Your lordship's in all duty, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

Sonnet xxvi. is a gorgeous rendering of these sentences:—

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit, To thee I send this written ambassage, To witness duty, not to show my wit: Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it, But that I hope some good conceit of thine In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it; Till whatsoever star that guides my moving, Points on me graciously with fair aspect, And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving To show me worthy of thy sweet respect Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee; Till then not show my head where thou may'st prove me. {128}

The 'Lucrece' epistle's intimation that the patron's love alone gives value to the poet's 'untutored lines' is repeated in Sonnet xxxii., which doubtless reflected a moment of depression:

If thou survive my well-contented day, When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover, And shalt by fortune once more re-survey These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover, Compare them with the bettering of the time, And though they be outstripp'd by every pen, Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme, Exceeded by the height of happier men. O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought: 'Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age, A dearer birth than this his love had brought, To march in ranks of better equipage; {129} But since he died and poets better prove, Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love.'

A like vein is pursued in greater exaltation of spirit in Sonnet xxxviii.:

How can my Muse want subject to invent, While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse Thine own sweet argument, too excellent For every vulgar paper to rehearse? O give thyself the thanks, if aught in me Worthy perusal stand against thy sight; For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee, When thou thyself dost give invention light? Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth Than those old nine which rhymers invocate; And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth Eternal numbers to outlive long date. If my slight Muse do please these curious days, The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

The central conceit here so finely developed—that the patron may claim as his own handiwork the protege's verse because he inspires it—belongs to the most conventional schemes of dedicatory adulation. When Daniel, in 1592, inscribed his volume of sonnets entitled 'Delia' to the Countess of Pembroke, he played in the prefatory sonnet on the same note, and used in the concluding couplet almost the same words as Shakespeare. Daniel wrote:

Great patroness of these my humble rhymes, Which thou from out thy greatness dost inspire . . . O leave [i.e. cease] not still to grace thy work in me . . . Whereof the travail I may challenge mine, But yet the glory, madam, must be thine.

Elsewhere in the Sonnets we hear fainter echoes of the 'Lucrece' epistle. Repeatedly does the sonnetteer renew the assurance given there that his patron is 'part of all' he has or is. Frequently do we meet in the Sonnets with such expressions as these:—

[I] by a part of all your glory live (xxxvii. 12); Thou art all the better part of me (xxxix. 2); My spirit is thine, the better part of me (lxxiv. 8);

while 'the love without end' which Shakespeare had vowed to Southampton in the light of day reappears in sonnets addressed to the youth as 'eternal love' (cviii. 9), and a devotion 'what shall have no end' (cx. 9).

Rivals in Southampton's favour.

The identification of the rival poets whose 'richly compiled' 'comments' of his patron's 'praise' excited Shakespeare's jealousy is a more difficult inquiry than the identification of the patron. The rival poets with their 'precious phrase by all the Muses filed' (lxxxv. 4) must be sought among the writers who eulogised Southampton and are known to have shared his patronage. The field of choice is not small. Southampton from boyhood cultivated literature and the society of literary men. In 1594 no nobleman received so abundant a measure of adulation from the contemporary world of letters. {131a} Thomas Nash justly described the Earl, when dedicating to him his 'Life of Jack Wilton' in 1594, as 'a dear lover and cherisher as well of the lovers of poets as of the poets themselves.' Nash addressed to him many affectionately phrased sonnets. The prolific sonnetteer Barnabe Barnes and the miscellaneous literary practitioner Gervase Markham confessed, respectively in 1593 and 1595, yearnings for Southampton's countenance in sonnets which glow hardly less ardently than Shakespeare's with admiration for his personal charm. Similarly John Florio, the Earl's Italian tutor, who is traditionally reckoned among Shakespeare's literary acquaintances, {131b} wrote to Southampton in 1598, in his dedicatory epistle before his 'Worlde of Wordes' (an Italian-English dictionary), 'as to me and many more, the glorious and gracious sunshine of your honour hath infused light and life.'

Shakespeare's fear of a rival poet.

Shakespeare magnanimously and modestly described that protege of Southampton, whom he deemed a specially dangerous rival, as an 'able' and a 'better' 'spirit,' 'a worthier pen,' a vessel of 'tall building and of goodly pride,' compared with whom he was himself 'a worthless boat.' He detected a touch of magic in the man's writing. His 'spirit,' Shakespeare hyperbolically declared, had been 'by spirits taught to write above a mortal pitch,' and 'an affable familiar ghost' nightly gulled him with intelligence. Shakespeare's dismay at the fascination exerted on his patron by 'the proud full sail of his [rival's] great verse' sealed for a time, he declared, the springs of his own invention (lxxxvi.)

Barnabe Barnes probably the rival.

There is no need to insist too curiously on the justice of Shakespeare's laudation of the other poet's' powers. He was presumably a new-comer in the literary field who surprised older men of benevolent tendency into admiration by his promise rather than by his achievement. 'Eloquence and courtesy,' wrote Gabriel Harvey at the time, 'are ever bountiful in the amplifying vein;' and writers of amiability, Harvey adds, habitually blazoned the perfections that they hoped to see their young friends achieve, in language implying that they had already achieved them. All the conditions of the problem are satisfied by the rival's identification with the young poet and scholar Barnabe Barnes, a poetic panegyrist of Southampton and a prolific sonnetteer, who was deemed by contemporary critics certain to prove a great poet. His first collection of sonnets, 'Parthenophil and Parthenophe,' with many odes and madrigals interspersed, was printed in 1593; and his second, 'A Centurie of Spiritual Sonnets,' in 1595. Loud applause greeted the first book, which included numerous adaptations from the classical, Italian, and French poets, and disclosed, among many crudities, some fascinating lyrics and at least one almost perfect sonnet (No. lxvi. 'Ah, sweet content, where is thy mild abode?') Thomas Churchyard called Barnes 'Petrarch's scholar;' the learned Gabriel Harvey bade him 'go forward in maturity as he had begun in pregnancy,' and 'be the gallant poet, like Spenser;' Campion judged his verse to be 'heady and strong.' In a sonnet that Barnes addressed in this earliest volume to the 'virtuous' Earl of Southampton he declared that his patron's eyes were 'the heavenly lamps that give the Muses light,' and that his sole ambition was 'by flight to rise' to a height worthy of his patron's 'virtues.' Shakespeare sorrowfully pointed out in Sonnet lxxviii. that his lord's eyes

that taught the dumb on high to sing, And heavy ignorance aloft to fly, Have added feathers to the learned's wing, And given grace a double majesty;

while in the following sonnet he asserted that the 'worthier pen' of his dreaded rival when lending his patron 'virtue' was guilty of plagiarism, for he 'stole that word' from his patron's 'behaviour.' The emphasis laid by Barnes on the inspiration that he sought from Southampton's 'gracious eyes' on the one hand, and his reiterated references to his patron's 'virtue' on the other, suggest that Shakespeare in these sonnets directly alluded to Barnes as his chief competitor in the hotly contested race for Southampton's favour. In Sonnet lxxxv. Shakespeare declares that 'he cries Amen to every hymn that able spirit [i.e. his rival] affords.' Very few poets of the day in England followed Ronsard's practice of bestowing the title of hymn on miscellaneous poems, but Barnes twice applies the word to his poems of love. {134a} When, too, Shakespeare in Sonnet lxxx. employs nautical metaphors to indicate the relations of himself and his rival with his patron—

My saucy bark inferior far to his . . . Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,

he seems to write with an eye on Barnes's identical choice of metaphor:

My fancy's ship tossed here and there by these [sc. sorrow's floods] Still floats in danger ranging to and fro. How fears my thoughts' swift pinnace thine hard rock! {134b}

Other theories as to the rival's identity.

Gervase Markham is equally emphatic in his sonnet to Southampton on the potent influence of his patron's 'eyes,' which, he says, crown 'the most victorious pen'—a possible reference to Shakespeare. Nash's poetic praises of the Earl are no less enthusiastic, and are of a finer literary temper than Markham's. But Shakespeare's description of his rival's literary work fits far less closely the verse of Markham and Nash than the verse of their fellow aspirant Barnes.

Many critics argue that the numbing fear of his rival's genius and of its influence on his patron to which Shakespeare confessed in the sonnets was more likely to be evoked by the work of George Chapman than by that of any other contemporary poet. But Chapman had produced no conspicuously 'great verse' till he began his translation of Homer in 1598; and although he appended in 1610 to a complete edition of his translation a sonnet to Southampton, it was couched in the coldest terms of formality, and it was one of a series of sixteen sonnets each addressed to a distinguished nobleman with whom the writer implies that he had no previous relations. {135} Drayton, Ben Jonson, and Marston have also been identified by various critics with 'the rival poet,' but none of these shared Southampton's bounty, nor are the terms which Shakespeare applies to his rival's verse specially applicable to the productions of any of them.

