صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

out a patent under the great seal', authorizing the nine following actors, and others, to perform in his name, not only at the Globe on the Bankside, but in any part of the kingdom; viz. Laurence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbadge, Augustine Phillipps, John Heminge, Henry Condell, William Sly, Robert Armyn, and Richard Cowley.

We miss from this list the names of Thomas Pope, William Kempe, and Nicholas Tooley, who had belonged to the company in 1596; and instead of them we have Laurence Fletcher, Henry Condell, and Robert Armyn, with the

3 It runs verbatim et literatim thus:-

BY THE KING. “Right trusty and welbeloved Counsellor, we greete you well, and will and commaund you, that under our privie Seale in your custody for the time being, you cause our letters to be derected to the keeper of our greate seale of England, commaunding him under our said greate Seale, he cause our letters to be made patents in forme following. James, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, Fraunce, and Irland, défendor of the faith, &c. To all Justices, Maiors, Sheriffs, Constables, Headboroughes, and other our officers and loving subjects greeting. Know ye, that we of our speciall grace, certaine knowledge, and meere motion have licenced and authorized, and by these presentes doe licence and authorize, these our servants, Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillippes, John Hemmings, Henrie Condell, William Sly, Robert Armyn, Richard Cowlye, and the rest of their associats, freely to use & exercise the arte and faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Enterludes, Moralls, Pastoralls, Stage plaies, and such other like, as that thei have already studied or hereafter shall use or studie, aswell for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall thinke good to see them, during our pleasure. And the said Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Enterludes, Moralls, Pastoralls, Stage plaies, and such like, to shew & exercise publiquely to their best commoditie, when the infection of the plague shall decrease, as well within theire now usuall howse called the Globe, within our county of Surrey, as also within anie towne halls, or mout halls, or other convenient places within the liberties & freedome of any other citie, universitie, towne, or borough whatsoever within our said realmes and dominions. Willing and commaunding you, and every of you, as you tender our pleasure, not only to permit and suffer them heerin, without any your letts, hinderances, or molestations, during our said pleasure, but also to be ayding or assisting to them, yf any wrong be to them offered. And to allowe them such former courtesies, as hathe bene given to men of their place and qualitie : and also what further favour you shall shew to these our servants for our sake, we shall take kindly at your hands. And these our letters shall be your sufficient warrant and discharge in this behalfe. Given under our Signet at our mannor of Greenewiche, the seaventeenth day of May in the first yere of our raigne of England, France, and Ireland, & of Scotland the six & thirtieth.

“Ex per Lake." The patent under the great seal, made out in consequence of this warrant, bears date two days afterwards.

addition of Richard Cowley. Pope had been an actor in 1589, and perhaps in May, 1603, was an elderly man, for he died in the February following. Kempe had joined the Lord Admiral's players soon after the opening of the Fortune, on his return from the Continent, for we find him in Henslowe's pay in 1602'. Nicholas Tooley had also perhaps withdrawn from the association at this date, or his name would hardly have been omitted in the patent, as an established actor, and a man of some property and influence ; but he, as well as Kempe, not long suosequently rejoined the association with which they had been so long connected o.

We may assume, perhaps, in the absence of any direct testimony, that Laurence Fletcher did not acquire his prominence in the company by any remarkable excellence as an actor. He had been in Scotland, and had performed with his associates before James in 1599, 1600, and 1601, and in the latter year he had been registered as “his Majesty's Comedian” at Aberdeen. He might, therefore, have been a favourite with the King, and being also a considerable sharer in the association, he perhaps owed his place in the patent of May, 1603, to that circumstance'. The name of Shakespeare

+ Yet it appears by his will (“Memoirs of Shakespeare's Actors," p. 127) that his mother was alive when he executed it on the 22 July, 1603.

See “ Henslowe's Diary,” 8vo, 1845, p. 215, &c., and this Vol. p. [149, respecting the desertion of Kempe.

* Nicholas Tooley, gentleman, was buried at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, on the 5th June, 1623. “Memoirs of Shakespeare's Actors," p. 238.

