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The Town Council, on the sixth of September, 1586, had an election of new aldermen in place of John Wheler, who had resigned, and of John Shakespeare, who was at the same time put out of the Town Council because he “dothe not come to the halles when they be warned, nor hathe not done of longe tyme." In January, 1587, John Shakespeare was troubled by the suit of Nicholas Lane for a debt of twenty-two pounds due from his brother Henry at Snitterfield-Henricus Shakspere frater dicti Johannis—which John was said to have made himself answerable for if his brother could not pay it. In that year, 1587, several companies of actors visited Stratfordon-Avon, the Queen's Players, and the players also of Lords Leicester, Essex, and Stratford. Their presence in the town may have directed Shakespeare's thoughts, and he may have left Stratford in 1587 as a recruit in one of these
Considered." It has been argued on like grounds that he served as a soldier. It has been said also that he worked as a butcher, “and when he killed a calf he did it with a grand air”—that being some call's notion of the private ways of poets and play-actors.
Nicholas Rowe, in 1709, is the earliest authority for the fable that Shakespeare was compelled to quit Stratford because he had incurred the wrath of Sir Thomas Lucy for deer-stealing from his park at Charlecote, five miles out of Stratford. Thus the account runs in Rowe's Life of Shakespeare : “He had by a misfortune common enough to young fellows, fallen into ill company; and amongst them some, that made a frequent practice of deer-stealing, engaged him more than once in robbing the park of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat oo severely ; and, in order to revenge that ill usage, he made a ballad upon him. And though this, probably the first copy of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the prosecution against him to that degree, that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire for some time, and shelter himself in London.” Many yet cling to this fable, although it is long since Malone rightly pointed out that at the time when Shakespeare is said to have stolen deer from Sir Thomas Lucy's park at Charlecote, not only was there no deer park at Charlecote, but there was not yet any park at all.
companies-perhaps the Earl of Leicester's, which had gone abroad in 1586. For, on the eleventh of May, 1586, the Privy Council, in reply to a letter from the City, had desired the Lord Mayor to restrain plays in the City for the avoiding of infection, and had themselves “taken the like order for the prohibiting the use of plays at the Theatre and the other places about Newington out of his charge." The interdict, however, could not have remained long in force, for 1586 was not much of a plague year. The freedom from plague in London between 1583 and 1592 was, in fact, one cause of the steadier growth of the drama during the first years of Shakespeare's training as a dramatist.*
* Documentary and other evidence of facts in the life of Shakespeare will be found most fully set forth in “Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare," by J. 0. Halliwell-Phillips, F.R.S., F.S.A., the ninth edition. In two volumes, royal 8vo. Longmans : 1890. In matters of opinion independent workers must inevitably differ, but no one has helped so much as Halliwell-Phillips to supply students with a knowledge of facts touching the life of Shakespeare on which alone opinion can be safely based.
Hearty thanks are due also to Mr. Frederick Gard Fleay for two very helpful volumes, one “A Chronicle History of the Life and Work of William Shakespeare, Player, Poet, and Playmaker," published in 1886 ; the other " A Chronicle History of the London Stage 15591642," published in 1890. Mr. Fleay knows the great value of clear tabular statement and of strict attention to chronological order. If he be too bold in conjecture, he is wisely careful by a system of bracketing to part guesses from facts. But why should a man who does good work blemish it with disdainful reference to any predecessor? Always unwise, often unjust, it is unnatural where gentle Shakespeare is the critic's theme.
SHAKESPEARE'S FIRST YEARS IN LONDON.