Sonnets of friendship.

Many besides the 'dedicatory' sonnets are addressed to a handsome youth of wealth and rank, for whom the poet avows 'love,' in the Elizabethan sense of friendship. {136} Although no specific reference is made outside the twenty 'dedicatory' sonnets to the youth as a literary patron, and the clues to his identity are elsewhere vaguer, there is good ground for the conclusion that the sonnets of disinterested love or friendship also have Southampton for their subject. The sincerity of the poet's sentiment is often open to doubt in these poems, but they seem to illustrate a real intimacy subsisting between Shakespeare and a young Maecenas.

Extravagances of literary compliment.

Extravagant compliment—'gross painting' Shakespeare calls it—was more conspicuous in the intercourse of patron and client during the last years of Elizabeth's reign than in any other epoch. For this result the sovereign herself was in part responsible. Contemporary schemes of literary compliment seemed infected by the feigned accents of amorous passion and false rhapsodies on her physical beauty with which men of letters servilely sought to satisfy the old Queen's incurable greed of flattery. {137} Sir Philip Sidney described with admirable point the adulatory excesses to which less exalted patrons were habituated by literary dependents. He gave the warning that as soon as a man showed interest in poetry or its producers, poets straightway pronounced him 'to be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all.' 'You shall dwell upon superlatives . . . Your soule shall be placed with Dante's Beatrice.' {138a} The warmth of colouring which distinguishes many of the sonnets that Shakespeare, under the guise of disinterested friendship, addressed to the youth can be matched at nearly all points in the adulation that patrons were in the habit of receiving from literary dependents in the style that Sidney described. {138b}

Patrons habitually addressed in affectionate terms.

Shakespeare assured his friend that he could never grow old (civ.), that the finest types of beauty and chivalry in mediaeval romance lived again in him (cvi.), that absence from him was misery, and that his affection for him was unalterable. Hundreds of poets openly gave the like assurances to their patrons. Southampton was only one of a crowd of Maecenases whose panegyrists, writing without concealment in their own names, credited them with every perfection of mind and body, and 'placed them,' in Sidney's apt phrase, 'with Dante's "Beatrice."'

Illustrations of the practice abound. Matthew Roydon wrote of his patron, Sir Philip Sidney:

His personage seemed most divine, A thousand graces one might count Upon his lovely cheerful eyne. To heare him speak and sweetly smile You were in Paradise the while.

Edmund Spenser in a fine sonnet told his patron, Admiral Lord Charles Howard, that 'his good personage and noble deeds' made him the pattern to the present age of the old heroes of whom 'the antique poets' were 'wont so much to sing.' This compliment, which Shakespeare turns to splendid account in Sonnet cvi., recurs constantly in contemporary sonnets of adulation. {140a} Ben Jonson apostrophised the Earl of Desmond as 'my best-best lov'd.' Campion told Lord Walden, the Earl of Suffolk's undistinguished heir, that although his muse sought to express his love, 'the admired virtues' of the patron's youth

Bred such despairing to his daunted Muse That it could scarcely utter naked truth. {140b}

Dr. John Donne includes among his 'Verse Letters' to patrons and patronesses several sonnets of similar temper, one of which, acknowledging a letter of news from a patron abroad, concludes thus:

And now thy alms is given, thy letter's read, The body risen again, the which was dead, And thy poor starveling bountifully fed. After this banquet my soul doth say grace, And praise thee for it and zealously embrace Thy love, though I think thy love in this case To be as gluttons', which say 'midst their meat They love that best of which they most do eat. {141}

The tone of yearning for a man's affection is sounded by Donne and Campion almost as plaintively in their sonnets to patrons as it was sounded by Shakespeare. There is nothing, therefore, in the vocabulary of affection which Shakespeare employed in his sonnets of friendship to conflict with the theory that they were inscribed to a literary patron with whom his intimacy was of the kind normally subsisting at the time between literary clients and their patrons.

Direct references to Southampton in the sonnets of friendship.

We know Shakespeare had only one literary patron, the Earl of Southampton, and the view that that nobleman is the hero of the sonnets of 'friendship' is strongly corroborated by such definite details as can be deduced from the vague eulogies in those poems of the youth's gifts and graces. Every compliment, in fact, paid by Shakespeare to the youth, whether it be vaguely or definitely phrased, applies to Southampton without the least straining of the words. In real life beauty, birth, wealth, and wit sat 'crowned' in the Earl, whom poets acclaimed the handsomest of Elizabethan courtiers, as plainly as in the hero of the poet's verse. Southampton has left in his correspondence ample proofs of his literary learning and taste, and, like the hero of the sonnets, was 'as fair in knowledge as in hue.' The opening sequence of seventeen sonnets, in which a youth of rank and wealth is admonished to marry and beget a son so that 'his fair house' may not fall into decay, can only have been addressed to a young peer like Southampton, who was as yet unmarried, had vast possessions, and was the sole male representative of his family. The sonnetteer's exclamation, 'You had a father, let your son say so,' had pertinence to Southampton at any period between his father's death in his boyhood and the close of his bachelorhood in 1598. To no other peer of the day are the words exactly applicable. The 'lascivious comment' on his 'wanton sport' which pursues the young friend through the sonnets, and is so adroitly contrived as to add point to the picture of his fascinating youth and beauty, obviously associates itself with the reputation for sensual indulgence that Southampton acquired both at Court and, according to Nash, among men of letters. {142}

His youthfulness.

There is no force in the objection that the young man of the sonnets of 'friendship' must have been another than Southampton because the terms in which he is often addressed imply extreme youth. In 1594, a date to which I refer most of the sonnets Southampton was barely twenty-one, and the young man had obviously reached manhood. In Sonnet civ. Shakespeare notes that the first meeting between him and his friend took place three years before that poem was written, so that, if the words are to be taken literally, the poet may have at times embodied reminiscences of Southampton when he was only seventeen or eighteen. {143a} But Shakespeare, already worn in worldly experience, passed his thirtieth birthday in 1594, and he probably tended, when on the threshold of middle life, to exaggerate the youthfulness of the nobleman almost ten years his junior, who even later impressed his acquaintances by his boyish appearance and disposition. {143b} 'Young' was the epithet invariably applied to Southampton by all who knew anything of him even when he was twenty-eight. In 1601 Sir Robert Cecil referred to him as the 'poor young Earl.'

The evidence of portraits.

But the most striking evidence of the identity of the youth of the sonnets of 'friendship' with Southampton is found in the likeness of feature and complexion which characterises the poet's description of the youth's outward appearance and the extant pictures of Southampton as a young man. Shakespeare's many references to his youth's 'painted counterfeit' (xvi., xxiv., xlvii., lxvii.) suggest that his hero often sat for his portrait. Southampton's countenance survives in probably more canvases than that of any of his contemporaries. At least fourteen extant portraits have been identified on good authority—nine paintings, three miniatures (two by Peter Oliver and one by Isaac Oliver), and two contemporary prints. {144} Most of these, it is true, portray their subject in middle age, when the roses of youth had faded, and they contribute nothing to the present argument. But the two portraits that are now at Welbeck, the property of the Duke of Portland, give all the information that can be desired of Southampton's aspect 'in his youthful morn.' {145} One of these pictures represents the Earl at twenty-one, and the other at twenty-five or twenty-six. The earlier portrait, which is reproduced on the opposite page, shows a young man resplendently attired. His doublet is of white satin; a broad collar, edged with lace, half covers a pointed gorget of red leather, embroidered with silver thread; the white trunks and knee-breeches are laced with gold; the sword-belt, embroidered in red and gold, is decorated at intervals with white silk bows; the hilt of the rapier is overlaid with gold; purple garters, embroidered in silver thread, fasten the white stockings below the knee. Light body armour, richly damascened, lies on the ground to the right of the figure; and a white-plumed helmet stands to the left on a table covered with a cloth of purple velvet embroidered in gold. Such gorgeous raiment suggests that its wearer bestowed much attention on his personal equipment. But the head is more interesting than the body. The eyes are blue, the cheeks pink, the complexion clear, and the expression sedate; rings are in the ears; beard and moustache are at an incipient stage, and are of the same, bright auburn hue as the hair in a picture of Southampton's mother that is also at Welbeck. {146a} But, however scanty is the down on the youth's cheek, the hair on his head is luxuriant. It is worn very long, and falls over and below the shoulder. The colour is now of walnut, but was originally of lighter tint.

