A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
BOYHOOD AND EARLY ENVIRONMENT

FOR two and a half years William was "the only child" of John and Mary. Upon him, therefore, the fond young parents would lavish all their affection. Moreover to him, as their "first-born son and heir," they would tie their heartstrings in a way that probably set him apart from the later children. He was to inherit, so they thought, all the family property -- Asbies, the gem of the Arden estate, a portion of the Snitterfield farms once tilled by his grandfather, and the valuable Stratford realties gradually being accumulated by his father. If we may believe that in 1576 the prosperous Alderman made a tentative step towards securing a coat of arms, we catch a glimpse of the secret ambition he cherished for his son. Surely it was in William, rather than in the other children, that John and Mary garnered up their hearts.

It is not difficult for us to picture the boy. We know that he had auburn hair, large hazel eyes, ruddy cheeks, a high forehead, and a gentle disposition. Perhaps this last quality came to him from his mother. " Mary Arden! the name breathes of poetry!" exclaims Knight. May we not safely add that her son's poetry breathes of her? For surely it was at his mother's knee that he acquired his conception of those gentle and noble elements of woman's character which he so effectively embodied in his plays. His father was of a different type, frankly bourgeois, with a cheery disposition and a readiness to "crack a jest" that won him favor with his neighbors. The Plume Manuscript,1 on the authority of Sir John Mennes, sup

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1
Anecdotes compiled by Archdeacon Thomas Plume about 1656.

-33-

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