"HE WANTED ART"
LACK OF information about Shakespeare's life has left his admirers free to imagine a life and character in harmony with the creator of Hamlet. Keys to his soul have been sought, as by Wordsworth, in the Sonnets, though no one can say how much in them is personal experience, how much literary convention. Of late, however, a few but very significant facts have come to light. And they are most emphatically not what we should have expected. We find Shakespeare taking part in a flutter in knitted stockings, involved in legal wrangles, hand-in-glove with a wealthy moneylender and agreeing with an unscrupulous fellow-townsman not to oppose his encroachment on the citizens' common rights provided those attached to the poet's property are respected. In the event, though he refused a request from the townsmen of Stratford to champion their cause, the usurpation of their rights proved too flagrant for even a Jacobean court to sanction.
When he received a visitor at Stratford, Shakespeare did not discourse on the art of drama or the psychology of Hamlet. He discussed municipal politics affecting property. The ambition of the creator of Lear and Macbeth sought the higher distinction of a coat of arms such as his mother's family, but not his father's, was entitled to bear. And when he could retire from the stage to comparative affluence and the social rank of a country gentleman, he buried Prospero's magic staff and book and wrote no more. For like Prospero he thought more of being Duke of Milan, the owner of New Place, Stratford, than the master magician commanding the elements of human nature and controlling the spirits of men. If we do not allow preconceived opinion to blind us, we cannot reject the evidence of such things that Shakespeare the man was mediocre, commonplace in outlook and ambitions, a careerist, a moneylender out for the main chance, a social climber, something of a snob, the British middle- class man of property, both in getting and in enjoying it.