Imagini ale paginilor
[blocks in formation]


It has sometimes been said that we know next to nothing about Shakespeare the man; but this statement is far from accurate. We know a great deal about the world he lived in and the influences which shaped and coloured his work; we know as many facts about his life as about that of almost any poet of his day; and from his plays we may learn far more than is usually admitted about his character and temperament. It is a mistaken reverence which loses itself in admiration of the work of the poet and forgets the very human man who lies behind this work.

William Shakespeare was born probably on April 22 or 23, 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was at this time a prosperous citizen in the little town of Stratfordon-Avon. Some twelve years before the poet's birth, John Shakespeare had come into town and opened a sort of general store for the sale of country produce. He rapidly rose into prominence, filled one office after another, and, four years after William's birth, was elected to the highest position in the town, that of bailiff. During his year of office he twice extended the hospitalities of the town to travelling actors, and it is most likely that William Shakespeare got his first impressions of the drama.

as a boy upon his father's knees in the town hall of Stratford. The poet's mother, Mary Arden, was connected with one of the most prominent families in the county and was, moreover, better provided with the world's goods than her husband.

At the age of seven or eight William Shakespeare entered the grammar school of Stratford. His studies, which were probably continued for at least five or six years, were, after the fashion of the day, almost entirely confined to Latin. He committed the grammar to memory, learned to repeat easy conversations in Latin, and read selections from such authors as Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and Seneca. His favourite poet seems to have been Ovid. Probably he also obtained at school some little knowledge of Greek, enough at least to read the standard authors in the popular editions which printed the Greek text on one page and a Latin translation on the other. Ben Jonson's remark that Shakespeare had "small Latin and less Greek" has sometimes been accepted as showing that the poet's education was very superficial; but it must be remembered that Jonson was one of the best classical scholars of his time, and judged Shakespeare by his own standard. There can be no doubt that as far as a reading knowledge of the classics goes, Shakespeare was at least on a level with the average graduate of an American college.

Very little, if any, instruction in mathematics was given in English schools in Shakespeare's day, and there was no opportunity whatever for studying either his native

tongue, or the modern languages. Shakespeare's knowledge of the Bible was obtained at home and in the town church, and his acquaintance with French and Italian, such as it was, he probably acquired during his later life in London.

Shakespeare cannot have done much reading in his youth, his father's house contained at most a Bible, a chronicle, and, perhaps, some old romance, and there was no free library in Stratford in those days, — but he had all the more time for boyish games, for the legends of ghosts and fairies which served to pass the long winter evenings, and above all for the sights and sounds of the beautiful English country which lay about him. Stratford was a very tiny town, and a few steps from the main street would take the boy into some of the loveliest scenery in England. Warwickshire was wilder then than now, and the forest of Arden covered a great part of the county. To Shakespeare, with his belief in witchcraft and wood-spirits, rambles in its shades must have seemed like voyages in fairyland; and we may be sure that when in after years he wrote of the haunted wood outside of Athens, or the great forest in France where the banished Duke and his companions chased the deer, he was dreaming of his own English Arden.

But we may be sure, too, that Shakespeare was no mere dreamy boy. He had eyes and ears for all that he saw or heard. He knew all the flowers of the field, and all the notes of the birds. But perhaps the best proof of Shakespeare's genuine boyishness was his devotion to

« ÎnapoiContinuă »