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and the Catesbys.* The Lucys were powerful at the Court of the Tudors, for they had blood-royal in their veins; and as many of their opponents were Roman Catholics, or had relapsed from Protestantism to the old faith, one of their most effective instruments for satisfying personal pique, under the garb of patriotism, was to put in force the penal laws and the power of the Crown against their rivals. In a commission issued in 1592 for persecuting and presenting recusants, directed to the Lucys and the Grevilles, and obtained apparently by their means, it is curious to observe that they presented as a recusant Mrs. Clopton, • widow of Wm. Clopton, esq. ;' but in their second return they proceed to rectify their convenient mistake by the naïve admission: Mrs. Clopton, presented as a recusant, was mistaken, and goeth now to church !' In the same presentment, next to Henleyin-Arden, occurs the parish of Sombourne, with this notice : * Mrs. Mary Arden, widow, presented for a wilful recusant before our last certificate, continues still obstinate in her recusancy,' and is accordingly indicted. By the same commissioners, John Shakspeare, the poet's father, is returned as a recusant; but this note is subjoined in his case and in that of eight others : 'It is said that the last nine come not to church for fear of process
Now, though it is true that already, some six years before the date of this commission, Shakspeare's father had fallen into difficulties and was deprived of his alderman's gown, it is hardly probable, had he been notoriously affected towards the Protestant religion, that his name would have been inserted in the return of the commissioners; for the object of the commission was not so much to learn who absented themselves from the parish church, as to discover Jesuits, seminary priests, and papal emissaries, now, more than ever, busily engaged in sowing disaffection among the people of Warwickshire, and those who harboured them. The government of the day—as is clear from the cases cited by the commissioners-required attendance at church once a month ; that done, it did not trouble itself with inflicting further penalties, or requiring more distinct proofs of the recusant's loyalty. John Shakspeare was a recusant in this sense, and the note was appended to explain the reason why he had not complied with the requirements of the government. If then he were a recusant in the ordinary use of the term, this might account for the pecuniary difficulties into which he fell some years before, when the government of Elizabeth exacted the fines for recusancy with unsparing severity.
* Unpublished papers in the Record Office. † MSS. in the Record Office.
That other their * Thus, in Greene's “Nerer too Late,' the strolling actor says to Roberto: • Why, I am as famous for Delphrygus and The King of the Fairies as ever was any of my time. The Twelve Labours of Hercules have I terribly thundered on the stage, and played three scenes of the Devil in The Iligh Way to Heaven.' • Have ye so ?' said Roberto; “then I pray you pardon me.' "Nay, more,' quoth the player, 'I can serve to make a pretty speech, for I was a country author passing (good) at a Moral; for it was I that penned the Moral of Man's Wit, The Dialogue of Dives, and for seven years' space was absolute interpreter of the puppets. But now my almanack is out of date.
That the townspeople of Stratford cordially hated the Lucys, and were particularly anxious to avoid incurring their displeasure, is apparent from the records of the town, printed by Mr. Halliwell. He selects numerous items of sack and sugar for the lips of Sir Thomas and his chief friends, Sir Fulke and Sir Edward Greville. In one entry, dated 1598, the chamberlain very bluntly records : Paid to Sir Fowle (sic) Greville, for nothing, 40s. !' And again in 1601, in an action for trespass brought by Sir Edward Greville against the burgesses of Stratford, the name of John Shakspeare appears as a witness on behalf of the defendants.
We are, therefore, inclined to believe that Shakspeare's departure from his native town was a more deliberate act than Rowe's anecdote of the deer-stalking and the vengeance of the Lucys would lead us to expect. It is impossible that the poet, living so near to Coventry, should not often have witnessed the crude dramatic representations of the times, and equally impossible that the dramatic genius within him, that was never crude, never less than powerful, should not have been mightily stirred by what he saw. Mute, inglorious Miltons' may have died unseen; but that was because their Miltonic genius was neither all-powerful nor_lasting. It was the slave, not the master, of circumstances. But overpowering genius, like mastering passion, admits of no repulse, and suffers no cold obstruction. Besides it must be remembered that in Shakspeare's time—before Puritanism had done its work—the profession of an actor as well as of a dramatist led to fame and opulence. The stage had not yet been regarded as the illusion of antichrist. It still shared with the pulpit the task of instructing the people. It still bore upon its features the marks of its ecclesiastical origin. It still reckoned among its authors and patrons bishops like Bale and Still.
On Shakspeare's arrival in London all accounts concur in asserting that the poet embraced the profession of an actor; and the old clerk's account—that “he was received into the playhouse as a servitor'-is not without probability. Such a practice was not unusual. Mr. Halliwell has referred to an instance in Henslow's diary in which it is stated that "he hired a covenant servant, William Kendall, for two years, after the statute of Winchester, with two single pence, and to give him for his said service every week of his playing in London 10s. and in the country 5s.
