IN considering King William's Laureate many critics and most readers have been content to recall Dryden's stinging lines:
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, But Shadwellnever deviates into Sense,
which -- with many more in Macflecknoe and Absalom and Achitophel -- give the unfortunate victim an immortality it is supposed his own works would not have won him. This is a singular case of poetic injustice, for Shadwell is a vigorous and intelligent writer, and his best plays give a picture of the manners of his day comparable with that given a lifetime earlier by Ben Jonson, whose disciple he was.
The life of Thomas Shadwell begins with a question: was he born in 1640 at Santon Hall, or in 1642 at Broomhill?
Santon Hall and Broomhill House were near Brandon, in Norfolk. Nothing now remains of either, but they were both connected with the Shadwell family, and there is evidence tending to confirm their several titles to have been the place of Shadwell's birth, together with other evidence that he was born in 1641.
Of Shadwell's education a little more is known. He had some private tuition, and he was then at the King Edward VI Free Grammar School, Bury St. Edmunds, from which he proceeded to Cambridge, matriculating at Gonville and Caius College on December 17th, 1656. His stay at the University, however, was brief, and he left without taking a degree, although he claims to have profited by his studies. When Dryden taunts him with small Latin and less Greek (in MacFlecknoe) Shadwell replies 'In Bury School in Suffolk, and Caius College in Cambridge, the places of my youthful education, I had not that reputation. . . .'1
Shadwell's father was a lawyer, and so in 1658 (on July 7th) we find the young man admitted to the Middle Temple, where if he studied Law____________________