Childhood and Youth
GREAT ARTISTS ARE frequently the product of an unhappy or ill-balanced marriage; and, although we cannot say whether the marriage solemnised, during the autumn months of 1557, between John Shakespeare, burgher of Stratford-on-Avon, and Mary, youngest daughter and joint-heiress of Robert Arden of Wilmcote, ran a particularly inharmonious course, at the outset, judged by a worldly standard, its prospects may have seemed discouraging. For, whereas John Shakespeare was a rustic tradesman, Mary belonged to a family that had made a considerable show in Warwickshire. True, Robert Arden was a descendant of the younger, less patrician branch; but until his death, which occurred towards the end of 1556, he had inhabited a substantial manor-farm and cultivated a large tract of his own land, while a pair of supernumerary farms were leased to industrious yeoman tenants. On one of these holdings, at Snitterfield, John Shakespeare had been born and brought up. About 1551, however, he left Snitterfield and settled down in Stratford. There, in Henley Street, he presently bought a house, with a garden and a croft, or paddock; there he began his married life and conducted his modestly profitable business, dealing in corn and malt, leather, hides and raw wool. He is also variously described as a glover and a retail butcher.
A gentleman he could not pretend to be, since he had inherited no armorial bearings. His wife, on the other hand, like the possessive matriarch portrayed in Sons and Lovers, was a decidedly 'superior soul', whose ancestors included a sheriff of Warwickshire, and whose maiden name recalled the ancient forest, lying to the north and west