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Early Life in Stratford. - Shakspere was baptized in the Church of the Holy Trinity at Stratford on April 26, 1564; and what we know of the practice of baptism at that period leads us to suppose that he was less than a week old. Nothing is known of his boyhood, not even that he went to school. Though there is no record of his marriage, there is documentary evidence making it certain that in November, 1582, he was married to Anne Hathaway, of the village of Shottery
ANNE HATHAWAY'S COTTAGE AT SHOTTERY. A most picturesque little house a short distance from Stratford. near Stratford. A daughter was baptized in 1583, and twins, son and daughter, in 1585.
In London; and First Appearances in Print. When Shakspere went to London and why, and how he first occu
1 How the dramatist preferred to spell his name is not known. His father's name appears in the Stratford records in sixteen different forms, and the six authentic signatures of his own seem to show three forms. The spelling here adopted is used by Professors Dowden, Wendell, and Kittredge, and by the New Shakspere Society of London.
pied himself after his arrival there, are not known. By 1592 he had become successful enough at play-writing to arouse the jealousy of one Robert Greene. In a pamphlet called A Groatsworth of Wit Greene alludes to Shakspere as "an upstart crow," who has beautified himself with the feathers of Greene, and other successful dramatists. The following year appeared the poet's first published work, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis,
with a dedication signed with the poet's name; and in 1594 came Lucrece.
The next bit of fact comes from the Stratford records, from which we learn that the poet's only son died in August, 1596. The year following Shakspere bought the largest house in Stratford; and from this time to his death he was conspicuous in the life of the town, not so much because of his artistic as because of his financial
Early Recognition. Perhaps the best evidence that his contemporaries recognized his greatness is found in a publication of the year 1598, called Palladis Tamia, or 'Wit's Treasury," by Frances Meres (Mērz). From a long passage in this book we learn that Shakspere was "accounted" the best among the English in both comedy and tragedy; and that the poems of the "mellifluous and honey-tongued were thought of as keeping alive "the sweet witty soul of Ovid." Six comedies and six tragedies are named as Shakspere's.
Success. In addition to being preeminent as playwright Shakspere was regarded before 1600 as, if not the best actor in his company, yet the best-known; for his name heads the list of the "Lord Chamberlain's Servants," the company to which he had for some time belonged. By 1600 he was also one of the principal owners of the Globe and Blackfriars theatres; and there are other indisputable evidences of his material prosperity.
Last Years - in Stratford. The poet's father died in 1601; his mother in 1608. That the poet himself spent his last years in Stratford is known from various references to him in the town records; but when or why he retired permanently from his London occupations of actor, playwright, and manager, is not known. In these references the appelation of "Gentleman" is usually added to his name, a result of the granting of a coat of arms to his father in 1599. Shakspere was buried April 25, 1616, and the inscription on the memorial states that he died April 23. There is no record of his death, and we do not certainly know when the memorial was erected or who was authority for the date on it.
Text of the Plays. Of the thirty-seven plays included in Shakspere's complete works, only sixteen were published during his lifetime. There is no evidence that he sanctioned the publication of any one of them. If he did not do so, it
was because his plays were written to be acted by his own company, and could be performed exclusively by it only so long as the text could be kept from rival companies.
For the remaining plays we are dependent on what is called the "First Folio," a collection of the plays published in 1623, seven years after Shakspere's death. There is no manuscript of any play
extant. This combination of circumstances indicates why many passages in the plays are either not entirely clear or are even quite unintelligible: the most accurate text we have is in books rather carelessly printed, which the author had no opportunity to correct or revise.
Uncertainties regarding Elizabethan Writers. In six of the thirty-seven plays bearing Shakspere's name it is very
generally believed that a second writer had a hand; in four, that Shakspere had only a small share. Nearly every play contains a passage or passages which some critics believe should be assigned to some other author. Any one disturbed by these uncertainties and led to doubt Shakspere's accomplishment will find with even a superficial glance at the his
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, STRATFORD-ON-AVON.
tory of Elizabethan drama that such uncertainties exist in connection with many writers. A very little time spent in investigation of the lives and work of Thomas Middleton, Thomas Heywood, John Marston, and John Webster (to cite only a few) will show that we have more information about Shakspere than about these, all of them noted playwrights of the day.
After many years of thorough exploration of every byway likely to lead to a better understanding of Shakspere's work,