A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
APPRENTICESHIP AND MARRIAGE

WITH the passing of the years and the coming of his father's pecuniary troubles, the more serious problems of life began to close in upon the growing boy. It is generally asserted that he was taken from the Stratford free school "at an unusually early age," but of this there is no proof.1 Master John Shakespeare was at no expense in keeping his son in the school, nor were his difficulties at first so distressing -- the earliest indication of them appears in 1577 when William was beginning his fourteenth year -- that he would have to sacrifice the education of his first-born. The likelihood is that William remained in the Stratford school until he completed, or nearly completed, the courses of study there provided. This would be at about the age of fourteen, when he began to "speak between the change of man and boy with a reed voice."

Upon finishing his schooling he was probably set to learn a trade,2 for such was the common practice even among the better classes. Sir Thomas Elyot, in The Governour (Book i, Chapter xv), writes: "The aptest and most proper scholars, after they be well instructed in speaking Latin and understanding some poets, being taken from their school by their parents, and either be brought to the Court and made lackies or pages, or else

____________________
1
Rowe clearly speaks without definite information on the subject. William's younger brother Gilbert was apparently well educated, for his signature to a conveyance in 1610 is an admirable specimen of handwriting; and Edmund, sixteen years younger, became a successful actor in London, showing that at least he could read.
2
The customary age was fifteen. Cf. the case of the other Stratford boy, Richard Field, who after proper schooling, was apprenticed at the age of fifteen to a London printer, and later became eminent in his trade.

-61-

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