[Picture: Henry Wriothesley]

The portrait depicting Southampton five or six years later shows him in prison, to which he was committed after his secret marriage in 1598. A cat and a book in a jewelled binding are on a desk at his right hand. Here the hair falls over both his shoulders in even greater profusion, and is distinctly blonde. The beard and thin upturned moustache are of brighter auburn and fuller than before, although still slight. The blue eyes and colouring of the cheeks show signs of ill-health, but differ little from those features in the earlier portrait.

From either of the two Welbeck portraits of Southampton might Shakespeare have drawn his picture of the youth in the Sonnets. Many times does he tell us that the youth is fair in complexion, and that his eyes are fair. In Sonnet lxviii., when he points to the youth's face as a map of what beauty was 'without all ornament, itself and true'—before fashion sanctioned the use of artificial 'golden tresses'—there can be little doubt that he had in mind the wealth of locks that fell about Southampton's neck. {146b}

Sonnet cvii. the last of the series.

A few only of the sonnets that Shakespeare addressed to the youth can be allotted to a date subsequent to 1594; only two bear on the surface signs of a later composition. In Sonnet lxx. the poet no longer credits his hero with juvenile wantonness, but with a 'pure, unstained prime,' which has 'passed by the ambush of young days.' Sonnet cvii., apparently the last of the series, was penned almost a decade after the mass of its companions, for it makes references that cannot be mistaken to three events that took place in 1603—to Queen Elizabeth's death, to the accession of James I, and to the release of the Earl of Southampton, who had been in prison since he was convicted in 1601 of complicity in the rebellion of the Earl of Essex. The first two events are thus described:

The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured And the sad augurs mock their own presage; Incertainties now crown themselves assured And peace proclaims olives of endless age.

Allusion to Elizabeth's death.

It is in almost identical phrase that every pen in the spring of 1603 was felicitating the nation on the unexpected turn of events, by which Elizabeth's crown had passed, without civil war, to the Scottish King, and thus the revolution that had been foretold as the inevitable consequence of Elizabeth's demise was happily averted. Cynthia (i.e. the moon) was the Queen's recognised poetic appellation. It is thus that she figures in the verse of Barnfield, Spenser, Fulke Greville, and Ralegh, and her elegists involuntarily followed the same fashion. 'Fair Cynthia's dead' sang one.

Luna's extinct; and now beholde the sunne Whose beames soake up the moysture of all teares,

wrote Henry Petowe in his 'A Fewe Aprill Drops Showered on the Hearse of Dead Eliza,' 1603. There was hardly a verse-writer who mourned her loss that did not typify it, moreover, as the eclipse of a heavenly body. One poet asserted that death 'veiled her glory in a cloud of night.' Another argued: 'Naught can eclipse her light, but that her star will shine in darkest night.' A third varied the formula thus:

When winter had cast off her weed Our sun eclipsed did set. Oh! light most fair. {148a}

At the same time James was constantly said to have entered on his inheritance 'not with an olive branch in his hand, but with a whole forest of olives round about him, for he brought not peace to this kingdom alone' but to all Europe. {148b}

Allusions to Southampton's release from prison.

'The drops of this most balmy time,' in this same sonnet, cvii., is an echo of another current strain of fancy. James came to England in a springtide of rarely rivalled clemency, which was reckoned of the happiest augury. 'All things look fresh,' one poet sang, 'to greet his excellence.' 'The air, the seasons, and the earth' were represented as in sympathy with the general joy in 'this sweetest of all sweet springs.' One source of grief alone was acknowledged: Southampton was still a prisoner in the Tower, 'supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.' All men, wrote Manningham, the diarist, on the day following the Queen's death, wished him at liberty. {149a} The wish was fulfilled quickly. On April 10, 1603, his prison gates were opened by 'a warrant from the king.' So bountiful a beginning of the new era, wrote John Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton two days later, 'raised all men's spirits . . . and the very poets with their idle pamphlets promised themselves' great things. {149b} Samuel Daniel and John Davies celebrated Southampton's release in buoyant verse. {149c} It is improbable that Shakespeare remained silent. 'My love looks fresh,' he wrote in the concluding lines of Sonnet cvii., and he repeated the conventional promise that he had so often made before, that his friend should live in his 'poor rhyme,' 'when tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.' It is impossible to resist the inference that Shakespeare thus saluted his patron on the close of his days of tribulation. Shakespeare's genius had then won for him a public reputation that rendered him independent of any private patron's favour, and he made no further reference in his writings to the patronage that Southampton had extended to him in earlier years. But the terms in which he greeted his former protector for the last time in verse justify the belief that, during his remaining thirteen years of life, the poet cultivated friendly relations with the Earl of Southampton, and was mindful to the last of the encouragement that the young peer offered him while he was still on the threshold of the temple of fame.


It is hardly possible to doubt that had Shakespeare, who was more prolific in invention than any other poet, poured out in his sonnets his personal passions and emotions, he would have been carried by his imagination, at every stage, far beyond the beaten tracks of the conventional sonnetteers of his day. The imitative element in his sonnets is large enough to refute the assertion that in them as a whole he sought to 'unlock his heart.' It is likely enough that beneath all the conventional adulation bestowed by Shakespeare on Southampton there lay a genuine affection, but his sonnets to the Earl were no involuntary ebullitions of a devoted and disinterested friendship; they were celebrations of a patron's favour in the terminology—often raised by Shakespeare's genius to the loftiest heights of poetry—that was invariably consecrated to such a purpose by a current literary convention. Very few of Shakespeare's 'sugared sonnets' have a substantial right to be regarded as untutored cries of the soul. It is true that the sonnets in which the writer reproaches himself with sin, or gives expression to a sense of melancholy, offer at times a convincing illusion of autobiographic confessions; and it is just possible that they stand apart from the rest, and reveal the writer's inner consciousness, in which case they are not to be matched in any other of Shakespeare's literary compositions. But they may be, on the other hand, merely literary meditations, conceived by the greatest of dramatists, on infirmities incident to all human nature, and only attempted after the cue had been given by rival sonnetteers. At any rate, their energetic lines are often adapted from the less forcible and less coherent utterances of contemporary poets, and the themes are common to almost all Elizabethan collections of sonnets. {152} Shakespeare's noble sonnet on the ravages of lust (cxxix.), for example, treats with marvellous force and insight a stereotyped theme of sonnetteers, and it may have owed its whole existence to Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet on 'Desire.' {153a}

The youth's relations with the poet's mistress.

Only in one group, composed of six sonnets scattered through the collection, is there traceable a strand of wholly original sentiment, not to be readily defined and boldly projecting from the web into which it is wrought. This series of six sonnets deals with a love adventure of no normal type. Sonnet cxliv. opens with the lines:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair Which like two angels do suggest (i.e. tempt) me still: The better angel is a man right fair, The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill. {153b}

The woman, the sonnetteer continues, has corrupted the man and has drawn him from his 'side.' Five other sonnets treat the same theme. In three addressed to the man (xl., xli., and xlii.) the poet mildly reproaches his youthful friend for having sought and won the favours of a woman whom he himself loved 'dearly,' but the trespass is forgiven on account of the friend's youth and beauty. In the two remaining sonnets Shakespeare addresses the woman (cxxxiii. and cxxxiv.), and he rebukes her for having enslaved not only himself but 'his next self'—his friend. Shakespeare, in his denunciation elsewhere of a mistress's disdain of his advances, assigns her blindness, like all the professional sonnetteers, to no better defined cause than the perversity and depravity of womankind. In these six sonnets alone does he categorically assign his mistress's alienation to the fascinations of a dear friend or hint at such a cause for his mistress's infidelity. The definite element of intrigue that is developed here is not found anywhere else in the range of Elizabethan sonnet-literature. The character of the innovation and its treatment seem only capable of explanation by regarding the topic as a reflection of Shakespeare's personal experience. But how far he is sincere in his accounts of his sorrow in yielding his mistress to his friend in order to retain the friendship of the latter must be decided by each reader for himself. If all the words be taken literally, there is disclosed an act of self-sacrifice that it is difficult to parallel or explain. But it remains very doubtful if the affair does not rightly belong to the annals of gallantry. The sonnetteer's complacent condonation of the young man's offence chiefly suggests the deference that was essential to the maintenance by a dependent of peaceful relations with a self-willed and self-indulgent patron. Southampton's sportive and lascivious temperament might easily impel him to divert to himself the attention of an attractive woman by whom he saw that his poet was fascinated, and he was unlikely to tolerate any outspoken protest on the part of his protege. There is no clue to the lady's identity, and speculation on the topic is useless. She may have given Shakespeare hints for his pictures of the 'dark lady,' but he treats that lady's obduracy conventionally, and his vituperation of her sheds no light on the personal history of the mistress who left him for his friend.

