A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Eleven
SHAKESPEARE

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S father was a Stratford glover; beyond that we know nothing of his early life except four dates-- his baptism in April, 1564; his marriage in November, 1582; the baptism of his daughter Susanna in May, 1583; and of the twins Hamnet and Judith in February, 1585. When next we hear of him in 1592 he is in London, acting and writing with such success as to excite Greene's envy. His next two years have been touched on in Chapter VIII. When the theatres reopened in May, 1594, he joined the Lord Chamberlain's company for good, and thereafter enjoyed unbroken, if modest, prosperity. He became part-proprietor of the rebuilt Globe, invested his savings prudently, bought the best house in Stratford, retired to it about 1610, and died in it in 1616.

The current of his inner life did not flow so smoothly. The death of his only son in 1596 ended his hope of founding a family. Some time in the 1590's, if we can trust the Sonnets, he conceived an adoring affection for a fair youth of higher rank than his own, and became infatuated with a dark married woman who played him false with his adored friend. The Sonnets reveal moods of dejection, self-disgust, and self-mistrust, and this in a season of worldly prosperity. The change that came over him after 1600 will be discussed when we come to that date.

Nature was prodigal to Shakespeare. He was a handsome, well- shaped man, of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit; very good company, but no debauchee; honest and of an open and free nature. So much we learn from Aubrey and Jonson. His plays and poems show that he had a keen eye for the beautiful and the characteristic in form and movement, a fine ear for tone and rhythm, and a sense of smell almost painfully acute. This capacity for sense- experience was invaluable to the poet; the dramatist had gifts still more precious--an unequalled capacity for moral experience, self-

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