Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

a special delight in the character of Falstaff, and a plausible tradition relates that she ordered Shakespeare to write a play which should exhibit the fat knight as a lover, and thus inspired the Merry Wives of Windsor.

King James showed himself an even more gracious patron of Shakespeare and his friends. Almost immediately after his accession he took the company under his special protection, granting them a license to perform, not only in the Globe Theatre, but also in the town hall of any town in England. Throughout the reign of James, Shakespeare's company bore the enviable title of the "King's Servants.” Even before the new king entered the capital the company was requested to play before him; and on his public entry into London, Shakespeare and eight of his fellows walked in the royal procession robed in scarlet cloaks bestowed upon them by the royal bounty. Throughout his reign James remained a generous benefactor of his "Servants." By his special request many of Shakespeare's plays were performed at court, and for these performances the players were always handsomely rewarded. The Tempest, perhaps the last play that Shakespeare wrote, was given at the festivities attending the marriage of James's daughter to the Prince Palatine.

It is well known that Shakespeare made his fortune in London. It is not, perhaps, a matter of general acquaintance that he devoted this fortune to regaining for himself and his family the social position in Stratford which his father's bankruptcy and, perhaps, his own wild youth

had forfeited. By 1596 Shakespeare had made money enough to lift his father from the slough of debts in which he had for years been struggling. In the same year, John Shakespeare, no doubt, at the suggestion of his son, applied to the College of Heralds, in London, for a coat of arms, the outward and visible sign of the possessor's rank as a gentleman.

Even before the coat of arms was granted to his father, Shakespeare had given evidence of his ability as well as his desire to re-establish himself in Stratford as a substantial citizen. In 1597 he bought the largest dwelling in Stratford, New Place, the "great house" erected by Sir Hugh Clopton a hundred years before. It had long since fallen into a ruinous condition, so that the sum which Shakespeare paid for it, equivalent to about $2500, probably represented but a small part of his outlay upon the property.

On his father's death, in 1601, Shakespeare inherited the double house on Henley Street, now shown to visitors as the "Birthplace"; in the following year he bought a large farm of 107 acres near Stratford; and in the same year he acquired a cottage and garden facing the grounds of New Place. In 1605 he invested a sum equal to between $15,000 and $20,000 in purchasing a share in the tithes of Stratford, an investment which not only paid him a handsome profit, but established his position as one of the moneyed men of the town. It is said, indeed, that after his retiring from the stage he spent about $8000 a year on his Stratford house and estate.

Shakespeare's income was derived in part from his plays, in part from his profession as an actor. To these sources must be added for the years between 1599 and 1611 or 1612 his shares in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres. All in all, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Shakespeare's income in the latter years of his life approximated the sum of $25,000 a year. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that the greatest of English poets, the poet who, as actor and playwright, appealed most directly to the English people, received his due reward of wealth, as well as of fame.

Shakespeare's life in London was, however, by no means wholly given over to work. His sympathetic and sensitive temperament craved the companionship of friends and his gentleness and charm of manner soon won the hearts of men and held them to him in lasting bonds. There is no trace of Shakespeare's having been involved in the bitter quarrels which raged in the theatrical world of · his day. On the contrary his closest friends were those of his own calling, actors like Burbage, Heming, and Condell, poets and playwrights like Drayton and Ben Jonson. Jonson, indeed, allowed himself the freedom of criticizing Shakespeare's methods of work, but he said: "I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any." Shakespeare mingled in the merry life of the London taverns where poets, playwrights, and actors met to discuss their work and to fleet the time carelessly. "Many were the wit-combats " wrote Thomas Fuller in the next generation "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 English man-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."

Outside of his immediate circle Shakespeare had probably few friends, though many admirers. The dedications of his two poems show the strength of the tie which bound him to the Earl of Southampton; "the love I dedicate to your lordship is without end" he wrote. Shakespeare's sonnets reveal a passionate conception of friendship unmatched in English literature, and many critics believe that they were addressed to this same nobleman. Another claimant for this honour is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who is said by Shakespeare's friends, Heming and Condell, to have been a patron of the poet. The sonnets seem to tell a strange and sad story of Shakespeare's devotion to a noble youth, of his passion for a fascinating but dangerous woman, of his betrayal by his friend and the lady, of his bitter grief, and of his final reconciliation with his friend. Many attempts have been made to throw light upon this story and to ascertain the identity of the friend and the lady, but we know too little of Shakespeare's life in London to come to any positive conclusion' on these points. One thing alone seems plain, that Shakespeare had sinned and been even more deeply sinned against, that he had suffered

and sorrowed, and forgiven, and that these sad experiences of life gave him a tender sympathy with erring humanity and a deep sense of the necessity of charity for human weakness.

Shakespeare seems to have left London for Stratford about the year 1611, and, although he paid an occasional visit to the capital, his last years were spent in the comfort and quiet retirement of his country home. There can have been little charm for Shakespeare in the society of Stratford. His wife was now an elderly woman, ignorant of the world, and devoutly puritanical. His little son, Hamnet, whom he had hoped to make the heir of his estate, was long since dead, and his eldest daughter had married an able, but narrow and fanatical, country doctor. In the town itself the growing strength and bitterness of Puritanism, shown by the fact that in 1612 the town council imposed a prohibitive fine of something like $400, upon all stage-plays, must have been most repugnant to him. Yet there is no reason to suppose that Shakespeare's last years were unhappy. It would have been easy for him to have remained in London, had he preferred. But he had grown weary of the city and deliberately broke the bonds that held him there, selling his shares in the two theatres and turning over the manuscripts of his unfinished plays to be worked up by other and weaker hands. He found in Stratford what he sought, rest, a retreat from the noises of the world, and the companionship of nature. His little grandchild was growing up into girlhood, and many a passage in

« ÎnapoiContinuă »