'Willobie his Avisa.'

The emotions roused in Shakespeare by the episode, even if potent at the moment, were not likely to be deep-seated or enduring. And it is possible that a half-jesting reference, which would deprive Shakespeare's amorous adventure of serious import, was made to it by a literary comrade in a poem that was licensed for publication on September 3, 1594, and was published immediately under the title of 'Willobie his Avisa, or the True Picture of a Modest Maid and of a Chaste and Constant Wife.' {155} In this volume, which mainly consists of seventy-two cantos in varying numbers of six-line stanzas, the chaste heroine, Avisa, holds converse—in the opening section as a maid, and in the later section as a wife—with a series of passionate adorers. In every case she firmly repulses their advances. Midway through the book its alleged author—Henry Willobie—is introduced in his own person as an ardent admirer, and the last twenty-nine of the cantos rehearse his woes and Avisa's obduracy. To this section there is prefixed an argument in prose (canto xliv.) It is there stated that Willobie, 'being suddenly affected with the contagion of a fantastical wit at the first sight of Avisa, pineth a while in secret grief. At length, not able any longer to endure the burning heat of so fervent a humour, [he] bewrayeth the secrecy of his disease unto his familiar friend W. S., who not long before had tried the courtesy of the like passion and was now newly recovered of the like infection. Yet [W. S.], finding his friend let blood in the same vein, took pleasure for a time to see him bleed, and instead of stopping the issue, he enlargeth the wound with the sharp razor of willing conceit,' encouraging Willobie to believe that Avisa would ultimately yield 'with pains, diligence, and some cost in time.' 'The miserable comforter' [W. S.], the passage continues, was moved to comfort his friend 'with an impossibility,' for one of two reasons. Either 'he now would secretly laugh at his friend's folly' because he 'had given occasion not long before unto others to laugh at his own.' Or 'he would see whether another could play his part better than himself, and, in viewing after the course of this loving comedy,' would 'see whether it would sort to a happier end for this new actor than it did for the old player. But at length this comedy was like to have grown to a tragedy by the weak and feeble estate that H. W. was brought unto,' owing to Avisa's unflinching rectitude. Happily, 'time and necessity' effected a cure. In two succeeding cantos in verse W. S. is introduced in dialogue with Willobie, and he gives him, in oratio recta, light-hearted and mocking counsel which Willobie accepts with results disastrous to his mental health.

Identity of initials, on which the theory of Shakespeare's identity with H. W.'s unfeeling adviser mainly rests, is not a strong foundation, {157} and doubt is justifiable as to whether the story of 'Avisa' and her lovers is not fictitious. In a preface signed Hadrian Dorell, the writer, after mentioning that the alleged author (Willobie) was dead, discusses somewhat enigmatically whether or no the work is 'a poetical fiction.' In a new edition of 1596 the same editor decides the question in the affirmative. But Dorell, while making this admission, leaves untouched the curious episode of 'W. S.' The mention of 'W. S.' as 'the old player,' and the employment of theatrical imagery in discussing his relations with Willobie, must be coupled with the fact that Shakespeare, at a date when mentions of him in print were rare, was eulogised by name as the author of 'Lucrece' in some prefatory verses to the volume. From such considerations the theory of 'W. S.'s' identity with Willobie's acquaintance acquires substance. If we assume that it was Shakespeare who took a roguish delight in watching his friend Willobie suffer the disdain of 'chaste Avisa' because he had 'newly recovered' from the effects of a like experience, it is clear that the theft of Shakespeare's mistress by another friend did not cause him deep or lasting distress. The allusions that were presumably made to the episode by the author of 'Avisa' bring it, in fact, nearer the confines of comedy than of tragedy.

Summary of conclusions respecting the sonnets.

The processes of construction which are discernible in Shakespeare's sonnets are thus seen to be identical with those that are discernible in the rest of his literary work. They present one more proof of his punctilious regard for the demands of public taste, and of his marvellous genius and skill in adapting and transmuting for his own purposes the labours of other workers in the field that for the moment engaged his attention. Most of Shakespeare's sonnets were produced in 1594 under the incitement of that freakish rage for sonnetteering which, taking its rise in Italy and sweeping over France on its way to England, absorbed for some half-dozen years in this country a greater volume of literary energy than has been applied to sonnetteering within the same space of time here or elsewhere before or since. The thousands of sonnets that were circulated in England between 1591 and 1597 were of every literary quality, from sublimity to inanity, and they illustrated in form and topic every known phase of sonnetteering activity. Shakespeare's collection, which was put together at haphazard and published surreptitiously many years after the poems were written, was a medley, at times reaching heights of literary excellence that none other scaled, but as a whole reflecting the varied features of the sonnetteering vogue. Apostrophes to metaphysical abstractions, vivid picturings of the beauties of nature, adulation of a patron, idealisation of a protege's regard for a nobleman in the figurative language of amorous passion, amiable compliments on a woman's hair or touch on the virginals, and vehement denunciation of the falseness and frailty of womankind—all appear as frequently in contemporary collections of sonnets as in Shakespeare's. He borrows very many of his competitors' words and thoughts, but he so fused them with his fancy as often to transfigure them. Genuine emotion or the writer's personal experience very rarely inspired the Elizabethan sonnet, and Shakespeare's sonnets proved no exception to the rule. A personal note may have escaped him involuntarily in the sonnets in which he gives voice to a sense of melancholy and self-remorse, but his dramatic instinct never slept, and there is no proof that he is doing more in those sonnets than produce dramatically the illusion of a personal confession. Only in one scattered series of six sonnets, where he introduced a topic, unknown to other sonnetteers, of a lover's supersession by his friend in a mistress's graces, does he seem to show independence of his comrades and draw directly on an incident in his own life, but even there the emotion is wanting in seriousness. The sole biographical inference deducible from the sonnets is that at one time in his career Shakespeare disdained no weapon of flattery in an endeavour to monopolise the bountiful patronage of a young man of rank. External evidence agrees with internal evidence in identifying the belauded patron with the Earl of Southampton, and the real value to a biographer of Shakespeare's sonnets is the corroboration they offer of the ancient tradition that the Earl of Southampton, to whom his two narrative poems were openly dedicated, gave Shakespeare at an early period of his literary career help and encouragement, which entitles the Earl to a place in the poet's biography resembling that filled by the Duke Alfonso d'Este in the biography of Ariosto, or like that filled by Margaret, duchess of Savoy, in the biography of Ronsard.


'Midsummer Night's Dream.'

But, all the while that Shakespeare was fancifully assuring his patron

[How] to no other pass my verses tend Than of your graces and your gifts to tell,

his dramatic work was steadily advancing. To the winter season of 1595 probably belongs 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' {161} The comedy may well have been written to celebrate a marriage—perhaps the marriage of the universal patroness of poets, Lucy Harington, to Edward Russell, third earl of Bedford, on December 12, 1594; or that of William Stanley, earl of Derby, at Greenwich on January 24, 1594-5. The elaborate compliment to the Queen, 'a fair vestal throned by the west' (II. i. 157 seq.), was at once an acknowledgment of past marks of royal favour and an invitation for their extension to the future. Oberon's fanciful description (II. ii. 148-68) of the spot where he saw the little western flower called 'Love-in-idleness' that he bids Puck fetch for him, has been interpreted as a reminiscence of one of the scenic pageants with which the Earl of Leicester entertained Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Kenilworth in 1575. {162} The whole play is in the airiest and most graceful vein of comedy. Hints for the story can be traced to a variety of sources—to Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale,' to Plutarch's 'Life of Theseus,' to Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (bk. iv.), and to the story of Oberon, the fairy-king, in the French mediaeval romance of 'Huon of Bordeaux,' of which an English translation by Lord Berners was first printed in 1534. The influence of John Lyly is perceptible in the raillery in which both mortals and immortals indulge. In the humorous presentation of the play of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' by the 'rude mechanicals' of Athens, Shakespeare improved upon a theme which he had already employed in 'Love's Labour's Lost.' But the final scheme of the 'Midsummer Night's Dream' is of the author's freshest invention, and by endowing—practically for the first time in literature—the phantoms of the fairy world with a genuine and a sustained dramatic interest, Shakespeare may be said to have conquered a new realm for art.

'All's Well.'

