« PreviousContinue »
Hall, of Stratford, styled “gentleman” in the parish register, and afterwards a practising physician of good standing. The February following, Shakespeare became a grandfather; Elizabeth, the first and only child of John and Susanna Hall, being baptized the 17th of that month. It is supposed, and apparently with good reason, that Dr. Hall and his wife lived in the same house with the Poet; she was evidently deep in her father's heart; she is said to have had something of his mind and temper; the house was large enough for them all; nor are there wanting signs of entire affection between Mrs. Hall and her mother. Add to all this the Poet's manifest fondness for children, and his gentle and affable disposition, and we have the elements of a happy family and a cheerful home, such as might well render a good-natured man impatient of the stage. Of the moral and religious tenour of domestic life at New Place we are not permitted to know: at a later period the Shakespeares seem to have been not a little distinguished for works of piety and charity.
On the 10th of February, 1616, the Poet saw his youngest daughter, Judith, married to Thomas Quiney, of Stratford, vintner and wine-merchant, whose father had been High-Bailiff of the town. From the way Shakespeare mentions this daughter's marriage portion in his will, which was made the 25th of March following, it is evident that he gave his sanction to the match.
Which may be cited as argument that he had not himself experienced any such evils, as some have alleged, from the woman being older than the man; for his daughter had four years the start of her husband; she being at the time of her marriage thirtyone, and he twenty-seven.
Shakespeare was still in the meridian of life. There was no special cause, that we know of, why he might not live many years longer. It were vain to conjecture what he would have done, had more years been given him; possibly, instead of augmenting his legacy to us, he would have recalled and suppressed more or less of what he had written
as our inheritance. For the last two or three years, at least, he seems to have left his pen unused; as if, his own ends once achieved, he set no value on that mighty sceptre with which he since sways so large a portion of mankind. That the motives and ambitions of authorship had little to do in the generation of his works, is evident from the serene carelessness with which he left them to shift for themselves; tossing these wonderful treasures from him as if he thought them good for nothing but to serve the hour. Still, to us, in our ignorance, his life cannot but seem too short. For aught we know, Providence, in its wisdom, may have ruled not to allow the example of a man so gifted living to himself.
Be that as it may, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE departed this life on the 23d of April, 1616. Two days after, his remains were buried beneath the chancel of Trinity Church, in Stratford. The burial took place on the day before the anniversary of his baptism; and it has been commonly believed that his death fell on the anniversary of his birth. If so, he had just entered his fifty-third year. The Poet's will bears date March 25, 1616.
I must notice one item of it: “I give unto my wife the secondbest bed, with the furniture." As this is the only mention made of her, the circumstance was for a long time regarded as betraying a strange indifference, or something worse, on the testator's part, towards his wife. And on this has hung the main argument that the union was not a happy one. We owe to Mr. Knight an explanation of the matter; which is so simple and decisive, that we can but wonder it was not hit upon before. Shakespeare's property was mostly freehold; and in all this the widow had what is called the right of dower fully secured to her by the ordinary operation of English law. The Poet was lawyer enough to know this. As for “ the second-best bed,” this was doubtless the very thing which a loving and beloved wife would naturally prize above any other article of furniture in the establishment.
From the foregoing sketch it appears that the materials for a biography of Shakespeare are scanty indeed, and, withal, rather dry. Nevertheless, there is enough, I think, to show, that in all the common dealings of life he was eminently gentle, candid, upright, and judicious; openhearted, genial, and sweet, in his social intercourses ; among his companions and friends, full of playful wit and sprightly grace ;
-kind to the faults of others, severe to his own; quick to discern and acknowledge merit in another, modest and slow of finding it in himself : while, in the smooth and happy marriage, which he seems to have realized, of the highest poetry and art with systematic and successful prudence in business affairs, we have an example of compact and well-rounded practical manhood, such as may justly engage our admiration and respect.
I have spoken somewhat as to the motive and purpose of his intellectual labour. It was in and for the theatre that his multitudinous genius was developed, and his works produced ; there Fortune, or rather Providence, had cast his lot. Doubtless it was his nature, in whatever he undertook, to do his best. As an honest and true man, he would, if possible, make the temple of the Drama a noble, a beautiful, and glorious place; and it was while working quietly and unobtrusively in furtherance of this end, — building better than he knew,- that he approved himself the greatest, wisest, sweetest of men.
ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF THE DRAMA
HE ENGLISH DRAMA, as we have it in Shakespeare.
was the slow growth of several centuries. Nor is it clearly traceable to any foreign source : it was an original and independent growth, the native and free product of the soil. This position is very material in reference to the subject of structure and form; as inferring that the Drama in question is not amenable to any ancient or foreign jurisdiction; that it has a life and spirit of its own, is to be viewed as a thing by itself, and judged according to the peculiar laws under which it grew and took its shape; in brief, that it had just as good a right to differ from any other Drama as any other had from it.
The ancient Drama, that which grew to perfection, and, so far as is known, had its origin, in Greece, is universally styled the Classic Drama. By what term to distinguish the modern Drama of Europe, writers are not fully agreed. Within a somewhat recent period, it has received from high authorities the title of the Romantic Drama. A more appropriate title, as it seems to me, suggested by its Gothic original, and used by earlier authorities, is that of the Gothic Drama. Such, accordingly, is the term by which it will be distinguished in these pages. The fitness of the name, I think, will readily be seen from the fact that the thing was an indigenous and self-determined outgrowth from the Gothic mind under Christian culture. And the term naturally carries the idea, that the Drama in question stands on much the same ground relatively to the Classic Drama