Of the theatres then in vogue the inost eminent was the Globe, on the Bankside; and with this or the Black Friars, belonging to the same company, Shakspeare was connected, and in one or other of these all his plays were subsequently performed. In 1603 the company consisted of Laurence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillipes, John Heminge, and Henry Condell, Shakspeare's literary executors, and several others; the most eminent performers of their age. The theatre, an hexagonal wooden building, was partly thatched and partly exposed to the weather, and the performances generally, if not always, took place in the afternoon, then the idlest time of the day. Rooms or boxes were provided for the wealthier classes, the admission to which varied from a shilling to half a crown; whilst the frequenters of the pit either stood or sate on the ground. The wits and critics of the times were admitted on the stage; and so far was this practice from detracting, as might be imagined, from the interest and illusion of the play, this identification of the audience with the actors, at a time when the scenery was of the simplest kind, and the costume of the actors differed not from that of ordinary life, must on most occasions have given to the scene a lifelike reality to which we are strangers. Such briefly were the theatres in which Shakspeare
*Made those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James.' Such, also, in the dearth of clubs and coffee-houses, of novels, newspapers, and other means of information, were the studies as well as the entertainment of the age, where men picked up, in the main, whatever they knew of foreign countries and distant times, of classical lore and English history. And here, by the great good fortune of that age, were brought together the court and its statesmen, from Nonsuch House or Westminster-the Sydneys, the Raleighs, the Essexes, the Cecils, and the Bacons ; the soldier of fortune, like Falstaff, the grave citizen, the humourist and man of pleasure, the weather-beaten adventurer of the water-side just landed from Guinea or Bermuda ;-all to see set before them every shade of human character—their own among the number-every exhibition of human passion, affection, and caprice; from the most daring and subtle intellect to the poorest driveller ; genius at one time taking mystic flights, at another flickering on the verge of imbecility and madness.
At the time when Shakspeare set foot in the metropolis the stage was passing through a new epoch. The Moralities which might in his childhood have satisfied a less critical audience at Coventry or Stratford, and the dumb shows and pageants provided for the Virgin Queen at Kenilworth or Windsor had lost their attractions. * The diffusion of classical learning, numerous translations of the dramatic poets of Greece and Rome, intellects sharpened by the great theological controversies in which they had been lately engaged, the stronger sense of national and individual freedom, had prepared men for a keener relish of the higher productions of art in all its branches. The result is seen in every direction. It would have violated all experience had it not been seen in that form of literature which represented more fully than any other the condition of the national mind, and more than any other appealed to the sympathies and experience of all classes in the nation. A people brave, resolute, and energetic, who had passed, by extraordinary exertion, through so fearful an ordeal, scarcely of less duration than 150 years, and then emerged safely on the firm ground, as they looked back on the stormy ocean from which they had so recently escaped, would expect in their poets and teachers an earnestness and reality of treatment, a vividness of perception, a power of reproduction, wholly different from the mere didactic attitude and philosophic musing into which poets are permitted to fall in more tranquil times. They would forgive any errors rather than those of tameness and insensibility. Regularity of form and harmony of design would be less attractive to them than freedom of movement. Liberty they demanded, even if, as in our early dramatists, it degenerated at times into extravagance and licentiousness. Thus, within a very brief space, English literature, as represented by the drama, experienced a sudden and entire transformation, such as no other period affords the like. Nor are the dramas of Shakspeare further removed from those of his iminediate predecessors than theirs are from the Moralities and Mysteries which they had superseded in their turn.
Of the competitors for public favour when Shakspeare appeared at the Black Friars, in his new capacity as servitor, the most eminent were Lilly, Peele, Greene, and Marlowe. All of these men had been educated at one or other of the two universities; and all took to writing for the stage, with no higher object than that of relieving that poverty into which they continually relapsed from their folly and intemperance, or perhaps, as in Lilly's case, to obtain court-favour. They must be entirely acquitted of any purpose to grasp those deeper questions which confused and perplexed the age; still less of endeavouring to discover the true solution of them. To attempt to enter upon that vast theatre of human experience now displayed before them, to comprehend the various purposes and phases of human life, and its relations, in its novel position, to the past, the present, or the future—this was a task for which they had neither the requisite faculties nor the necessary sympathy. If they could represent the passing and grotesque humours of their age, if they could point some moral lesson against its more obvious transgressions, they aimed no higher. And often, like men of meagre genius and less subtle perception, they mistook the mere transitory phenomena for the cause; their feebler imaginations were taken captive by the disastrous effects of vice and passion, whilst the subtler and more spiritual incentives they never fathomed. So, living in times which were favourable to poetry--and to dramatic poetry especially-when men were still inspired by the excitement of past and of passing events—when individual characterism had not yet crystallized into one dull uniformity by fixed systems of education or engrossing commercial monopoly—when the old had not so far been parted from the new as to lose its vitality and fade into the unrealism of archæology-these dramatists, with all their ability and advantages, produced nothing which could serve beyond the amusement of the hour; not a passage, not a line, not a single happy expression, could take root in the memory of their contemporaries, and secure eternity for itself among the unwritten traditions of the people. Whilst unnumbered hosts of Shakspeare's phrases, often the most plain and artless, the least obviously remarkable for any peculiarity of sound or antitbesis, or for those factitious qualities which catch the undisciplined fancy, have grown into household words, only less numerous than those of the Bible, it is impossible to trace any similar fortune in Shakspeare's contemporaries, or his immediate predecessors. And as it is inconceivable that any possible revolution of public taste should ever give life or animation to their writings, it is equally impossible to conceive that any revelations of science, before which the proudest of our present achievements must fade like the baseless fabric of a vision, should consign Shakspeare to oblivion, or render him less worthy of the profoundest study, less fresh, less striking, less instructive, less philosophical, in the truest of all senses, than he is now, than he was before gravitation or the laws of Kepler were discovered, when Copernicus
The people make no estimation