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We can have no hesitation in believing that he originally came to London, in order to obtain his livelihood by the stage, and with no other view. Aubrey tells us that he was “inclined naturally to poetry and acting;” and the poverty of his father, and the difficulty of obtaining profitable employment in the country for the maintenance of his family, without other motives, may have induced him readily to give way to that inclination. Aubrey, who had probably taken due means to inform himself, adds, that “ he did act exceedingly well;" and we are convinced that the opinion, founded chiefly upon a statement by Rowe, that Shakespeare was a very moderate performer, is erroneous. It seems likely that for two or three years he employed himself chiefly in the more active duties of the profession he had chosen; and Peele", who was a very practised and popular play-wright, considerably older than Shakespeare, was a member of the company, without saying anything of Wadeson, regarding whom we know nothing, but
s When the Rev. Mr. Dyce published his edition of Peele's Works, he was not aware that there was any impression of that author's “ Tale of Troy,” in 1604, as well as in 1589, containing such variations as show that it must have been corrected and augmented by Peele after its first appearance. The impres. sion of 1604 is the most diminutive volume, perhaps, ever printed, not exceeding an inch and a half high by an inch wide, with the following title :—“The Tale of Troy. By G. Peele, M. of Artes in Oxford. Printed by A. H. 1604.” We will add only two passages out of many, to prove the nature of the changes and additions made by Peele after the original publication. In the edition of 1604 the poem thus opens:
“ In that world's wounded part, whose waves yet swell
Or court of Jove, as some describe the same," &c. The four lines which commence the second page of Mr. Dyce's edition are thus extended in the copy of 1604:
“ His court presenting to our human eyes
An earthly heaven, or shining Paradise,
That to thy fortune heavens could add no more." Peele was dead in 1598, and it is likely that there were one or more intervening impressions of “ The Tale of Troy," between 1589 and 1604.
that at a subsequent date he was one of Henslowe's dramatists; or of Armyn, then only just coming forward as a comic performer. There is reason to think that Peele did not continue one of the Lord Chamberlain's servants after 1590, and his extant dramas were acted by the Queen's players, or by those of the Lord Admiral: to the latter association Peele seems subsequently to have been attached, and his “ Battle of Alcazar,” printed in 1594, purports on the title-page to have been played by them. While Peele remained a member of the company of the Lord Chamberlain's players, Shakespeare's services as a dramatist may not materially have interfered with his exertions as an actor; but afterwards, when Peele had joined a rival establishment, he may have been much more frequently called upon to employ his pen, and then his value in that department becoming clearly understood, he was less frequently a performer.
Out of the sixteen sharers of which the company he belonged to consisted in 1589, (besides the usual proportion of “ hired men,” who only took inferior characters) there would be more than a sufficient number for the representation of most plays, without the assistance of Shakespeare. He was, doubtless, soon busily and profitably engaged as a dramatist; and this remark on the rareness of his appearance on the stage will of course apply more strongly in his after-life, when he produced one or more dramas every year.
His instructions to the players in “Hamlet” have often been noticed as establishing that be was admirably acquainted with the theory of the art; and if, as Rowe asserts, he only took the short part of the Ghost* in
“ His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particular account of what sort of parts he used to play ; and though I have inquired, I never could meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet.'"-Rowe's Life, Shakespeare's name stands first among the players of “Every Man in his Humour,” and fifth among those of “Sejanus."
this tragedy, we are to recollect that even if he bad considered himself competent to it, the study of such a character as Hamlet, (the longest on the stage as it is now acted, and still longer as it was originally written) must have consumed more time than he could well afford to bestow upon it, especially when we call to inind that there was a member of the company who had hitherto represented most of the heroes, and whose excellence was as undoubted, as his popularity was extraordinary”. To Richard Burbage was therefore assigned the arduous character of the Prince, while the author took the brief, but important part of the Ghost, which required person, deportment, judgment, and voice, with a delivery distinct, solemn, and impressive. All the elements of a great actor were needed for the due performance of “the buried majesty of Denmark 6.”
It may be observed, in passing, that at the period of our drama, such as it existed in the hands of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors, authors were most commonly actors also. Such was the case with Greene, Marlowe , Lodge, Peele, probably Nash, Munday, Wil
s From a MS. Epitaph upon Burbage, (who died in 1619,) sold among the books of the late Mr. Heber, we find that he was the original Hamlet, Romeo, Prince Henry, Henry V., Richard III., Macbeth, Brutus, Coriolanus, Shylock, Lear, Pericles, and Othello, in Shakespeare's Plays: in those of other dramatists he was Jeronimo, in Kyd's “Spanish Tragedy;" Antonio, in Marston's “ Antonio and Mellida ;" Frankford, in T. Heywood's “ Woman killed with Kindness ;" Philaster, in Beaumont and Fletcher's play of that name; Amintor, in their “ Maid's Tragedy.”-See “ The Alleyn Papers," printed by the Shakespeare Society, p. xxx. On a subsequent page we have inserted the whole passage relating to his characters from the Epitaph on Burbage.
