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was an inn yard, such as that described in the “Canterbury Pilgrims.” The stage was put up on one side of the yard, and the audience stood either on the ground below, or was seated in the gallery which surrounded old inn yards, and on which the upper rooms opened. There was no scenery, and only such furniture was used as the inn itself could supply, such as a table and chairs, &c. The play began at three o'clock, and was over before sunset. In 1576 two theatres were built outside the city walls in the fields of Shoreditch. Here the citizens of London, sober earnest men, together with the young gallants of the Court, went on a holiday afternoon to see the last new play, and be stirred by it not only to laughter or tears, but to deeper thoughts about life and its consequences.
The demand for plays became quickly very great, and gave profitable employment to men of genius at the universities, who were at first the chief play-writers. Amongst the best of these were Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge, and Marlowe. As a dramatist Marlowe rose the highest. His first play was Tamburlaine the Great, in which he introduces the use of blank verse as the fitting measure for the most dignified or tragic scenes in a play. His next play, and his greatest, was The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. Many stories were afloat about this Dr. Faustus, who was said to have been a German magician, living early in the sixteenth century. Melancthon and other reformers had written of him, and in 1587 a collection of the stories about him was printed in Germany, and versions of this book were published in English, French, and Dutch. The general representation of Faustus was of a man seeking knowledge to gratify his own pride, without regard to the service of God or good of man. In his eager pursuit of knowledge he employs the aid of evil spirits and sells his soul to Satan. Marlowe took this story and worked it into a powerful drama, in which the contest between good and evil, between temptation and conscience, was set forth with the earnestness and energy of a man who believes all he writes. Marlowe wrote other plays, but, when a comparatively young man, was killed in a brawl on the ist of June, 1593. Greene had died the year before, Peele shortly after, and Lodge and Lyly left off writing plays.
The stage was thus left clear for a greater play-writer than either of these, Shakespeare. When Marlowe died in 1593, Shakespeare was just beginning to write original plays. He is the greatest dramatist of that and all other time, and gives the crowning glory to the Elizabethan Literature.
In seeking to give a sketch of his life we are obliged to acknowledge that though much has been written about him, very little indeed is really known.
His life for many years was the homely, obscure life of an Englishman of the lower middle-class; and although attempts have been made to add to the few known facts by suppositions, and to throw a colouring of romantic mystery over simple, bare details, yet we are not justified in giving currency to anything, but established truth. In the case of smaller writers we may sometimes safely guess at the experience through which they have passed from their works, and even draw a correct picture of their characters, because such men do not create, but only repeat themselves and their own experiences. But the first essential of a great mind is its power of working independently of its own emotions and its own experience. It is by greater vigour of imagination and by clearer insight that it can conceive feelings and sensations belonging to varieties of character, under all possible circumstances, and not because it has itself passed through these phases. It was because Shakespeare possessed in such a remarkable degree this perfect independence of himself in his work that he was able to draw such a wonderful variety of characters, and to represent with unsurpassed correctness every shade of feeling under different circumstances, so that his plays are a mirror in
which all the world around him is reflected, but not himself. We cannot therefore say what were his private circumstances or his own state of mind at the time when he wrote particular works, excepting so far as we know these from records outside of himself. From an examinativn of such records we often find a striking contrast between Shakespeare's own mind and life, and the particular character and phase of life on which his imagination is working at the time. Thus, about the period when he was writing Hamlet, and was creating a character so overborne by the perplexities of life and its evils as to look on suicide as the only escape from them, Shakespeare, so far from representing his own state of mind at the time, was investing money at Stratford, and preparing for spending his later years there in comfort and happiness.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564, probably on the 23rd of April, St. George's Day. He was the eldest living child of John Shakespeare, a maker of the rough kind of gloves used in country work. The house in which John Shakespeare lived at the time his son was born may still be seen in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon. Soon after William Shakespeare's birth his father seems to have rented a small farm, where he kept some sheep, and added to his income by the sale of wool and mutton. It is probable that William Shakespeare was sent to the Free Grammar School at Stratford, and that it was there he learned English, some Latin, and a little Greek.
The year after Shakespeare was born the first English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister, was published, and the next year, 1566, the first tragedy, Gorboduc, appeared. We have seen how the taste for plays spread rapidly in England at this time, and even a small town like Stratford engaged companies of players to perform in the Guildhall for the pleasure of the townspeople.
There are sums of money mentioned several times in the town records of Stratford as paid to "the Earl of Leicesters players," and to “my Lord Warwick's players,” for performing in the town-hall. During some of the years in which these records occur, Shakespeare's father was alderman of Stratford, and he would have to help entertain the players and make arrangements for the acting. His son would thus be brought as a lad into contact with the players, and some of the servants of Leicester and Warwick were Warwickshire men, and perhaps known to the Shakespeares. From them he would hear of the London theatres, and of the demand for good players and plays.
When William Shakespeare was about fourteen his father lost money.
It was just the time when he naturally would be thinking of apprenticing his son to learn some trade, and no doubt this want of means for setting young Shakespeare to some definite work, and the falling off of the business, caused the lad to lead a somewhat idle life during the next few years. In 1582, before William Shakespeare was nineteen, he married. His wife's name was Anne Hathaway; she was the daughter of a farmer living at Shottery, a village near Stratford, and was about seven years older than her husband. For four or five years after their marriage they lived in Stratford, and these were years of constant struggle between increasing expense and increasing poverty. Shakespeare's father was sinking deeper and deeper into debt and difficulty, and his son had no definite means of gaining a livelihood for himself and family. He had now three children to provide for, the two youngest being twins. Perhaps in his boyish days he had had the wish to go to London and become a player, and now, in the urgent need of doing something, the idea again suggested itself to him. He had friends among Lord Warwick's and the Earl of Leicester's players who might perhaps be able to find employment for him in the theatres. At all events one thing seems clear, and that is that Shakespeare became a player, not as mere
idle amusement, but with the honest intention of providing in this way support for his family and help for his father. Little as we know of his life in London, we do know that it must have been steadily industrious and frugal, and possibly the reason why we hear so little of him from the other writers of the time is that he kept himself out of the reckless, social dissipation in which many of them lived, and was thus but little known out of his work.
He did not take his wife and children with him to London ; for London was then most unwholesome place for children, and during a part of every year the theatres were closed, when he could be with them at Stratford. His object in going to London was to get money for them, and when he had made enough, to return and live again with his family and friends around him in his old home. He went to London, therefore, to work, and like all true workers, he began with what
to hand, proving his superiority, not by asserting it, but by doing thoroughly well whatever he could get to do. For some time his principal occupations were acting inferior parts at the Blackfriars Theatre, and altering old plays to suit the players or the audience. A man of his genius may well have thought that this was not the kind of employment for him ; but Shakespeare worked steadily at it for five or six years, and it was soon found that his alterations were better than the piece ; and then came the time for his original plays. Shakespeare was both a great genius and a true artist, and his artinstinct early taught him that any good art-work must have one clear conception, around which all the parts gather, and to which every one is really essential. Thus we shall find in Shakespeare's plays a single truth, forming as it were the soul of the play, while every part of the play is as necessary to its true expression as the different parts of our body are to the welfare of the whole. His earliest