7 Nothing seems to be known of the birth or origin of Laurence Fletcher (who died in September, 1608), but we may suspect that he was an elder brother of John Fletcher, the dramatist. Bishop Fletcher, the father, died on 15 June, 1596, having made his will in October 1594, before he was translated from Worcester to London : this document seems never to have been examined, but it appears from it, as Mr. P. Cunningham informs us, that he had no fewer than nine children, although he only mentions his sons Nathaniel and John by name. He died poor, and among the Lansdowne MSS. is one, entitled " Reasons to move her Majesty to some commiseration towards the orphans of the late Bishop of London, Dr. Fletcher :" this is printed in “Birch's Memoirs." He incurred the lasting displeasure of Queen Elizabeth by marrying, for his second wife, Lady Baker of Kent, a woman of more than questionable character, if we may believe general report, and a satirical poem of the time, handed down only in MS., which begins thus :

“The pride of prelacy, which now long since

Was banish'd with the Pope, is sayd of late
To have arriv'd at Bristowe, and from thence

By Worcester into London brought his state."
It afterwards goes on thus :-

“ The Romaine Tarquin, in his folly blind,
Of faire chaste Lucrece did a Lais make;

[But

comes next, and as author, actor, and sharer, we cannot be surprised at the situation he occupies. His progress upward in connexion with the profession had been gradual and uniform: in 1589 he was twelfth in a company of sixteen members; in 1596 he was fifth in a company of eight members; and in 1603 he was second in a company of nine members.

The degree of encouragement and favour extended to actors by James I., in the very commencement of his reign, is remarkable. Not only did he take the Lord Chamberlain's players into his own service, but the Queen adopted the company which had acted under the name of the Earl of Worcester, of which the celebrated dramatist, Thomas Heywood, was then one; and the Prince of Wales patronized that of the Lord Admiral, at the head of which was Edward Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College. These three royal associations, as they may be termed, were independent of others under the patronage of individual noblemen.

The policy of this course at such a time is evident, and James I. seems to have been impressed with the truth of the

But owr proud Tarquin beares a braver mind,

And of a Lais doth a Lucrece make." We cannot venture to quote the coarse epithets liberally bestowed upon Lady Baker, but the poem ends with these lines :

" But yet, if any will the reason find,

Why he that look'd as lofty as a steeple,
Should be so base as for to come behind,

And take the leavings of the common people,
'Tis playne; for in processions, you know,

The priest must after all the people goe." We ought to have mentioned that the poem is headed “ Bishop Fletcher and my Lady Baker :" the Bishop had buried his first wife, Elizabeth, at Chelsea Church in December 1592. Nathaniel Fletcher, mentioned above as included with his brother John in his father's will, is spoken of on a preceding page as “servant" to Mrs. White; but who Mrs. White might be, or what was the precise nature of “Nat. Fletcher's" servitude, we have no information : perhaps " servant " meant the lady's admirer or lover, and such was the usual language at the time. The player editors did not include the name of Laurence Fletcher among " the principal actors in all these plays " in the folio, 1623.

8 However, an Act of Parliament was very soon passed (1 Jac. I. c. 7) to expose strolling actors, although protected by the authority of a peer, to the penalties of 39 Eliz. c. 4. It seems to have been found, that the evil had increased to an excess which required this degree of correction; and Sir Edward Coke in his Charge to the Grand Jury at Norwich in 1607 (when it was printed) observes, “The abuse of stage-players, wherewith I find the country much troubled, may easily be reformed, they having no commission to play in any place without leave; and therefore, by your willingness if they be not entertained, you may soon be rid of them."

passage in “Hamlet,” (brought out, as we apprehend, shortly before he came to the throne) where it is said of these "abstracts and brief chronicles of the time,” that it is “ better to have a bad epitaph, than their ill report while you live. James made himself sure of their good report; and an epigram, attributed to Shakespeare, has descended to us, which doubtless was intended, in some sort, as a grateful return for the royal countenance bestowed upon the stage, and upon those who were connected with it.

