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ENGLISH WRITERS.

BOOK IX.

Shakespeare and his Time: Under Elizabeth.

CHAPTER I.

SHAKESPEARE'S EARLIER YEARS.

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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born in South Warwickshire, at Stratford-on-Avon, most probably in the latter half of the month of April, 1564. He was baptized in that sh year, on Wednesday, the twenty-sixth of April. speare's

Birthday. So much is proved by the oldest known register of the Church of the Holy Trinity at Stratford, a volume which was begun at the beginning of the seventeenth century with a transcript of then existing records from 1558 to 1600. In this transcript the accuracy of the copy was attested on each page by the vicar and churchwardens with their signatures.

We learn also from the Stratford register that Shakespeare was buried on Thursday, the twenty-fifth of April, 1616. The inscription on his monument, which we know to have been set up in Stratford Church within the next seven years, records that Shakespeare died on the twentythird of April, in his fifty-third year—“ ÆTATIS 53 DIE 23 Ap.” An old belief that he died on his birthday is not contradicted-perhaps was suggested by the fact that there

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was only one day's difference between the twenty-sixth of April, date of baptism in 1564, and the twenty-fifth of April, date of burial in 1616.

But if Shakespeare was born on Sunday, the twenty-third of April, 1564, and died on Tuesday, the twenty-third of April, 1616, his age at death was exactly fifty-two. The inscription on the monument takes no notice of any such coincidence. On the contrary, by setting forth that Shakespeare died in his fifty-third year, it seems to imply that he was born at least a day before the date of death.

The number of days intervening between birth and baptism varied, of course, with conditions of health and weather. It varied also with the accident of greater or less interval between the time of birth and time of the next church service in which there would be opportunity of public baptism. When, therefore, we take the twenty-third of April as our Shakespeare's Day, we take the true date of the Master Poet's death, and we assume a birthday that may possibly be right, but probably is, by a day or more, too late. Yet let us hold to our tradition. The twenty-third of April is our Shakespeare's Day. It is the day also of Saint George, the patron saint of England. Or if the birthday be a little earlier, and we allow for the difference made by change of calendar, the birth of Shakespeare was about that time of the year which we now call May-day, and celebrate as birthday of the sunshine and the flowers.

If we would really know something of Shakespeare's life, we must look mainly to facts based upon evidence that would suffice to establish them in a law court. We must build nothing upon tattle, old or new, we must avoid the guesser's darkening of knowledge.

On the way from Warwick to Stratford a Parents and turn to the right leads to a village in a pleasant

hollow-Snitterfield. Here Richard Shakespeare, who was the poet's grandfather upon the father's side,

Kindred.

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