WHATEVER home Shakespeare had formed at Stratford-onAvon for his wife and his three little ones, remained their
home and his, though he went out-whether alone -on- in 1586, or with a company of actors joined at
Stratford in 1587-to seek a livelihood that might
perhaps be earned in London. He looked wisely to a way of earning that accorded with the true bent of his genius. If he found his way, he might reach easily to more than could be earned in Stratford. He might not only maintain his own household in simple comfort, but relieve also his parents in their time of trouble and be helpful to his brothers and his sister Joan. Till better fortunes came, he could lodge anywhere in town during the play season. To the end of life London was, so to speak, his place of business, but only Stratford was his home. After some years, when days of prosperity had really come, his ambition, we shall find, was confined to the shaping of a home in his native town where he might live with his wife, see their children married to good neighbours, and taste God's blessing upon home life among friends and kindred. It was not in him to wait till age, after long greed for outward wealth, had dulled his relish of the inward wealth of life. As the bird flies from the nest to bring food home, so Shakespeare took flight to the place where there was most food likely to be found. He left his nest well sheltered, and patiently supplied its needs. He did not take his wife and children away from the familiar fields where face of friend and neighbour looked from every cottage door, where loving kinsfolk were about them, with fresh country air not far to seek; he did not make them share with him poor lodging among strangers in the fever-haunted lanes of the great city. He kept their lives under the healthiest and happiest attainable conditions; he was with them in all seasons of rest; and he fought his fight alone in London with a success that at last enabled him to break with the earning place and give his whole time to the home. To taste life truly, was far more to Shakespeare than the earning of superfluous wealth or feeding upon idle praise.
We cannot be wrong if we assume that Shakespeare came to London either in 1586 or 1587, when he was twenty-two or twenty-three years old. Men either rode in those days on horseback, or trudged freely on foot from place to place; and there can be little doubt that, whichever the year, young Shakespeare first reached London on foot, with a bundle at his back. We may suppose him to be with the Earl of Leicester's servants, or some other company that had taken Stratford in its round. We may suppose that he came alone to seek employment of the players. We suppose only; we do not know.
There was a family of Burbages in Shakespeare's time at Stratford-on-Avon. A John Burbage was bailiff of the town in 1556, and some have thought that the actor, James Burbage, who began the world as a
Pia joiner, and built in 1576 the first playhouse, called “The Theatre," came out of Stratford. Of this there is no evidence. In later years, when Burbage's son Cuthbert was applying for a grant of arms, he derived his family from Hertfordshire. James Burbage's name was at the head of the list of the Earl of Leicester's actors in the patent of the seventh of May, 1574, giving them power to act in any part
of England. The other actors there named as of Leicester's company were John Perkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert Wilson.
In the year 1583, soon after the accident at Paris Gardens that put an end to Sunday acting, * Queen Elizabeth, on the advice of Edmond Tylney, Master of the Revels, and at the request of her Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, appointed twelve performers, chosen from among the companies of her nobility, to be her own company, under the name of the Queen's Players. James Burbage, John Lanham, and Robert Wilson became three of the players, and another was the famous actor of clown parts, Richard Tarlton. Leicester's company remained, weakened, as others were, by transfer of some of its best actors to the queen's new company of twelve.
Though there was no more acting on Sundays, feud between Puritans and players was maintained in the City of London, and on the twenty-fifth of January, 1586, one of Walsingham's paid writers of news-letters—a soldier, not a priest-digressed into these notes upon the London stage as it appeared to him about the time when Shakespeare came to London : 1
“The daylie abuse of Stage Playes is such an offence to the godly, and so great a hinderance to the gospell, as the papists do exceedingly rejoyce at the bleamysh theareof, and not without cause ; for every day in the weake the players billes are sett up in sondry places of the cittie, some in the name of her Majesties menne, some the Earl of Leic"., some the E. of Oxford, the Lo. Admyralles, and dyvers others; so that when the belles tole to the Lectorer, the trumpetts sound to the Stages, whereat the wicked faction of Rome lawgheth for joy, while the godly weepe for sorrowe. Woe is me! the play howses are pestered, when churches are naked : at the one it is not possible to gett a place, at the
* “E, W.,” ix. 231-233.
+ Harleian MSS., No. 286, quoted by John Payne Collier in his “English Dramatic Poetry and Annals of the Stage." Second edition, 1879. Vol. i., pp. 257, 258.