More sombre topics engaged him in the comedy of 'All's Well that Ends Well,' which may be tentatively assigned to 1595. Meres, writing three years later, attributed to Shakespeare a piece called 'Love's Labour's Won.' This title, which is not otherwise known, may well be applied to 'All's Well.' 'The Taming of The Shrew,' which has also been identified with 'Love's Labour's Won,' has far slighter claim to the designation. The plot of 'All's Well,' like that of 'Romeo and Juliet,' was drawn from Painter's 'Palace of Pleasure' (No. xxxviii.) The original source is Boccaccio's 'Decamerone' (giorn. iii. nov. 9). Shakespeare, after his wont, grafted on the touching story of Helena's love for the unworthy Bertram the comic characters of the braggart Parolles, the pompous Lafeu, and a clown (Lavache) less witty than his compeers. Another original creation, Bertram's mother, Countess of Roussillon, is a charming portrait of old age. In frequency of rhyme and other metrical characteristics the piece closely resembles 'The Two Gentlemen,' but the characterisation betrays far greater power, and there are fewer conceits or crudities of style. The pathetic element predominates. The heroine Helena, whose 'pangs of despised love' are expressed with touching tenderness, ranks with the greatest of Shakespeare's female creations.

'Taming of the Shrew.'

'The Taming of The Shrew'—which, like 'All's Well,' was first printed in the folio—was probably composed soon after the completion of that solemn comedy. It is a revision of an old play on lines somewhat differing from those which Shakespeare had followed previously. From 'The Taming of A Shrew,' a comedy first published in 1594, {163} Shakespeare drew the Induction and the scenes in which the hero Petruchio conquers Catherine the Shrew. He first infused into them the genuine spirit of comedy. But while following the old play in its general outlines, Shakespeare's revised version added an entirely new underplot—the story of Bianca and her lovers, which owes something to the 'Supposes' of George Gascoigne, an adaptation of Ariosto's comedy called 'I Suppositi.' Evidence of style—the liberal introduction of tags of Latin and the exceptional beat of the doggerel—makes it difficult to allot the Bianca scenes to Shakespeare; those scenes were probably due to a coadjutor.

Stratford allusions in the Induction.

The Induction to 'The Taming of The Shrew' has a direct bearing on Shakespeare's biography, for the poet admits into it a number of literal references to Stratford and his native county. Such personalities are rare in Shakespeare's plays, and can only be paralleled in two of slightly later date—the 'Second Part of Henry IV' and the 'Merry Wives of Windsor.' All these local allusions may well be attributed to such a renewal of Shakespeare's personal relations with the town, as is indicated by external facts in his history of the same period. In the Induction the tinker, Christopher Sly, describes himself as 'Old Sly's son of Burton Heath.' Burton Heath is Barton-on-the-Heath, the home of Shakespeare's aunt, Edmund Lambert's wife, and of her sons. The tinker in like vein confesses that he has run up a score with Marian Hacket, the fat alewife of Wincot. {164} The references to Wincot and the Hackets are singularly precise. The name of the maid of the inn is given as Cicely Hacket, and the alehouse is described in the stage direction as 'on a heath.'


Wincot was the familiar designation of three small Warwickshire villages, and a good claim has been set up on behalf of each to be the scene of Sly's drunken exploits. There is a very small hamlet named Wincot within four miles of Stratford now consisting of a single farmhouse which was once an Elizabethan mansion; it is situated on what was doubtless in Shakespeare's day, before the land there was enclosed, an open heath. This Wincot forms part of the parish of Quinton, where, according to the parochial registers, a Hacket family resided in Shakespeare's day. On November 21, 1591, 'Sara Hacket, the daughter of Robert Hacket,' was baptised in Quinton church. {165} Yet by Warwickshire contemporaries the Wincot of 'The Taming of The Shrew' was unhesitatingly identified with Wilnecote, near Tamworth, on the Staffordshire border of Warwickshire, at some distance from Stratford. That village, whose name was pronounced 'Wincot,' was celebrated for its ale in the seventeenth century, a distinction which is not shown by contemporary evidence to have belonged to any place of like name. The Warwickshire poet, Sir Aston Cokain, within half a century of the production of Shakespeare's 'Taming of The Shrew,' addressed to 'Mr. Clement Fisher of Wincott' (a well-known resident at Wilnecote) verses which begin

Shakspeare your Wincot ale hath much renowned, That fox'd a Beggar so (by chance was found Sleeping) that there needed not many a word To make him to believe he was a Lord.

In the succeeding lines the writer promises to visit 'Wincot' (i.e. Wilnecote) to drink

Such ale as Shakspeare fancies Did put Kit Sly into such lordly trances.

It is therefore probable that Shakespeare consciously invested the home of Kit Sly and of Kit's hostess with characteristics of Wilnecote as well as of the hamlet near Stratford.

Wilmcote, the native place of Shakespeare's mother, is also said to have been popularly pronounced 'Wincot.' A tradition which was first recorded by Capell as late as 1780 in his notes to the 'Taming of The Shrew' (p. 26) is to the effect that Shakespeare often visited an inn at 'Wincot' to enjoy the society of a 'fool who belonged to a neighbouring mill,' and the Wincot of this story is, we are told, locally associated with the village of Wilmcote. But the links that connect Shakespeare's tinker with Wilmcote are far slighter than those which connect him with Wincot and Wilnecote.

The mention of Kit Sly's tavern comrades—

Stephen Sly and old John Naps of Greece, And Peter Turf and Henry Pimpernell—

was in all likelihood a reminiscence of contemporary Warwickshire life as literal as the name of the hamlet where the drunkard dwelt. There was a genuine Stephen Sly who was in the dramatist's day a self-assertive citizen of Stratford; and 'Greece,' whence 'old John Naps' derived his cognomen, is an obvious misreading of Greet, a hamlet by Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, not far removed from Shakespeare's native town.

'Henry IV.'

In 1597 Shakespeare turned once more to English history. From Holinshed's 'Chronicle,' and from a valueless but very popular piece, 'The Famous Victories of Henry V,' which was repeatedly acted between 1588 and 1595, {167} he worked up with splendid energy two plays on the reign of Henry IV. They form one continuous whole, but are known respectively as parts i. and ii. of 'Henry IV.' The 'Second Part of Henry IV' is almost as rich as the Induction to 'The Taming of The Shrew' in direct references to persons and districts familiar to Shakespeare. Two amusing scenes pass at the house of Justice Shallow in Gloucestershire, a county which touched the boundaries of Stratford (III. ii. and V. i.) When, in the second of these scenes, the justice's factotum, Davy, asked his master 'to countenance William Visor of Woncot {168a} against Clement Perkes of the Hill,' the local references are unmistakable. Woodmancote, where the family of Visor or Vizard has flourished since the sixteenth century, is still pronounced Woncot. The adjoining Stinchcombe Hill (still familiarly known to natives as 'The Hill') was in the sixteenth century the home of the family of Perkes. Very precise too are the allusions to the region of the Cotswold Hills, which were easily accessible from Stratford. 'Will Squele, a Cotswold man,' is noticed as one of Shallow's friends in youth (III. ii. 23); and when Shallow's servant Davy receives his master's instructions to sow 'the headland' 'with red wheat,' in the early autumn, there is an obvious reference to the custom almost peculiar to the Cotswolds of sowing 'red lammas' wheat at an unusually early season of the agricultural year. {168b}

The kingly hero of the two plays of 'Henry IV' had figured as a spirited young man in 'Richard II;' he was now represented as weighed down by care and age. With him are contrasted (in part i.) his impetuous and ambitious subject Hotspur and (in both parts) his son and heir Prince Hal, whose boisterous disposition drives him from Court to seek adventures among the haunters of taverns. Hotspur is a vivid and fascinating portrait of a hot-headed soldier, courageous to the point of rashness, and sacrificing his life to his impetuous sense of honour. Prince Hal, despite his vagaries, is endowed by the dramatist with far more self-control and common sense.


