A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
LAST LABORS FOR THE KING'S MEN

WITH The Tempest in 1611 Shakespeare had written his last complete play. It is hard to understand why he should thus virtually cease composition at the age of forty-seven when all London with her loudest "O yes!" was crying "This is he!" It was not the time of life at which a successful man likes to give up his activity. Othello, though he had "somewhat descended into the vale of years," upon realizing that he must abandon his profession, exclaimed in agony of soul:

Farewell the plumèd troop and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!
Farewell!

Why should Shakespeare, at the peak of maturity, bid farewell to the spirit-stirring life of the London theatres, and to his glorious career as England's most applauded poet? We can, I think, best explain this on the theory that his health was impaired; he had, indeed only five years of life remaining. And if it strength was failing, he could now relax his efforts, for Beaumont and Fletcher were supplying his company with plays that enabled it to maintain its superiority over all rivals. Possibly he had contemplated retiring in the autumn of 1609. His cousin, Thomas Greene, then living with the poet's family at New Place, wrote in his Diary on September 9, 1609, in allusion to a change in his residence: "the rather that I perceive I might stay another year at New Place." We

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