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This Edition of SHAKSPEARE has been carefully prepared from the earliest and more modern Editions. Where Commentators have differed as to the sense of obscure or doubtful passages, we have selected those readings which we believed to be most Shakspearian and best suited to a popular Edition.
MEMOIR OF SHAKSPEARE.
LIFE of peace and prosperity furnishes but little matter for a chronicle. Such, doubtless, with but a brief interval, was that of England's greatest poet, for the record of it is brief and jejune in the
extreme; only to be traced in registers and occasional notices. Unhappily for us, Shakspeare did not find, amongst the manifold characters which surrounded him, a Boswell, to note down the witty utterances with which his contemporaries were charmed; we have no authentic anecdotes of the “my-. riad-minded man," as Coleridge terms him, only imperfect and apocryphal traditions. But everything that is known of him is of value in the eyes of Englishmen; we subjoin, therefore, a short notice of his life, from the few records that remain.
William Shakspeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon, on St. George's Day, April 23, 1564. He was the eldest son of John Shakspeare and his wife, Mary Arden.
His family were “gentle" upon both sides. His paternal ancestor is believed to have fought at Bosworth Field on the side of Richmond, for he received from Henry VII., in reward for“ valiant and faithful" services, tenements and lands in Warwickshire, on which his descendants dwelt till the birth of him who was destined to immortalize their name. Shakspeare's mother was the daughter and heiress of Robert Arden, of Wylmcote, (or Wellingcote,) in Warwickshire, a gentleman of ancient and honourable family, deriving its name probably from the forest land on which its possessions stood.
The year of Shakspeare's birth was marked by the outbreak of the plague in Stratford ; but the spotted curse passed harmlessly by the cradle of the glorious infant; whilst his then well-to-do father contributed of his means to the relief of the poor who had suffered by its ravages. The boyhood of Shakspeare, till he was ten years old, was spent, probably, in a manner well adapted to foster his genius. On his mother's heritage of Asbyes-in his father's nearer meadows-the young poet must have revelled in the greenwood shades, and amid the daisied meads, of which he afterwards painted such sweet sylvan pictures. The forest of Arden, the sheep-shearing of Perdita, the fairy-haunted woods, &c., were doubtless memories of his boyhood.
From about the time Shakspeare completed his eleventh year, the prosperity of his family waned ; the shadow of evil days gathered over the hitherto prosperous yeoman. In 1578, John Shakspeare was unable to pay poor-rates; and -happy and considerate must the age have been !—he was left untaxed.”
During these eleven years his gifted eldest son was receiving his early education at the free grammar school of Stratford; the masters being at that time Walter Roche, Thomas Hunt, and Thomas Jenkins. Of the where or how that education was completed we have no record. That his days of youthful study ended early, we may, however, conjecture, as he married at the age of eighteen Anne Hathaway, the daughter of Richard Hathaway, of Shottery, a substantial yeoman. The bride was eight years older than her husband. Before Shakspeare was twenty-one, he was the father of three children, a daughter -Susanna, the darling of his after life, and a twin son and daughter, Hamnet (or Hamlet) and Judith.
It is probable that this rapid increase of family and his father's decaying circumstances, led to the resolve of the poet to seek a fortune in London. He had in the great city—which was an El Dorado to the imaginations of country folks in those days—a relative and townsman named Thomas Green, a celebrated comedian, who, in company with the actors Burbage, Slye, Hemynge, and Tooley, had very recently performed at Stratford--it'., in 1584. Without giving much credence to the traditionary scandal of Shakspeare stealing deer from Sir Thomas Lucy's grounds at Charlecote, we may believe he had by some wild boyish freak given annoyance to the “ Justice," and thus added another motive to those which already disposed him to leave his fair Warwickshire home. Doubtless but little inducement was, however, required to lure him into the world of famous men whose renown then filled the length and breadth of the land ; and whose grand memories surround his own, lighting the age of Elizabeth with a galaxy of statesmen and heroes. He himself early declared that
"Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits.” And with his consciousness of mental power, he would naturally seek the widest field for its exercise.
He went to London in 1586, and, as it is supposed, became an actor and adapter of plays for the Blackfriars’ Theatre. In 1589 he was able to purchase , a share in it, and from that time his fame and good fortune grew rapidly. His dramas became known and appreciated, and in the following year he was honoured by the generous praise of Spenser, in the “Tears of the Muses.”
In 1593 appeared his first poem,“Venus and Adonis," written probably during the suspension of theatrical performances in London, caused by the plague of 1592. It was published by himself; the printer being a Stratford man (probably an old acquaintance) named Richard Field. That it was successful we cannot doubt, as the next year his “ Tarquin and Lucrece” issued from the same press. Another poetical laurel was bestowed on him by Spenser; and common tradition ascribes to this period a gift made to him by Lord Southampton (the friend of Essex), of a thousand pounds, in order that he might complete a meditated purchase.
The full tide of prosperity, which he had indeed “taken at the flood," now bore the great dramatist of all ages swiftly on its waters. The Queen-whose