6 Mr. Thomas Campbell, in his Life of Shakespeare, prefixed to the edition, in one volume, 1838, was, we believe, the first to remark upon the almost absolute necessity of having a good, if not a great actor, for the part of the Ghost in “ Hamlet.”
7 It seems, from an obscure ballad upon Marlowe's death, (handed down to us in MS., and quoted in “ New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakespeare," 8vo, 1836,) that he had broken his leg while acting at the Curtain Theatre, which was considered a judgment upon him for his irreligious and lawless life.
“ Both day and night would he blaspheme,
And day and night would sweare;
Not ending in despaire.
son, and others: the same practice prevailed with some of their successors, Ben Jonson, Heywood, Webster, Field, &c.; but at a somewbat later date dramatists do not usually appear to have trodden the stage. We have no hint that Dekker, Chapman, or Marston, though contemporary with Ben Jonson, were actors; and Massinger, Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Daborne, and Shirley, who may be said to have followed them, as far as we now know, never had anything to do with the performance of their own dramas, or of those of other poets. In their day the two departments of author and actor seem to have been generally distinct, while the contrary was certainly the 'case some years anterior to the demise of Elizabeth.
It is impossible to determine, almost impossible to
“ A poet was he of repute,
And wrote full many a playe;
Now begging by the way.
Upon the Curtaine stage,
When in his early age.
That did God's lawes reject;
And men of ill aspect,” &c. The ballad consists of twenty-four similar stanzas : of Marlowe's death the author thus writes:
“ His lust was lawlesse as his life,
And brought about his death,
Striving to stop the breath
With his owne dagger slaine,
Pierc't through the eye and braine.” Which pretty exactly accords with the tradition of the mode in which he came to his end, in a scuffle with a person of the name of Archer: the register of his death at St. Nicholas, Deptford, ascertains the name :-“1st June, 1593. Christopher Marlowe slain by Francis Archer.” He was just dead when Peele wrote his “Honour of the Garter,” in 1593, and there spoke of him as “ unhappy in his end," and as having been “ the Muses' darling for his verse."
guess, what Shakespeare had or had not written in 1589. That he had chiefly employed his pen in the revival, alteration, and improvement of existing dramas we are strongly disposed to believe, but that he had not ventured upon original composition it would be much too bold to assert. “The Comedy of Errors” we take to be one of the pieces, which, having been first written by an inferior dramatist", was heightened and amended by Shakespeare, perhaps about the date of which we are now speaking, and “ Love's Labour's Lost,” or “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” may have been original compositions brought upon the stage prior to 1590. We also consider it more than probable that “Titus Andronicus” belongs even to an earlier period; but we feel satisfied, that although Shakespeare had by this time given clear indications of powers superior to those of any of his rivals, he could not have written any of his greater works until some years afterwards'. With regard to productions uncon
8 See pp. xxv, and xxxviii., where it is shown that there was an old drama, acted at Court in 1573 and 1582, called “The History of Error” in one case, and “ The History of Ferrar" in the other. See also the Introduction to “ The Comedy of Errors,” Vol. ii. p. 109.
9 Upon this point we cannot agree with Mr. F. G. Tomlins, who has written a very sensible and clever work called “A brief view of the English Drama," 12mo, 1840, where he argues that Shakespeare probably began with original composition, and not with the adaptation and alteration of works he found in possession of the stage when he joined the Lord Chamberlain's players. We know that the earliest charge against him by a fellow dramatist was, that he had availed himself of the productions of others, and we have every reason to believe that some of the plays upon which he was first employed were not by any means entirely his own: we allude among others to the three parts of “Henry VI.” It seems to us much more likely that Shakespeare in the first instance confined himself to alterations and improvements of the plays of predecessors, than that he at once found himself capable of inventing and constructing a great original drama. However, it is but fair to quote the words of Mr. Tomlins. “We are thus driven to the conclusion that his writing must have procured him this distinction. What had he written ? is the next question that presents itself. Probably original plays, for the adaptation of the plays of others could scarcely be entrusted to the inexperienced hands of a young genius, who had not manifested his knowledge of stage matters by any productions of his own. This kind of work would be jealously watched by the managers, and must ever have required great skill and experience. Shakespeare, mighty as he was, was human, and it is scarcely possible that a genius, so ripe, so rich, so overflowing as his should not have its enthusiasm kindled into an original pro