« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
few of them which seem to fix their dates. So the Chorus at the end of the 4th act of Henry the Fifth, by a compliment very handsomely turned to the earl of Essex, shews the play to have been written when that lord was general for the queen in Ireland; and his elogy upon queen Elizabeth, and her successor king James, in the latter end of his Henry the Eighth, is a proof of that play's being written after the accession of the latter of those two princes to the crown of England. Whatever the particular times of his writing were, the people of his age, who began to grow wonderfully fond of diversions of this kind, could not but be highly pleased to see a genius arise amongst them of so pleasurable, so rich a vein, and so plentifully capable of furnishing their favourite entertainments. Besides the advantages of his wit, he was in himself a good-natured man, of great sweetness in his manners, and a most agreeable companion; so that it is no wonder, if, with so many good qualities, he made himself acquainted with the best conversations of those times. Queen Elizabeth had several of his plays acted before her, and without doubt gave him many gracious marks of her favour. It is that maiden princess plainly whom he intends by
-a fair vestal, throned by the west.
and that whole passage is a compliment very properly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was so well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. How well she was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occasion it may not be improper to observe, that this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle; some of that family being then remaining, the queen was pleased to command him to alter it; upon which he made use of Falstaff. The present offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been somewhat to blame in his second choice, since
* See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth.
it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of distinguished merit in the wars in France, in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace soever the queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the earl of Southampton, famous in the histories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate earl of Essex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one instance so singular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakespeare, that if I had not been assured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I should not have ventured to have inserted, that my lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to; a bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse generosity the present age has shewn to French dancers and Italian singers.
What particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could distinguish men, had generally a just value and esteem for him. His exceeding candour and good nature must certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the most delicate knowledge and polite learning to admire him,
His acquaintance with Ben Jonson began with a remarkable piece of humanity and good nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company; when Shakespeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public. Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakespeare; though at the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what naVor. I. A 2
ture gave the latter, was more than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakespeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topic finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to shew something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakespeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation among their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately upon which Shakespeare gave him these four verses:
Te in the hundred lies here ingrav'd;
'Tis a hundred to ten his soul is not sav'd:
But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age,* and was buried on
*He died on his birth-day, April 23, 1616, and had exactly completes his fifty-second year,
the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone underneath is,
He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three sons, who all died without children; and Susanna, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married, first, to Thomas Nashe, Esq. and afterwards to Sir John Barnard of Abington, but died likewise without issue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
"I remember the players have often mentioned it as " an honour to Shakespeare, that in writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath "been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought *a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but
for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to com"mend their friend by, wherein he most faulted: and to justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do "honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. "He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature, "had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expres"sions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that some"times it was necessary he should be stopped: SufflamHis wit was
inandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. "in his own power; would the rule of it had been so "too! Many times he fell into those things which could "not escape laughter; as when he said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him,
Cæsar, thou dost me wrong."
"Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause ;*
"and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed "his vices with his virtues: there was ever more in him "to be praised than to be pardoned."
As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakespeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæsar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have neyer seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated them,) in his epistle to Augustus.
-naturâ sublimis et acer:
Nam spirat tragicum satis, et feliciter audet,
As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakespeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judg ment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories. and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of
If ever there was such a line written by Shakespeare, I should fancy it might have its place, vol. 6. Julius Cæsar, act 3, scene 2, thus :
-Cæsar has had great wrong.
3 Pleb. Cæsar had never wrong, but with just cause;
and very humorously in the character of a Plebeian.-One might believe Bea Jonson's remark was made upon no better credit than some blunder of an actor in speaking that verse near the beginning of the third act :
Know, Cæsar doth not wrong; nor without cause
Will he be satisfied.
But the verse, as cited by Ben Jonson, does not connect with will he be satisfied. Perhaps this play was never printed in Ben Jonson's time, and so he had nothing to judge by but as the actor pleased to speak it. POPE.