On the first, as on every subsequent, production of 'Henry IV' the main public interest was concentrated neither on the King nor on his son, nor on Hotspur, but on the chief of Prince Hal's riotous companions. At the outset the propriety of that great creation was questioned on a political or historical ground of doubtful relevance. Shakespeare in both parts of 'Henry IV' originally named the chief of the prince's associates after Sir John Oldcastle, a character in the old play. But Henry Brooke, eighth lord Cobham, who succeeded to the title early in 1597, and claimed descent from the historical Sir John Oldcastle, the Lollard leader, raised objection; and when the first part of the play was printed by the acting-company's authority in 1598 ('newly corrected' in 1599), Shakespeare bestowed on Prince Hal's tun-bellied follower the new and deathless name of Falstaff. A trustworthy edition of the second part of 'Henry IV' also appeared with Falstaff's name substituted for that of Oldcastle in 1600. There the epilogue expressly denied that Falstaff had any characteristic in common with the martyr Oldcastle. Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man. But the substitution of the name 'Falstaff' did not pass without protest. It hazily recalled Sir John Fastolf, an historical warrior who had already figured in 'Henry VI' and was owner at one time of the Boar's Head Tavern in Southwark; according to traditional stage directions, {170} the prince and his companions in 'Henry IV' frequent the Boar's Head, Eastcheap. Fuller in his 'Worthies,' first published in 1662, while expressing satisfaction that Shakespeare had 'put out' of the play Sir John Oldcastle, was eloquent in his avowal of regret that 'Sir John Fastolf' was 'put in,' on the ground that it was making overbold with a great warrior's memory to make him a 'Thrasonical puff and emblem of mock-valour.'

The offending introduction and withdrawal of Oldcastle's name left a curious mark on literary history. Humbler dramatists (Munday, Wilson, Drayton, and Hathaway), seeking to profit by the attention drawn by Shakespeare to the historical Oldcastle, produced a poor dramatic version of Oldcastle's genuine history; and of two editions of 'Sir John Oldcastle' published in 1600, one printed for T[homas] P[avier] was impudently described on the title-page as by Shakespeare.

But it is not the historical traditions which are connected with Falstaff that give him his perennial attraction. It is the personality that owes nothing to history with which Shakespeare's imaginative power clothed him. The knight's unfettered indulgence in sensual pleasures, his exuberant mendacity, and his love of his own ease are purged of offence by his colossal wit and jollity, while the contrast between his old age and his unreverend way of life supplies that tinge of melancholy which is inseparable from the highest manifestations of humour. The Elizabethan public recognised the triumphant success of the effort, and many of Falstaff's telling phrases, with the names of his foils, Justice Shallow and Silence, at once took root in popular speech. Shakespeare's purely comic power culminated in Falstaff; he may be claimed as the most humorous figure in literature.

'Merry Wives of Windsor.'

In all probability 'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' a comedy inclining to farce, and unqualified by any pathetic interest, followed close upon 'Henry IV.' In the epilogue to the 'Second Part of Henry IV' Shakespeare had written: 'If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story with Sir John in it . . . where for anything I know Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already a' be killed with your hard opinions.' Rowe asserts that 'Queen Elizabeth was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff in the two parts of "Henry IV" that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love.' Dennis, in the dedication of 'The Comical Gallant' (1702), noted that the 'Merry Wives' was written at the Queen's 'command and by her direction; and she was so eager to see it acted that she commanded it to be finished in fourteen days, and was afterwards, as tradition tells us, very well pleased with the representation.' In his 'Letters' (1721, p. 232) Dennis reduces the period of composition to ten days—'a prodigious thing,' added Gildon, {172a} 'where all is so well contrived and carried on without the least confusion.' The localisation of the scene at Windsor, and the complimentary references to Windsor Castle, corroborate the tradition that the comedy was prepared to meet a royal command. An imperfect draft of the play was printed by Thomas Creede in 1602; {172b} the folio of 1623 first supplied a complete version. The plot was probably suggested by an Italian novel. A tale from Straparola's 'Notti' (iv. 4), of which an adaptation figured in the miscellany of novels called Tarleton's 'Newes out of Purgatorie' (1590), another Italian tale from the 'Pecorone' of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino (i. 2), and a third romance, the Fishwife's tale of Brainford in the collection of stories called 'Westward for Smelts,' {172c} supply incidents distantly resembling episodes in the play. Nowhere has Shakespeare so vividly reflected the bluff temper of contemporary middle-class society. The presentment of the buoyant domestic life of an Elizabethan country town bears distinct impress of Shakespeare's own experience. Again, there are literal references to the neighbourhood of Stratford. Justice Shallow, whose coat-of-arms is described as consisting of 'luces,' is thereby openly identified with Shakespeare's early foe, Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote. When Shakespeare makes Master Slender repeat the report that Master Page's fallow greyhound was 'outrun on Cotsall' (I. i. 93), he testifies to his interest in the coursing matches for which the Cotswold district was famed.

'Henry V.'

The spirited character of Prince Hal was peculiarly congenial to its creator, and in 'Henry V' Shakespeare, during 1598, brought his career to its close. The play was performed early in 1599, probably in the newly built Globe Theatre. Again Thomas Creede printed, in 1600, an imperfect draft, which was thrice reissued before a complete version was supplied in the First Folio of 1623. The dramatic interest of 'Henry V' is slender. There is abundance of comic element, but death has removed Falstaff, whose last moments are described with the simple pathos that comes of a matchless art, and, though Falstaff's companions survive, they are thin shadows of his substantial figure. New comic characters are introduced in the persons of three soldiers respectively of Welsh, Scottish, and Irish nationality, whose racial traits are contrasted with telling effect. The irascible Irishman, Captain MacMorris, is the only representative of his nation who figures in the long list of Shakespeare's dramatis personae. The scene in which the pedantic but patriotic Welshman, Fluellen, avenges the sneers of the braggart Pistol at his nation's emblem, by forcing him to eat the leek, overflows in vivacious humour. The piece in its main current presents a series of loosely connected episodes in which the hero's manliness is displayed as soldier, ruler, and lover. The topic reached its climax in the victory of the English at Agincourt, which powerfully appealed to patriotic sentiment. Besides the 'Famous Victories,' {174} there was another lost piece on the subject, which Henslowe produced for the first time on November 28, 1595. 'Henry V' may be regarded as Shakespeare's final experiment in the dramatisation of English history, and it artistically rounds off the series of his 'histories' which form collectively a kind of national epic. For 'Henry VIII,' which was produced very late in his career, he was only in part responsible, and that 'history' consequently belongs to a different category.

Essex and the rebellion of 1601.

A glimpse of autobiography may be discerned in the direct mention by Shakespeare in 'Henry V' of an exciting episode in current history. In the prologue to act v. Shakespeare foretold for Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, the close friend of his patron Southampton, an enthusiastic reception by the people of London when he should come home after 'broaching' rebellion in Ireland.

Were now the general of our gracious empress, As in good time he may, from Ireland coming, Bringing rebellion broached on his sword, How many would the peaceful city quit To welcome him!—(Act v. Chorus, ll. 30-4.)

Essex had set out on his disastrous mission as the would-be pacificator of Ireland on March 27, 1599. The fact that Southampton went with him probably accounts for Shakespeare's avowal of sympathy. But Essex's effort failed. He was charged, soon after 'Henry V' was produced, with treasonable neglect of duty, and he sought in 1601, again with the support of Southampton, to recover his position by stirring up rebellion in London. Then Shakespeare's reference to Essex's popularity with Londoners bore perilous fruit. The friends of the rebel leaders sought the dramatist's countenance. They paid 40s. to Augustine Phillips, a leading member of Shakespeare's company, to induce him to revive at the Globe Theatre 'Richard II' (beyond doubt Shakespeare's play), in the hope that its scene of the killing of a king might encourage a popular outbreak. Phillips subsequently deposed that he prudently told the conspirators who bespoke the piece that 'that play of Kyng Richard' was 'so old and so long out of use as that they should have small or no company at it.' None the less the performance took place on Saturday (February 7, 1601), the day preceding that fixed by Essex for the rising. The Queen, in a later conversation with William Lambarde (on August 4, 1601), complained that 'this tragedie' of 'Richard II,' which she had always viewed with suspicion, was played at the period with seditious intent 'forty times in open streets and houses.' {175} At the trial of Essex and his friends, Phillips gave evidence of the circumstances under which the tragedy was revived at the Globe Theatre. Essex was executed and Southampton was imprisoned until the Queen's death. No proceedings were taken against the players, {176a} but Shakespeare wisely abstained, for the time, from any public reference to the fate either of Essex or of his patron Southampton.

Shakespeare's popularity and influence.