We
copy

it from a coeval manuscript in our possession, which seems to have belonged to a curious accumulator of matters of the kind, and which also contains an unknown production by Dekker, as well as various other pieces by dramatists and poets of the time. The lines are entitled,

“ SHAKESPEARE ON THE KING.
“Crowns have their compass, length of days their date,

Triumphs their tomb, felicity her fate :
Of nought but earth can earth make us partaker ;

But knowledge makes a king most like his Maker." We have seen these lines in more than one other old manuscript, and as they were constantly attributed to Shakespeare, and, in the form in which we have given them above, are in no respect unworthy of his pen, we have little doubt of their authenticity'.

Having established his family in " the great house " called “New Place” in his native town about 1597, by the purchase of it from Hercules Underhill, Shakespeare seems to have contemplated considerable additions to his property there. In May, 1602, he laid out 3201. upon 107 acres of land, which he bought of William and John Combe ', and attached

9 Boswell appears to have had a MS. copy of this epigram, but in it the general position in the last line was made to have a particular application, by the change of “a” to the. See “Shakspeare by Boswell,” Vol. ii. p. 481. There were other variations for the worse in Boswell's copy, but that which we have noticed completely alters the character of the production, and reduces it from a great general truth to a mere piece of personal flattery—"But knowledge makes the king most like his Maker."

1 Much has been said in all the Lives of our poet, from the time of Aubrey (who first gives the story) to our own, respecting a satirical epitaph upon a person of the name of John a Combe, supposed to have been made extempore by Shakespeare : Aubrey words it thus :

“ Ten in the hundred the devil allows,

But Combe will have twelve, he swears and he vows.
If any one ask, Who lies in this tomb?
Ho! quoth the devil, 'tis my John a Combe.

[Rowe

it to his dwelling. The original indenture and its counterpart are in existence, bearing date 1st May, 1602, but to neither of them is the signature of the poet affixed ; and it seems that, he being absent, his brother Gilbert was his immediate agent in the transaction, and to Gilbert Shakespeare the property was delivered to the use of William Shakespeare. In the autumn of the same year he became the owner of a copyhold tenement (called a cotagium in the instrument) in Walker's Street, alias Dead Lane, Stratford, surrendered to him by Walter Getley? In November of the next year he gave Hercules Underhill 601. for a messuage, barn, granary, garden, and orchard close to or in Stratford; but in the original fine, preserved in the Chapter House, Westminster, the precise situation is not mentioned. In 1603, therefore, Shakespeare's property, in or near Stratfordupon-Avon, besides what he might have bought of, or inherited from, his father, consisted of New Place, with 107 acres of land attached to it, a tenement in Walker's Street, and the additional messuage, which he had recently purchased from Underhill.

Whether our great dramatist was in London at the period when the new king ascended the throne, we have no means of knowing, but that he was so in the following autumn we have positive proof; for in a letter written by Mrs. Alleyn, (the wife of Edward Alleyn, the actor) to her husband, then

Rowe changes the terms a little, but the point is the same, and in Brathwaite's “Remains," 1618, we have another version of the lines, where they are given as having been written by that author “upon one John Combe, of Stratford-uponAvon, a notable usurer.” We are by no means satisfied that they were originally penned by Brathwaite, from being imputed to him in that volume, and by a passage in “ Maroccus Extaticus," a tract printed as early as 1595, it is very evident that the connexion between the Devil and John a Combe, or John of Comber (as he is there called) was much older :-" So hee had had his rent at the daie, the devill and John of Comber should not have fetcht Kate L. to Bridewell." This is, doubtless, the same " John a' Cumber" who figures with John a' Kent as a conjurer in Munday's Play, printed from the original MS. by the Shakespeare Society in 1851. There is no ground for supposing that Shakespeare was ever on bad terms with any of the Combes of Stratford, and in his will be expressly left his sword to Mr. Thomas Combe. In a MS. of that time, now before us, we find the following given as an epitaph upon Sir William Stone:

“ Heer ten in the hundred lies dead and ingraved ;

But a hundred to ten his soul is not saved." The couplet is printed in no very different form in “ The More the Merrier," by H. P., 1608, as well as in Camden's “Remains."

? A coeval copy of the court-roll was formerly in the hands of the Shakespeare Society. Malone bad seen it, and put his initials upon it: no doubt it was his intention to have used it in his unfinished Life of Shakespeare.

« السابقةمتابعة »