Such incidents served to accentuate Shakespeare's growing reputation. For several years his genius as dramatist and poet had been acknowledged by critics and playgoers alike, and his social and professional position had become considerable. Inside the theatre his influence was supreme. When, in 1598, the manager of the company rejected Ben Jonson's first comedy—his 'Every Man in his Humour'—Shakespeare intervened, according to a credible tradition (reported by Rowe but denounced by Gifford), and procured a reversal of the decision in the interest of the unknown dramatist who was his junior by nine years. He took a part when the piece was performed. Jonson was of a difficult and jealous temper, and subsequently he gave vent to an occasional expression of scorn at Shakespeare's expense, but, despite passing manifestations of his unconquerable surliness, there can be no doubt that Jonson cherished genuine esteem and affection for Shakespeare till death. {176b} Within a very few years of Shakespeare's death Sir Nicholas L'Estrange, an industrious collector of anecdotes, put into writing an anecdote for which he made Dr. Donne responsible, attesting the amicable relations that habitually subsisted between Shakespeare and Jonson. 'Shakespeare,' ran the story, 'was godfather to one of Ben Jonson's children, and after the christening, being in a deep study, Jonson came to cheer him up and asked him why he was so melancholy. "No, faith, Ben," says he, "not I, but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolv'd at last." "I pr'ythee, what?" sayes he. "I' faith, Ben, I'll e'en give him a dozen good Lattin spoons, and thou shalt translate them."' {177}

The Mermaid meetings.

The creator of Falstaff could have been no stranger to tavern life, and he doubtless took part with zest in the convivialities of men of letters. Tradition reports that Shakespeare joined, at the Mermaid Tavern in Bread Street, those meetings of Jonson and his associates which Beaumont described in his poetical 'Letter' to Jonson:

'What things have we seen Done at the Mermaid? heard words that have been So nimble, and so full of subtle flame, As if that every one from whence they came Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest, And had resolved to live a fool the rest Of his dull life.'

'Many were the wit-combats,' wrote Fuller of Shakespeare in his 'Worthies' (1662), 'betwixt him and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man of war; Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances. Shakespear, with the Englishman of war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention.'

Mere's eulogy, 1598.

Of the many testimonies paid to Shakespeare's literary reputation at this period of his career, the most striking was that of Francis Meres. Meres was a learned graduate of Cambridge University, a divine and schoolmaster, who brought out in 1598 a collection of apophthegms on morals, religion, and literature which he entitled 'Palladis Tamia.' In the book he interpolated 'A comparative discourse of our English poets with the Greek, Latin, and Italian poets,' and there exhaustively surveyed contemporary literary effort in England. Shakespeare figured in Meres's pages as the greatest man of letters of the day. 'The Muses would speak Shakespeare's fine filed phrase,' Meres asserted, 'if they could speak English.' 'Among the English,' he declared, 'he was the most excellent in both kinds for the stage' (i.e. tragedy and comedy). The titles of six comedies ('Two Gentlemen of Verona, 'Errors,' 'Love's Labour's Lost,' 'Love's Labour's Won,' 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' and 'Merchant of Venice') and of six tragedies ('Richard II,' 'Richard III,' 'Henry IV,' 'King John,' 'Titus,' and 'Romeo and Juliet') were set forth, and mention followed of his 'Venus and Adonis,' his 'Lucrece,' and his 'sugred {179} sonnets among his private friends.' These were cited as proof 'that the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare.' In the same year a rival poet, Richard Barnfield, in 'Poems in divers Humors,' predicted immortality for Shakespeare with no less confidence.

And Shakespeare, thou whose honey-flowing vein (Pleasing the world) thy Praises doth obtain, Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweet and chaste) Thy name in Fame's immortal Book have placed, Live ever you, at least in fame live ever: Well may the Body die, but Fame dies never.

Value of his name to publishers.

Shakespeare's name was thenceforth of value to unprincipled publishers, and they sought to palm off on their customers as his work the productions of inferior pens. As early as 1595, Thomas Creede, the surreptitious printer of 'Henry V' and the 'Merry Wives,' had issued the crude 'Tragedie of Locrine, as 'newly set foorth, overseene and corrected. By W. S.' It appropriated many passages from an older piece called 'Selimus,' which was possibly by Greene and certainly came into being long before Shakespeare had written a line of blank verse. The same initials—'W.S.' {180}—figured on the title-page of 'The True Chronicle Historie of Thomas, Lord Cromwell,' which was licensed on August 11, 1602, was printed for William Jones in that year, and was reprinted verbatim by Thomas Snodham in 1613. On the title-page of the comedy entitled 'The Puritaine, or the Widdow of Watling Streete,' which George Eld printed in 1607, 'W.S.' was again stated to be the author. Shakespeare's full name appeared on the title-pages of 'The Life of Old-castle' in 1600 (printed for T[homas] P[avier]), of 'The London Prodigall' in 1605 (printed by T. C. for Nathaniel Butter), and of 'The Yorkshire Tragedy' in 1608 (by R. B. for Thomas Pavier). None of these six plays have any internal claim to Shakespeare's authorship; nevertheless all were uncritically included in the third folio of his collected works,(1664). Schlegel and a few other critics of repute have, on no grounds that merit acceptance, detected signs of Shakespeare's genuine work in one of the six, 'The Yorkshire Tragedy;' it is 'a coarse, crude, and vigorous impromptu,' which is clearly by a far less experienced hand.

The fraudulent practice of crediting Shakespeare with valueless plays from the pens of comparatively dull-witted contemporaries was in vogue among enterprising traders in literature both early and late in the seventeenth century. The worthless old play on the subject of King John was attributed to Shakespeare in the reissues of 1611 and 1622. Humphrey Moseley, a reckless publisher of a later period, fraudulently entered on the 'Stationers' Register' on September 9, 1653, two pieces which he represented to be in whole or in part by Shakespeare, viz. 'The Merry Devill of Edmonton' and the 'History of Cardenio,' a share in which was assigned to Fletcher. 'The Merry Devill of Edmonton,' which was produced on the stage before the close of the sixteenth century, was entered on the 'Stationers' Register,' October 22, 1607, and was first published anonymously in 1608; it is a delightful comedy, abounding in both humour and romantic sentiment; at times it recalls scenes of the 'Merry Wives of Windsor,' but no sign of Shakespeare's workmanship is apparent. The 'History of Cardenio' is not extant. {181} Francis Kirkman, another active London publisher, who first printed William Rowley's 'Birth of Merlin' in 1662, described it on the title-page as 'written by William Shakespeare and William Rowley;' it was reprinted at Halle in a so-called 'Collection of pseudo-Shakespearean plays' in 1887.

'The Passionate Pilgrim.'

But poems no less than plays, in which Shakespeare had no hand, were deceptively placed to his credit as soon as his fame was established. In 1599 William Jaggard, a well-known pirate publisher, issued a poetic anthology which he entitled 'The Passionate Pilgrim, by W. Shakespeare.' The volume opened with two sonnets by Shakespeare which were not previously in print, and there followed three poems drawn from the already published 'Love's Labour's Lost;' but the bulk of the volume was by Richard Barnfield and others. {182} A third edition of the 'Passionate Pilgrim' was printed in 1612 with unaltered title-page, although the incorrigible Jaggard had added two new poems which he silently filched from Thomas Heywood's 'Troia Britannica.' Heywood called attention to his own grievance in the dedicatory epistle before his 'Apology for Actors' (1612), and he added that Shakespeare resented the more substantial injury which the publisher had done him. 'I know,' wrote Heywood of Shakespeare, '[he was] much offended with M. Jaggard that (altogether unknown to him) presumed to make so bold with his name.' In the result the publisher seems to have removed Shakespeare's name from the title-page of a few copies. This is the only instance on record of a protest on Shakespeare's part against the many injuries which he suffered at the hands of contemporary publishers.

'The Phoenix and the Turtle.'

In 1601 Shakespeare's full name was appended to 'a poetical essaie on the Phoenix and the Turtle,' which was published by Edward Blount in an appendix to Robert Chester's 'Love's Martyr, or Rosalins complaint, allegorically shadowing the Truth of Love in the Constant Fate of the Phoenix and Turtle.' The drift of Chester's crabbed verse is not clear, nor can the praise of perspicuity be allowed to the appendix to which Shakespeare contributed, together with Marston, Chapman, Ben Jonson, and 'Ignoto.' The appendix is introduced by a new title-page running thus: 'Hereafter follow diverse poeticall Essaies on the former subject, viz: the Turtle and Phoenix. Done by the best and chiefest of our modern writers, with their names subscribed to their particular workes: never before extant.' Shakespeare's alleged contribution consists of thirteen four-lined stanzas in trochaics, each line being of seven syllables, with the rhymes disposed as in Tennyson's 'In Memoriam.' The concluding 'threnos' is in five three-lined stanzas, also in trochaics, each stanza having a single rhyme. The poet describes in enigmatic language the obsequies of the Phoenix and the Turtle-dove, who had been united in life by the ties of a purely spiritual love. The poem may be a mere play of fancy without recondite intention, or it may be of allegorical import; but whether it bear relation to pending ecclesiastical, political, or metaphysical controversy, or whether it interpret popular grief for the death of some leaders of contemporary society, is not easily determined. {184} Happily Shakespeare wrote nothing else of like character.


Shakespeare's practical temperament.

Shakespeare, in middle life, brought to practical affairs a singularly sane and sober temperament. In 'Ratseis Ghost' (1605), an anecdotal biography of Gamaliel Ratsey, a notorious highwayman, who was hanged at Bedford on March 26, 1605, the highwayman is represented as compelling a troop of actors whom he met by chance on the road to perform in his presence. At the close of the performance Ratsey, according to the memoir, addressed himself to a leader of the company, and cynically urged him to practise the utmost frugality in London. 'When thou feelest thy purse well lined (the counsellor proceeded), buy thee some place or lordship in the country that, growing weary of playing, thy money may there bring thee to dignity and reputation.' Whether or no Ratsey's biographer consciously identified the highwayman's auditor with Shakespeare, it was the prosaic course of conduct marked out by Ratsey that Shakespeare literally followed. As soon as his position in his profession was assured, he devoted his energies to re-establishing the fallen fortunes of his family in his native place, and to acquiring for himself and his successors the status of gentlefolk.

His father's difficulties.

His father's pecuniary embarrassments had steadily increased since his son's departure. Creditors harassed him unceasingly. In 1587 one Nicholas Lane pursued him for a debt for which he had become liable as surety for his brother Henry, who was still farming their father's lands at Snitterfield. Through 1588 and 1589 John Shakespeare retaliated with pertinacity on a debtor named John Tompson. But in 1591 a creditor, Adrian Quiney, obtained a writ of distraint against him, and although in 1592 he attested inventories taken on the death of two neighbours, Ralph Shaw and Henry Field, father of the London printer, he was on December 25 of the same year 'presented' as a recusant for absenting himself from church. The commissioners reported that his absence was probably due to 'fear of process for debt.' He figures for the last time in the proceedings of the local court, in his customary role of defendant, on March 9, 1595. He was then joined with two fellow traders—Philip Green, a chandler, and Henry Rogers, a butcher—as defendant in a suit brought by Adrian Quiney and Thomas Barker for the recovery of the sum of five pounds. Unlike his partners in the litigation, his name is not followed in the record by a mention of his calling, and when the suit reached a later stage his name was omitted altogether. These may be viewed as indications that in the course of the proceedings he finally retired from trade, which had been of late prolific in disasters for him. In January 1596-7 he conveyed a slip of land attached to his dwelling in Henley Street to one George Badger.

His wife's debt.

There is a likelihood that the poet's wife fared, in the poet's absence, no better than his father. The only contemporary mention made of her between her marriage in 1582 and her husband's death in 1616 is as the borrower at an unascertained date (evidently before 1595) of forty shillings from Thomas Whittington, who had formerly been her father's shepherd. The money was unpaid when Whittington died in 1601, and he directed his executor to recover the sum from the poet and distribute it among the poor of Stratford. {187}

It was probably in 1596 that Shakespeare returned, after nearly eleven years' absence, to his native town, and worked a revolution in the affairs of his family. The prosecutions of his father in the local court ceased. Thenceforth the poet's relations with Stratford were uninterrupted. He still resided in London for most of the year; but until the close of his professional career he paid the town at least one annual visit, and he was always formally described as 'of Stratford-on-Avon, gentleman.' He was no doubt there on August 11, 1596, when his only son, Hamnet, was buried in the parish church; the boy was eleven and a half years old.

The coat-of-arms.

At the same date the poet's father, despite his pecuniary embarrassments, took a step, by way of regaining his prestige, which must be assigned to the poet's intervention. {188a} He made application to the College of Heralds for a coat-of-arms. {188b} Then, as now, the heralds when bestowing new coats-of-arms commonly credited the applicant's family with an imaginary antiquity, and little reliance need be placed on the biographical or genealogical statements alleged in grants of arms. The poet's father or the poet himself when first applying to the College stated that John Shakespeare, in 1568, while he was bailiff of Stratford, and while he was by virtue of that office a justice of the peace, had obtained from Robert Cook, then Clarenceux herald, a 'pattern' or sketch of an armorial coat. This allegation is not noticed in the records of the College, and may be a formal fiction designed by John Shakespeare and his son to recommend their claim to the notice of the heralds. The negotiations of 1568, if they were not apocryphal, were certainly abortive; otherwise there would have been no necessity for the further action of 1596. In any case, on October 20, 1596, a draft, which remains in the College of Arms, was prepared under the direction of William Dethick, Garter King-of-Arms, granting John's request for a coat-of-arms. Garter stated, with characteristic vagueness, that he had been 'by credible report' informed that the applicant's 'parentes and late antecessors were for theire valeant and faithfull service advanced and rewarded by the most prudent prince King Henry the Seventh of famous memories sythence whiche tyme they have continewed at those partes [i.e. Warwickshire] in good reputacion and credit;' and that 'the said John [had] maryed Mary, daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wilmcote, gent.' In consideration of these titles to honour, Garter declared that he assigned to Shakespeare this shield, viz.: 'Gold, on a bend sable, a spear of the first, and for his crest or cognizance a falcon, his wings displayed argent, standing on a wreath of his colours, supporting a spear gold steeled as aforesaid.' In the margin of this draft-grant there is a pen sketch of the arms and crest, and above them is written the motto, 'Non Sans Droict.' {189} A second copy of the draft, also dated in 1596, is extant at the College. The only alterations are the substitution of the word 'grandfather' for 'antecessors' in the account of John Shakespeare's ancestry, and the substitution of the word 'esquire' for 'gent' in the description of his wife's father, Robert Arden. At the foot of this draft, however, appeared some disconnected and unverifiable memoranda which John Shakespeare or his son had supplied to the heralds, to the effect that John had been bailiff of Stratford, had received a 'pattern' of a shield from Clarenceux Cook, was a man of substance, and had married into a worshipful family. {190}

[Picture: Coat-of-arms]

Neither of these drafts was fully executed. It may have been that the unduly favourable representations made to the College respecting John Shakespeare's social and pecuniary position excited suspicion even in the habitually credulous minds of the heralds, or those officers may have deemed the profession of the son, who was conducting the negotiation, a bar to completing the transaction. At any rate, Shakespeare and his father allowed three years to elapse before (as far as extant documents show) they made a further endeavour to secure the coveted distinction. In 1599 their efforts were crowned with success. Changes in the interval among the officials at the College may have facilitated the proceedings. In 1597 the Earl of Essex had become Earl Marshal and chief of the Heralds' College (the office had been in commission in 1596); while the great scholar and antiquary, William Camden, had joined the College, also in 1597, as Clarenceux King-of-Arms. The poet was favourably known to both Camden and the Earl of Essex, the close friend of the Earl of Southampton. His father's application now took a new form. No grant of arms was asked for. It was asserted without qualification that the coat, as set out in the draft-grants of 1596, had been assigned to John Shakespeare while he was bailiff, and the heralds were merely invited to give him a 'recognition' or 'exemplification' of it. {191} At the same time he asked permission for himself to impale, and his eldest son and other children to quarter, on 'his ancient coat-of-arms' that of the Ardens of Wilmcote, his wife's family. The College officers were characteristically complacent. A draft was prepared under the hands of Dethick, the Garter King, and of Camden, the Clarenceux King, granting the required 'exemplification' and authorising the required impalement and quartering. On one point only did Dethick and Camden betray conscientious scruples. Shakespeare and his father obviously desired the heralds to recognise the title of Mary Shakespeare (the poet's mother) to bear the arms of the great Warwickshire family of Arden, then seated at Park Hall. But the relationship, if it existed, was undetermined; the Warwickshire Ardens were gentry of influence in the county, and were certain to protest against any hasty assumption of identity between their line and that of the humble farmer of Wilmcote. After tricking the Warwickshire Arden coat in the margin of the draft-grant for the purpose of indicating the manner of its impalement, the heralds on second thoughts erased it. They substituted in their sketch the arms of an Arden family living at Alvanley in the distant county of Cheshire. With that stock there was no pretence that Robert Arden of Wilmcote was lineally connected; but the bearers of the Alvanley coat were unlikely to learn of its suggested impalement with the Shakespeare shield, and the heralds were less liable to the risk of litigation. But the Shakespeares wisely relieved the College of all anxiety by omitting to assume the Arden coat. The Shakespeare arms alone are displayed with full heraldic elaboration on the monument above the poet's grave in Stratford Church; they alone appear on the seal and on the tombstone of his elder daughter, Mrs. Susanna Hall, impaled with the arms of her husband; {192a} and they alone were quartered by Thomas Nash, the first husband of the poet's granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall. {192b}

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